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Danielle Yamada
Joe Yamada learned early that he could play by ear.

Pianist Joe Yamada said he tried an array of instruments while growing up in Japan.

He played drums and the trumpet, and classical and pop guitar, but he always returned to the piano.

"The piano has always been in the house, and my mother was a pianist," Yamada said during a phone call from his home in Seattle. "When there was nothing on TV, I would sit down at the piano and plunk out a tune."

Yamada learned early that he could play by ear.

"I would listen to pop songs and play it with one hand," he said. He would then add the second hand and then coordinate the two.

"The piano was an instrument I could play by myself and it would sound nice," he said. "When you play trumpet by yourself, it's hard to sound nice, but a piano is like an orchestra in a box."

And the more he listened to music, the more began hearing his own songs in his head and would want to compose. The music said things that he couldn't physically verbalize.

"When I moved to the United States to go to college, I found that I had a hard time expressing myself," he said. "And music was the perfect way to convey an emotion.

"I can't read music. When I 'write' music I don't physically write notes down on paper. I have it all in my head. I don't think of my compositions as being a group of notes. I think of them as feelings."

Yamada's musical influences include fellow contemporary pianist David Lanz, George Winston, Jim Brickman, and soundtrack composers Hans Zimmer, James Horner and John Williams.

"Oftentimes hearing their melodies and chord progressions will inspire me to create music," Yamada said.

These days, however, solo piano gigs are hard to book, he said.

"You don't play clubs and go on tour like different rock bands do," he said. "There aren't mainstream radio avenues to get your music out, whereas with rock music, when I played in rock bands in the past, we had college radio or we were an opening for more popular bands.

"With solo piano, it's hard to gig outside of coffee shops, wine stores and bookstores. It's hard to find ways to play my music for people."

That's the reason why Yamada joined the online Whisperings Solo Piano Radio station found at www.solopianoradio.com. Artists who are broadcast on the station include Yamada, Lanz, David Nevue, Peter Kater, Robin Spielberg and Suzanne Ciani, to name a few.

"What's neat about Whisperings is it will play good music whether you're a Grammy-nominated pianist or an Emmy Award-winning composer or a high school student," he said. "If you have good compositions and a good recording and it fits our format, it puts all of us on the same playing field."

Whisperings started as part of the www.Live365.com online independent radio family, said Yamada.

"Whisperings founder David Nevue couldn't promote his own music in the radio climate."

Nevue set up an account with Live 365 and, along with some of his piano-playing friends, including Yamada, began broadcasting.

Eventually, the musicians bought their own server and set it up in Nevue's house and offered a paid subscription to fans for commerical-free broadcasts.

The station got picked up by iTunes Radio and blossomed. The server was then moved to a server warehouse in Chicago to make sure no outages would sabotage the broadcast, Yamada said.

Whisperings Solo Piano Radio station is now fully supported by subscriptions, he said.

When Yamada comes to Utah, he will bring Seattle pianist Joe Bongiorno and perform with local pianist Michele McLaughlin.

"Joe owns a recording studio called Piano Haven in Seattle that specializes in piano recordings," Yamada said. "A lot of Whisperings pianists fly to Seattle to record at the studio.

"I met Michele at the (National Association of Music Merchants) musician conference in Los Angeles," Yamada said. "And we became friends. She's a fantastic pianist and is excited to play for her hometown crowd."

If you go...

What: Whisperings Concert Series featuring Joe Yamada, Joe Bongiorno and Michele McLaughlin

Where: Summerhayes Music Mall, 5420 S. Green St.

When: April 16, 7 p.m.

How much: $10-$15

Phone: 800-838-3006

Web: www.brownpapertickets.com

Also: April 17, 7 p.m., Summerhays Music of Orem, 1006 S. State, ticket information the same as above

e-mail: [email protected]