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Featured Musician - April 2010

Name :John Gilmore

John Gilmore

Instrument: Piano, Voice

Early Years/Education:  My wife and I were both from Los Angeles, and we were ready to leave. Most people were going to Seattle, and our goal was to move to Vancouver, B.C. We always stopped in Portland on our way north, and one time we decided to visit Portland specifically. So we decided to take a chance in '92. I had two phone numbers, one for George Mitchell, the other for Phil Baker. Because both had worked for Diana Ross, a friend of mine knew them. We had just enough to buy a house. My first gig here was backing up Darcelle, it was a fundraiser and I was hired by the sax player who was a friend of mine. In LA in the '70s, I was in top 40s bands for years. Restaurants back then usually had a lounge, and they'd hire four to five-piece bands five nights a week. You'd lock into a chain like Rubin's, and you'd work at one and go around to the other locations. My dad (Voyle Gilmore) was a drummer in the '30s in San Francisco, and my mother was a big band singer. Dad ended up working for Capital Records in the late '40s and worked there for twenty years. He was a staff producer first and ended up as vice-president. Capitol in those days was so much smaller. Dad produced the pop music ... he produced Sinatra for five years. He also produced Les Paul and Mary Ford, Nat King Cole, the Kingston Trio, and he did albums with Judy Garland. The producers selected material; they'd call writers to “write to order,” and writers like Johnny Mercer would write a tune for Sinatra, for example. The craft was really alive then. 

My mother was a terrific singer. We used to sing duets at the piano. Dad knew a little bit about the piano, so he'd show me basic chords. I sang first and learned how to accompany myself later. I finally asked for lessons, so they got me a wonderful teacher who used to play piano for Dezi Arnaz. He showed me right off the bat how chords were made, how they progressed, so I learned about theory and harmony before I learned about the rudiments, so I was able to love it right away; I was fourteen. I went to UCLA and majored in Music. They have a renowned vocal program, and I got into glee club, choral singing, and group singing of classical music. My first paying gig was in a church, I was around eleven, I played the drums. We did the Motown tune,”Money,” and people threw money at us. I always hoped I'd be a professional musician. I think of myself as a singer who plays piano, not the other way around. As I got older, I enjoyed jazz as a form more.

Sinatra: He was helped a lot by Tommy Dorsey, who'd say to Frank, “I'll take care of the music; you take care of the lyrics.” He really instilled in Frank how to interpret a song; and it's been helpful for me too. I owe my dad a lot about teaching me to sing … what to think about while singing. He used to say, let the song do the work. That's how important the words are. I worked in a restaurant in Beverly Hills called Jimmy's where Sinatra was a customer. He came in one night and sat right in front of me. He didn't like people playing his material for him. I remember thinking while I was playing; better not play anything he's famous for! He actually applauded. One time he came in with Sammy Davis, Gregory Peck and Ed McMahon. I couldn't believe I was playing for those guys.

Piano Technician: I’ve had a piano service business for twenty years. I tune, repair and regulate pianos. Regulate means to make sure the piano plays evenly and with the power and expression you’d expect.

Musical Influences: Matt Monro, Nat Cole, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Jimmy Webb, Michel Legrand, and The Kingston Trio. (My dad discovered The Kingston Trio and produced all their records.)

Most Satisfying Experience: Opening for Dave Frishberg at “Vocal Madness” in 2007. That’s a show John Wendeborn produced at the Benson Hotel. It’s a high point for me because I’d had a lot of gigs but never really did a show where I put together the material between the tunes, standing up and singing for a half hour. Also, years ago, I got to emcee and sing with a full orchestra backing me up at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas for its first New Year’s Party.

Favorite Recordings: Every Beatles album from '64 and '65; “Songs for Swingin' Lovers” and “Sinatra at the Sands,” Frank Sinatra; “Francis Albert Sinatra,” Antonio Carlos Jobim; “Cannonball Adderly and the Bossa Rio Sextet” w/Sergio Mendes; “Nat Cole Sings – George Shearing Plays”; “After Midnight Sessions,” Nat Cole; most Matt Monro albums; early Gordon Lightfoot and most Kingston Trio.

Discography: I only have one, “For My Father & Frank,” which contains ten tunes that were Sinatra hits that my dad produced and that I re-arranged. I also have two originals on there. It was fun for me doing the research and remembering things my dad had told me, and writing extensive liner notes. It contains photos of my dad and Frank.

Gigs: April 1, Tony Starlight's, variety show, 8 pm; April 28, Tony Starlight's, 8 pm, singing the music of English balladeer Matt Monro; April 9, Wilf's at Union Station, w/Tony Pacini trio; Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, Lake House, Lake Oswego, 6-9 pm solo. I also work with Ron Steen, Tim Rapp Kevin Deitz, Dave Captein, and vocalists Susanna Morris and Tosha Miller, and occasionally with Tall Jazz.

Future Plans: I hope to make another CD and continue doing what I’m doing.

Other: When I'm playing solo piano I think of the full orchestration of what I'm doing, it keeps it interesting. Generally speaking I find it more difficult to just sing (as opposed to accompanying myself singing).

Advice I would give is to play what the people want to hear, try and guage who you are playing for, and try and satisfy them. As far as getting work, you should have a minimum for what you’ll work for and don’t work for less. Some players don’t have a minimum.

-- by Rita Rega


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