Paul Cardall Photo by Rob Norbutt

When I got a press release about a new album being released titled “December,” I knew I wanted to feature it in the month that shares the name. Ever since I started doing this, I’ve wanted to cover seasonal albums during this special time of year, and music had such an impact on me growing up, especially Christmas music. I requested and was granted a phone interview with Dove Award winning pianist and composer Paul Cardallwho is one of the most-played artists on Pandora with 2.4 billion streams on that platform so far. When he called me from his Nashville home on Nov. 30 he was more than happy to share his thoughts in a soft-spoken voice that reflects the instrumental music he creates.

Q: The first thing that I noticed upon listening to your new album was how much it reminded me of the great pianists that called Windham Hill Records home — like Liz Story, Barbara Higbie, Philip Aaberg, and of course George Winston.
Cardall: Those were remarkable days and I was signed with Narada (Records) — Windham Hills competitor — that had Peter Buffett, Tingstad and Rumbel, and David Lanz. It’s sad that all those labels got gobbled up, but a lot of the pianists are still out and around — and George is still doing stuff, but it’s not like the old days.

Q: Oh, it certainly is not. Nowadays with geo-political chaos, pandemics and COVID mutations, people really need an album like “December” to take the edge off the tense and hectic climate we find ourselves in right now.
Cardall: Thank you. Yeah, I’m pretty conscious of what’s going on and it’s all around us. Everybody’s struggling; no one is void of it. And with music being taken from schools, the beautiful thing now is that people in universities are doing research and using science to vindicate the value and importance of listening to music and making music, even if you’re not very good at it you’re less likely to get dementia and it’ll boost the immune system. So clinically and scientifically research is proving the importance of having this type of music and if there was ever a time when we need something to sooth our own individual trauma versus an alternative, what a great medication music is.

Q: (Chuckle) And thankfully, sometimes it can be very addictive, too.
Cardall: Yeah, so are drugs and we use those to self-sooth, so why not get into the alternative high?

Q: Exactly! Yeah, because music doesn’t do you bodily harm and, as they were saying with the vaccine: “Follow the science!” Well, there you go, science says that music is beneficial.
Cardall: It came to me at a time, after that third open-heart surgery as a teenager, I was trying to process my own scenario and purpose of life. When I sat down at the piano and began to play, at that time I was listening to David Lanz and George Winston, and that kind of music began to sooth and heal me, and creating it allowed me to process without, you know, going too crazy.

Q: And at this point, whatever you can do that improves the quality of your life, for gosh sakes do it.
Cardall: Music is like your spouse: it’s a partner, it’s a part of you, it’s what completes you and drives you mad at the same time.

Q: In December, traditionally, I try to feature articles that are seasonal in nature so when I learned of your new album, especially titled as it is, I figured talking about it with you would be an early Christmas present to my readers.
Cardall: Oh, I love it! Yeah, I think that this can be one of the most stressful yet one of the most ironic times of the year because it is extremely stressful but it is also extremely beautiful, and we spend a lot of time trying to create memories for our children, our grandchildren, the people around us and it can be overwhelming. But through the years my listeners have written how my music has helped them process and find renewal, so I wanted to take people through the fourth quarter pretty much beginning with the Fall—, he new moon that comes up in October, for example.

Q: Yes, I noticed that from the first track, “September Winds,” through to the last track, “A New Year,” you lead the listener through this special season. Did you compose these tracks with that in mind?
Cardall: Well, I decided that I wanted to sit down at a piano and just play, so I found this old upright piano back in the corner of the studio and it felt so liberating to just sit there and improvise and create on the fly. I didn’t want to do anything pre-written; I just wanted to make up things on the fly. So I booked a couple of nights at the studio and I went in and I sat down and, Lucky, I started and I was just like, “This is the dumbest idea I’ve ever had—this is going nowhere.” (Chuckle) But I kept playing and utilizing some old themes but I decided I didn’t want to use old themes; I just wanted to take people on a new journey.

Well, I think we recorded three hours of music the first night and two hours the second night, and ended up having 40 complete 2- to 3-, maybe 4-minute pieces each. I just played what people want to feel which is love, acceptance, purity, hope—there’s a lot of dark undertones but there’s hope in it, and we ended up with 14 pieces, 13 are original and one was the Mocking Bird Song, “Hush Little Baby.”

Q: Why that one?
Cardall: I don’t know why I did but I was thinking of my kids and that came out. I wasn’t going to put it on there but Josee Weigand, who did the string arrangements for “The Broken Miracle” (his 22nd studio release that come out in February of this year). Well, I had sent them over to her and it came back and when I heard the string arrangement I was just blown away at the creation. I gave her full liberty to just create and trusted the process, so we have “December” with piano and strings which will come out on December 3rd and then a week later on December 10th I’m going to just put out the vulnerable, kind of naked, solo piano version of those fourteen songs so people can have two different version, and we’ll see how it goes.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Cardall: I think that one of the other elements that’s in the music is the images we’ve created with the visual effects of nature. It’s a real calming visual presentation so if people are at work or school or it they just need three minutes of renewal, its one thing to listen but we have some beautiful, 4K nature shots blended into the videos, that’s all part of my website (paulcardall.com) which is the train station that links people to YouTube, all that stuff. I feel that having visuals these days will also motivate kids…if they are not interested in this type of music, show them something visual and that will spur within them the awareness of it. Look, kids need a break from the fast stimulation of videos, to watch something pure and beautiful.

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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