Jim Calabrese has been a fixture in the Buffalo music scene for decades. The multitalented pianist, composer and producer opened his own recording studio called Soundscape in 1984 and started Jibber Records 1998. This summer will find him with the release of a new CD, along with a variety of gigs around town with the Jim Calabrese Trio. He took the time to speak with us this week.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now I'm producing the second in a series of lullaby records with vocalist, collaborator and good friend Mary Stahl. I'm engineering a project for Dave Meinzer and Cathy Carfagna of the Outlyers and presently in pre-production on a gospel project for Leslie Gardner and Simone Appleby's vocal group, the Union. I also just finished a series of Latin projects with Atlanta-based producer Joey Gonzalez and have started writing with L.A.-based guitarist/songwriter Michael Compagna for a new funky jazz project.
You're involved with so many different ventures. Are you first a pianist or a composer?
They actually grow out of each other. The ability to play keyboards is a must in a contemporary computer production environment. As a composer I usually start at the piano to get some ideas either in my fingers or on paper. Then I might refine the ideas at my workstation by adding a rhythm track, creating a string arrangement or collaborating with a guitarist or vocalist. Sometimes a whole new song or piece may be inspired or triggered by just jamming on a new or interesting sound.
How is recording technology affecting your work?
As far as technology goes I still use a lot of old stuff, too. Of course the most important element in the recording chain would have to be people. Namely, engineers who can sculpt sounds with whatever equipment is at hand, along with musicians who know what and when to play. As a studio owner and pianist I also have a large keyboard collection. Even with the latest musical instrument plug-ins, it becomes obvious how important it is to have real musicians playing real instruments.
What styles of music do you produce for in your studio?
In Western New York you have to be prepared for anything. I've always worked a lot with singer-songwriters who either play guitar a little or just write songs without an instrument. I'll try to create an arrangement of their song. Perhaps actually change the song structure, add a bridge and maybe clarify the hook or chorus, whatever it needs.
Of course I get many calls to do rap tracks. Composing music scores for video and film further emphasizes the need to be fluent in many musical styles.
Who are your greatest influences as a musician?
It would be easy to name some great composers like Stravinsky, Bach, Debussy, John Cage but I won't. First off my dad taught me how to read music and play trumpet and made sure my sister and I had piano lessons at an early age. He also introduced me to jazz and improvisation in general. My first piano teacher at Fredonia State College was Robert Antonian, who made me realize how much work I needed to do in terms of technique, and then showed me how to accomplish it. The teachers I studied with at UB's great music department in the '70s were all, at the time, probably better-known in New York, Amsterdam or Prague than they were here in Buffalo.
-- Mike Regan, Special to The News