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Chad Lawson on Henry Mancini flip side and his calming new piano and orchestra album

Steinway pianist Chad Lawson recorded his new Decca album at Abbey Road Studios, and the Fabulous Flip Sides column reports on it via a B-side.

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Chad Lawson 2022, photo courtesy Chad Lawson

Chad Lawson 2022, photo courtesy Chad Lawson

Pianist and composer Chad Lawson is a Steinway artist who transitioned from jazz to an easy listening/light classical style, with a calming delivery in line with the meditation classes he offers. He was a touring pianist for Julio Iglesias which inspired him for the musical direction that we discuss. Lawson’s new double vinyl album Breathe is comprised of eight songs with an orchestra followed by nine solo piano performances of the first eight songs plus one more, “The Sweetest Sound.” The time change in the middle of “This is What Love Is,” the waterfall feeling of “Letting Go” and the Chopin-like touch on “Beneath the Moon’s Embrace” are among the many stunning moments on this soothing new release.

GOLDMINE: Welcome to Goldmine and thank you for your relaxing music which my wife Donna and I listened to in the car this weekend.

CHAD LAWSON: I hope you weren’t too relaxed while driving. The album needs a warning label, “Do not operate heavy machinery while listening to this.” It is meant to be relaxing so I am grateful that the two of you are enjoying it. I had a roommate once who said I play insomnia music.

GM: Your music calms us in a time when it is truly needed, so it does a wonderful job. We are both originally from Cleveland, the home of Henry Mancini, one of your key influences and certainly a hometown hero for our community. In 1969, in the record department at May Company, I bought his instrumental 45 “Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet” after hearing it repeatedly on Cleveland radio.

When I flipped the single over, it was similar to what later became known as a bonus track with CDs, “The Windmills of Your Mind” which I knew on the radio by Dusty Springfield and had bought her 45 too. Now I had a piano instrumental version in the year I began taking piano lessons and I would listen to both sides of this single featuring beautiful melodies from films.

ChadL flip

Henry Mancini and his Orchestra

Fabulous Flip Side: The Windmills of Your Mind

A side: Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet

Billboard Hot 100 debut: May 10, 1969

Peak position: No. 1

RCA Victor 74-0131 

CL: At the core, I am all about melody. I feel that melody has been missed in the last couple of years in recordings. For me, melody carries the song you sing when you walk down a road. A melody should be passed on and on. If you look at the history of “Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet” you will see that it has been recorded by so many people including Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis singing lyrics, retitled as “A Time for Us.” If you listen to Lana Del Ray’s song “Old Money,” the melody is the same as “A Time for Us,” which is fascinating. What intrigues me so much about Henry Mancini is that you know everything that he does is melodic, creating a soundtrack for everyone. I have tried to watch all the movies that he has scored. There is a 1962 Blake Edwards film named Experiment in Terror and his music is fantastic. You realize that this guy could do everything. Everybody knows him for writing “Moon River,” which is beautiful and iconic, but there are so many rich songs he has done, and he was such an unbelievable storyteller with his music. I wanted my new album to reflect that. I came from a jazz background for many years and to get the most out of jazz, you have to sit and listen with focus. What I have learned with the music that I have done over the years is that people don’t want to be challenged musically. The last thing after getting home from a busy day at work or school that you want is to put on a piece of music that is going to make you sit and focus. We’re exhausted and don’t want that. I found myself moving away from jazz to something where you are painting this canvas with a melody that people can attach themselves to. Then I started receiving emails, “Hey, I’m going through a difficult time in my life right now and I am listening to your music.” When the pandemic hit it heightened. I remember on a Saturday morning, it was 7 a.m. and I received an email from a woman who said, “I am listening to one of your songs and the tempo of your song matches the pace of my husband’s breath as he takes his last one.” I now receive emails like that all the time. I realized that it is not about me. My goal became creating music that can hold the hand of someone as they are going through every season, good or bad. That is exactly what Henry Mancini did, making him the biggest inspiration for this album.

From Decca Records U.S. on double vinyl, single CD and digital formats

From Decca Records U.S. on double vinyl, single CD and digital formats

GM: The song on Breathe that I think is the most Mancini-like is the solemn “Fields of Forever.”

CL: I am so glad that you picked up on that and you are the very first person to say that. I have chills right now. I can’t begin to tell you how happy that makes me feel. Thank you. That has made my day. That is one of the first songs that I wrote for this album. Peter Gregson on cello and Esther Yoo on violin are just brilliant on the recording. Esther had a Stadivarius, which I had never seen in person before, and it was great hearing her play that instrument. What they brought to the session was wonderful. Music is a conversation, and I am excited about the conversation we have created.

