Geoffrey Keezer: Making, And Controlling, His New Music
"Ray Brown was great," recounts Keezer. "He was a beautiful human being and a very great bandleader. As good as the experience was, it wasn't exactly the way I wanted to play. I had to adjust. Any time you work as a sideman, typically when you're hired by a band, you're kind of like an actor playing a role. They hire you because of your basic skills. They like the way you play and the way you accompany, etc. But you do have to sort of bend a bit to the sound of the band. Which is fine. That's part of being a professional.
"Ray's concept was a lot more traditional, a lot more straight-ahead than what I was really wanting to do. To his credit, he never told me told me how to play. He knew that I could give him enough of what he wanted. He would allow me to go off on a tangent once in a while, as long as I gave him some groove and swing and blues, and all those elements that he was so great at and that made his music so special.
"With Christian McBride, it's the only band I've ever been in where all of the different kinds of music that I love, that I enjoy playing, and my tendency toward wanting to rock out and make weird noises on my keyboards ... All those things are not only tolerated, but encouraged and welcomed. When you hear me with Christian McBride, you're really hearing what's in my heart and in my brain as a musician."
Even his current project doesn't tell the whole tale, he notes. "When you hear my trio and the Aurea project, you're hearing different facets. But you're really hearing undiluted Keezer stuff with Christian McBride."
Over the years, this talented pianist has remained busy. He has 11 recordings under his name, has had compositions commissioned by the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, Saint Joseph Ballet, Mainly Mozart Festival in San Diego, Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, the Zeltsman Marimba Festival, and was a recipient of Chamber Music America's 2007 New Works grant. He has also worked with classical artist Barbara Hendricks, producing Tribute to George Gershwin: It's Wonderful. His diversity is also shown in his 2006 album of duets with traditional Okinawan singer, Yasukatsu Oshima.
"I've been extremely lucky. I know the economic climate has gone up and down, but I feel really blessed to be in the entertainment business in general. I think even in the worst of times, people need to be entertained," he reflects.
"I look at what I do as entertainment. I understand the role of entertainment in society more than I used to. Yes, it is art and it's complex and all those things. But I don't want to put the art factor so high that it alienates people. I don't want to be one of those kinds of musicians where people come and sit like a stone in the audience and observe me torturing myself on stage," he says with a laugh. "It's not about that. I want the audience to have a good time and walk away from my shows feeling better than when they came in.
"It's basic entertainment values. That's maybe the most important thing I learned from Ray Brownunderstanding that this is entertainment. It doesn't mean that we're up there telling one liners and tap dancing. What we're doing is still very...it's not easy what we do. It's very complex. It's done on a very high level. But I'm hopefully fun to watch and listen to. I learned from Ray it's OK to talk to your audience. It's OK to smile on stage. It doesn't cheapen what we do in any way to actually reveal to the audience that we actually enjoy what we're doing. I think that's one of the comments I get the most from the audience after shows. They say, 'Gosh, you guys look like you're having such a great time up on stage,' because we are.
"This music, for me, isn't about putting on a three-piece suit, looking like an accountant who just got off work, and frowning on stage, acting like what we're doing is somehow something that you have to have earned a certain degree in toughness in life to get. Like if you don't get it, you're not hip enough. Forget that, man. You don't have to have a PhD to enjoy my music. If you can feel us, if you can smile along with us and you feel good at the end of the show, that's fine.
"If you study music and you can understand it on a deeper level, that's fine too. It's not a requirement."
Meanwhile, for the summer, Keezer is spending time in his San Diego home. "I really want to enjoy being home in this beautiful place, having some time to enjoy my family and enjoy life a little bit. I'll be working, writing music at home. Basically I'm writing music to finish this record. And probably planting a garden," he says with a laughter that comes easy for this generous musician, "which feeds the music. If I get outside and get some fresh air and work with the earth a little bit, I write better music."
Yasukatsu Oshima, Yasukatsu Oshima with Geoffrey Keezer (JVC Victor, 2007)
Joe Locke/Geoffrey Keezer Group, Live in Seattle (Origin, 2006)
Ingrid Jensen, At Sea (ArtistShare, 2006)
Christian McBride, Live at Tonic (Ropeadope, 2006)
Geoffrey Keezer, Wildcrafted; Live at the Dakota (MaxJazz, 2005)
Jim Hall, Geoffrey Keezer, Free Association (ArtistShare, 2005)
Geoffrey Keezer, Falling Up (MaxJazz, 2003)
Geoffrey Keezer, Sublime; Honoring the Music of Hank Jones (Telarc, 2003)
Geoffrey Keezer, Zero One (Dreyfus, 2003)
Christian McBride, Vertical Vision (Warner Brothers, 2003)
Barbara Hendricks, Tribute to George Gershwin: It's Wonderful (EMI Classics, 2001)
Ray Brown, Ray Brown Trio: Live at Starbucks (Telarc, 1999)
Geoffrey Keezer, Turn Up the Quiet (Columbia, 1998)
Geoff Keezer, Steve Nelson, Neil Swainson, Trio (Sackville, 1993)
Geoffrey Keezer, Other Spheres (DIW, 1992)
Geoffrey Keezer, Geoff Keezer Trio: World Music (Sony, 1992)
Geoffrey Keezer, Here and Now (Capitol, 1991)
Geoffrey Keezer, Curveball (Sunnyside, 1989)
Geoffrey Keezer, Waiting in the Wings (Sunnyside, 1988)
Color photos courtesy of Geoffrey Keezer
Black and white: Greg Aiello
Featured Story: Nadja von Massow