Brian Kelly Switches To Ensemble Sound On Second CD

Contemporary instrumental pianist Brian Kelly is known for penning strong melodies, and he credits that talent to his diverse musical background of singing in musical theatre productions, serving as a modern dance accompanist, majoring in jazz studies and music composition in college, and exploring sounds through improvising beginning at a very early age. Kelly's commitment to crafting melodies was heralded upon the release of his debut album, Pools of Light, which spent two months at #1 on the international modern instrumental NAR radio chart. Now his second CD, Afterplay, showcases 11 new original tunes, also with exemplary melodic content, but featuring a more full-bodied ensemble sound.

Brian Kelly's music can be purchased at his website (, at major online music retailers such as or, and at numerous digital download locations including and

While Kelly's first love is composing, the media also has complimented him on his piano performance and richly-textured arrangements that combine sampled acoustic sounds alongside performances by special guests. On Afterplay there are seven musicians joining Kelly and adding occasional sax, flute, trumpet, trombone, acoustic guitar, drums and percussion.

According to Kelly, "The new album is brighter, more energetic and vibrant. I'm giving fuller expression to the jazz elements present on my first album, while still offering space for beauty and quiet eloquence. I'm joined by some fantastic musicians, who really bring the music alive. There is a wider array of instruments and the music is more ensemble-oriented. Yet, piano and melody are still at the heart of the music."

On Afterplay, Kelly plays piano, keyboards, percussion and pennywhistle. He is joined by saxophonist Eric Crystal (Boz Scaggs, Omar Sosa), drummer David Rokeach (Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles), trumpet player and trombonist Ross Wilson (Tito Puente, Sammy Hagar), flutist Viviana Guzman (soloist with numerous orchestras in the U.S. and abroad), flutist Carol Alban (principal flutist with the Bay Area Chamber Symphony), percussion Tim Bolling (Ancient Future, Kanye West), and guitarist James Robinson (winner of San Francisco radio station KKSF's prestigious Bay Area Artist Contest).

Brian spent his teenage years not only studying music, but as a stage actor and singer. He earned a Bachelor's Degree in Music Composition, studied with mainstream jazz pianists such as Art Lande and Andy LaVerne, took classes taught by the group Oregon, and learned valuable lessons from watching theater and film composer Michael Silversher (Disney) at work. Kelly has performed numerous concerts throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the winner of the "Keyboard Magazine Soundpage Award" for an original composition.

Kelly is known for composing and arranging varied styles that include rollicking jazz one moment and soft-but-uplifting contemporary instrumental reflections the next, with hints of pop sensibilities, world-fusion rhythm patterns and neo-classical structures subtly mixed in.

"I don't mind being a bit eclectic, " states Kelly. "Art is a language of contrasts, and as a musical artist I want to paint with a full spectrum of emotional color joy, playfullness, tenderness, longing..."

On the Afterplay CD, there are plenty of fast-paced jazzy numbers "River Rush" ("captures the sparkling momentum of a river flowing over rocks"), "Smiling South" (the percussive piano style is echoed by the percussion sounds from Africa and South America), and the funky "Flavor Seven" ("playful, with a strong groove and a touch of mystery"). But demonstrating his diversity, Kelly includes several quieter, gentler tunes the uplifting momentum of "Snowflakes Rising, " the flowing spirituality of "Heaven on Earth" and the galactic exploration of "Reach For the Stars." In between he also includes world music elements on tracks such as "Celtic Fire." Other highlights include the memorable melody lines found on "Afterplay" (piano-sax interplay), "New Vision" (featuring flute) and "Sunchaser" (with acoustic guitar).

"My approach with the new album was to bring the production and musicianship to a higher level of excellence by working with world-class musicians and engineers, and to compose music that would be exciting and fun to play 'live.' I allowed space in the compositions for the musicians to improvise. It's a thrill to hear the magic they added to the music! The end result, I hope, is music that is memorable, moving and unfolds as if it were 'meant to be'."

Brian Stephen Kelly was born in New York City and grew up in Palo Alto, California. He heard music from a young age since his mother played classical piano at home and violin for a community opera company. Brian began taking piano lessons at age eight, but from the beginning was most interested in creating his own music. While very young he listened intensely to both Beethoven's Piano Sonatas and The Beatles' Abbey Road. Brian started his stage career as an actor with the Palo Alto Children's Theatre. He went on to appear in stage productions at TheatreWorks, a renowned Bay Area theatre company. During his stage career, he starred in "Ali Baba, " "Our Town" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" among others. Kelly also has been the piano accompanist for many dance classes "which
challenged me to discover ways to create curves, arcs and circles with music and to develop a fluid playing style that could mirror the dancers' movements. Now when I create music I think spatially and envision music as movement, " he explains.

"So much of what I learned from stage productions I now apply to my music, " Kelly says. "I studied all the elements that go into the productions acting, directing, stage design, lighting, costumes and, of course, the music. As producer, composer and arranger, I'm creating a similarly multi-dimensional collaborative work: telling a story, building dramatic tension with harmony and counterpoint, treating each instrument as an individual character, and 'setting the stage' by attending to all of the details of the musical arrangement."

In school Brian took guitar and drum lessons, played percussion in the school orchestra, and sang madrigals in an a cappella group. He also began listening to the progressive rock of Yes, Genesis and Emerson Lake & Palmer. At age 18, Kelly began piano lessons studying both classical and jazz including music theory, harmony and jazz arranging. He became interested in jazz-fusion acts such as Chick Corea's band Return to Forever, and The Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Kelly went on to graduate from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he delved deeply into compositional and jazz studies. Kelly spent a summer in Boulder, Colorado, at the Naropa Institute where he studied jazz piano and took general courses about contemporary instrumental music taught by Oregon's Ralph Towner and Paul McCandless. After college Kelly began listening to the smooth jazz of The Yellowjackets, Bob James, David Benoit, Joe Sample, and Pat Metheny, along with the new age stylings of Secret Garden and Suzanne Ciani, as well as acts that defied easy categorization such as Michael Hedges and Keiko Matsui.

When Kelly released his first album, Pools of Light, not only did it go to the top of the airplay charts, it was named one of the best albums of the year (Top 10) by a leading piano-oriented webzine (now known as In addition, Brian was one of the small handful of nominees for the New Age Reporter Lifestyle Music Artist of the Year award.

"With my music, I hope to achieve a balance between inspiration and craft; between composing and improvising, " explains Kelly. "A solid composition gives you both the structure for the piece and the melody line, but improvisation can create excitement and the melody line, but improvisation can create excitement and take the tune to a new realm.

write your comments about the article :: 2008 Jazz News :: home page