GM: You had mentioned the woman losing her husband earlier. I think about the dedication to your father for the opening number “Irreplaceable,” which is a great tribute title for lost fathers, and I love your rolling piano delivery.

CL: Thank you. I never title the songs when I am writing them. I wait for all the melodies to drown me out in my head and then I go to the piano and write out the notes for the melody. Then I write the chords beneath that to see what works. After that, I record the songs. Then I take a break for two weeks to a month away from it, which is really hard because I am excited and want to listen to them. Then when it is time to listen to them, I will and read poetry while they are playing in the background. I might feel that a piece matches a poem I just read and sometimes the song will tell me what it is about. My wife’s grandmother always says, “Long days, short years,” and with my music I hope it captures the little parts of days that make up a lifetime. I am one of the lucky ones. I grew up in an environment where my parents loved each other and what I got from them is what I am passing on to my kids. My dad was a furniture designer. During the summers of high school and college I would work at the furniture factory to show me the importance of doing something that I loved doing and going after it as much as I could. That was powerful. I remember that my father wouldn’t let me quit piano when I was thirteen. He said that I wasn’t good enough yet nor old enough to make that decision and I am so glad that I didn’t because I can’t imagine what else I would be doing now.

GM: Of the titles you created, my favorite is “To Hold the Stars in the Palm of Your Hand.”

CL: That is a long title. I am enamored with being able to go outside with my Mini Bernedoodle Derby. I looked up and thought that the stars were gorgeous. The way I look at it is that if I wanted to grab one of those stars, I would have to reach up and stretch. That is how life really is. In order to go after something worth grabbing you have to get out of our comfort zone and stretch. When you finally do grab that star and it is sitting in the palm of your hand you ultimately have to let it go. If you hold on to it too long, you are locking yourself in place forever and never moving forward. I have a studio detached from our house and Derby will join me every day, sitting or laying on the rug. In rehearsing these songs before traveling to England, Derby would be on the rug and there would be the same songs that he would lie down and snore to. That would make me feel good that it has calmed him and must be a good song. He is definitely my work buddy. When we recorded the album at Abbey Road, I was lonely. I would look down and remember that I didn’t have Derby with me. It was emotional because he was with me in making every single note for this album. I should have given him production credit. 

Derby Lawson seated by the piano in North Carolina, photo courtesy of Chad Lawson

Derby Lawson seated by the piano in North Carolina, photo courtesy of Chad Lawson

GM: I have seen Beatles films and shows broadcast from Abbey Road. I have only been on the outside of that London building. It must have been amazing being in there.

CL: It was mind-blowing. It made me think about what I was bringing to that sacred place and making sure that it was at a level which represents what the room is and present a musical offering of appreciation.

GM: Let’s talk about another international icon, Julio Iglesias. There is a flip side of the single “All of You” that he did with Diana Ross, called “The Last Time” which is so smooth.

CL: My friend Christian Tamburr moved from pianist to the music director slot for a season around 2007 and asked me, “Would you like to do this gig with Julio Iglesias?” I said, “Oh yeah. That’s amazing.” It was educational and inspiring at a time when I was trying to decide if I would leave jazz and move to what I am doing now. I remember we were playing a show in Spain with 30,000 people at a stadium and I had this eureka moment looking at Julio who literally had the entire 30,000 people audience in the palm of his hand, making everyone feel like they were the only person there. I thought, if Julio can do this, then this is what I want to do, too. It was the deciding factor, and when I get home, I am really going to go after doing my own solo project like Julio. Granted it wouldn’t be to the degree of 30,000 people but I have to start somewhere. That was the defining moment and catalyst for stepping into this circle.

GM: In the 1980s, I learned a Christmas song on an oldies radio show in Richmond, Virginia called “Sing We Noel” by The Kingston Trio from the 1960s. I thought this was such a deep holiday music rarity at two minutes in length and searched for and bought the album. You have a four minute version of it called “Sing We Now a Christmas” which I will be sure to play often as we head to that season.

CL: Yes. I love that song. That arrangement is so haunting in a beautiful way. I was going through a bunch of old Christmas music books when I recorded that album and, like you, I wasn’t familiar with it either from popular airplay. I played it and thought it was so entrancing that I had to do something with it. You certainly pick up on the nuggets that most people don’t pick up on and you have definitely done your homework. This means so much to me. You have no idea. It means the world. Thank you and Goldmine so much for our interview session and it has been so good being with you.

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