Former prodigy Michael Kaeshammer branches out

Suspicious minds might think that Michael Kaeshammer's new CD, Days Like These, is a calculated attempt to muscle in on Michael Bublé's turf especially since the Toronto-based performer sings on every track, rather than relying on his splashy piano skills. But according to the former teen keyboard prodigy, now 30, it's merely a case of trying to let his true self shine through.

"Last year I did a tour across Canada with Harry Manx, doing a duet thing," he explains, caught in Toronto in a Yonge Street book and record store while setting up for an autograph session. "It was a really fun tour, but we travelled separately, so there was a lot of alone time four weeks of driving through Canada and being alone. And I had some opportunities to reflect on myself and the music industry why I do what I do, and why I'm playing certain songs, and why I'm representing who I am in this way."

According to Kaeshammer, the cross-country trip engendered more than a few dark nights of the soul. "At times," he says, "I was thinking about stopping for a bit and going into something else." But as so often happens with solitary creators, the former Vancouver resident found solace in his diary and some of his late-night observations turned into the five original songs included on Days Like These. They are found next to covers of Willie Dixon's "My Love", Nina Simone's "If You Knew", and Peter Tosh's "Stop That Train".

"Writing a diary has become a very cleansing thing to do, and I wanted to put those things to music," he contends. "That's really why I started singing more because I wanted to tell these stories that I wrote."

Kaeshammer's lyrical musings aren't going to cause Bob Dylan or even Thom Yorke any sleepless nights, but they show that he's an artist in transition. The Offenburg, Germany born musician caught the public eye as a teenager, thanks to his precocious facility for classic stride and swing piano. Now, though, he's more intrigued by New Orleans funk and the singer-songwriter idiom, and in trying to find a personal fusion of those elements, he's even begun to question his easy virtuosity.

"Maybe age has something to do with it, but when I started writing this record, I really wanted to play every song and every note, for that matter with a purpose," he says. This isn't downplaying his technical prowess; it's just that Kaeshammer wants to put his gifts to good use. And while he doesn't quite know where his new direction will take him, he's sure that more disclosures are in store.

"My music will get more and more personal," he reveals. "I used to have a little voice in my head about certain songs, where I thought, 'Is that jazzy enough?' or 'What is the jazz community going to think about this tune?' But, you know, that doesn't matter. None of that stuff matters. It just took me a little while to realize it."

Michael Kaeshammer plays the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts next Thursday (December 13).