STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
For Philly pianist and composer Jason Newman, the 2015 release of his debut album “Entwined” is the culmination of years of hard work, sacrifice and determination in the art of making music.
Dedicated to his late mother, who passed away in 2011, Entwined is a masterpiece. A one-time rock artist, Newman has pushed the boundaries of his creativity, finding inspiration from Bach to Radiohead.
Featuring Jason Fraticelli (bass) and Tony Deangelis (drums), Newman’s trio triumphantly captures fresh, vibrant and original compositions ranging from jazz fusion to rock and classical.
“I started the album in the 2010,” says Newman, from his Phoenixville, Pennsylvania home. “My mom had cancer. So, we were dealing with that a lot. At the same time, I was composing some of the material, which actually was pretty fertile I think, in terms of developing. When she passed, I felt like I had to put things on hold for a while. Two years ago, things started ramping up again. We were working together as a unit and developed the sound a little more. All three of us became really comfortable with the sound I was going for. We did a rehearsal last summer, and at that point, we felt we were ready to roll.”
“I really wanted things to develop naturally and be really confident to go into the studio feeling very good about what I was doing,” adds Newman. “I tried to keep open ears and be spontaneous, like an improviser. You don’t want to be stuck on one way of doing it. I felt like I kept open to other opinions, other things. I was kind of producing it at the same time as I was doing it.”
Entering the studio with a collection of what he considers his finest work, Newman had a specific theme in mind. As the album’s principal songwriter and producer, together with invaluable co-producer Alfred Goodrich, Newman successfully created what he envisioned as a seamless chemistry throughout the listening experience.
“My concept is always to stay as true as I can to the composition,” says Newman. “The flow of the album was important. So, you can listen to it from beginning to end. All of these ideas were flowing through my mind for the last two years. I’ve listened to other albums where the tunes are good compositions, but they don’t really fit on the album. For me, the rock side of what I grew-up with – “Led Zeppelin,” “Pink Floyd” and “Radiohead” — all of those bands were so conceptually strong and have been a huge influence as well.”
“I like to have that flow in there,” adds Newman. “It’s connected a bit to some of the classical things I write. I take one idea and really develop that idea to the end as a composition. The playing is developing and trying to connect with other musicians and communicate. That kind of communication, that kind of conversation is important. I felt that the combination of us three with my material was just right. I think we did pretty well.”
Of the ten Newman originals that make up “Entwined,” my favorite selections, while admittedly difficult to single out, are “Akin,” “Entwined,” “Dukes and Counts,” “Ballade” and “Versa’s Vice.”
A 2000 graduate of Lebanon Valley College, Newman is currently working toward his Master’s Degree in Music Theory and Composition from West Chester University.
“I really had a lot of great connections when I was in college,” recalls Newman. “They would send me out to do a lot of private gigs and things. So, I think I had a lot of really good performance opportunities just from being there. It was a great music department. That’s why I went there. All the professors were working musicians. They were not just teachers. They were all out there performing and writing music, and I think that’s what drew me there. I got a lot of great classical and jazz training.”
“I’ve learned a ton over at West Chester just from being around all the professors and getting to know a lot of the student performers,” adds Newman. “That has been an important stage of development in the last few years. At some point, I would like to become an adjunct professor.”
To coincide with his active solo career, Newman is a veteran music instructor working from his home studio with students in piano repertoire, improvisation and composition.
“I really enjoy the teacher part of it,” says Newman. “I really think I’m learning from my students, and that’s a good thing. I’m getting more into jazz improvisation with some of the students, which has been a fun thing for me. It also brings to mind some things that I’ve been working on too. I’m doing some Skype lessons around the country and finding a way to expand out to people around the country and around the world.”
“Teaching is something that I did originally because I had to make enough money to pay the mortgage,” adds Newman. “After a while, you start getting good at it and you start realizing you have the personality for it. What I say resonates with my students. People seem to like my approach to it.”It was not too many years back, in 2006, that Newman could be found playing keyboards and serving as a co-composer for the Philly based rock band “Vista.” Working the club and college circuit, they released the album “Waterfall” that same year.
“Once I turned 30, everything started relaxing just a little bit,” recalls Newman. “Jazz and classical composition can be very difficult. I started maturing in a way to refine everything and develop and grow as a musician at that time.”
During his career, Newman has collaborated, studied and mentored with a number of accomplished artists, most recently with internationally recognized jazz pianist and composer Kevin Hays.
At 37 and always focusing on what lies ahead, Newman thrives on the passion and discipline of being committed to his art.
“Staying humble, easy going and open minded to seeing what works — that’s what I work toward,” says Newman. “For me, it’s always keeping that no category approach to music and going as far back as I can and keeping current. I play Bach every day. That’s something I’ve been doing since college. That kind of grounding, technique and playing.”
“Keeping an open mindset to music as much as I can and working hard,” adds Newnan. “I think the work ethic is part of it too. I play day in day out and wake up as early as I can. I stick to a plan to be as creative as possible. I really think about this a lot – how to shoot at the highest level. What I love about music is that there are so many possibilities and endless combinations of things. That drives me. It’s always a work in progress. “
To stay up to date with Jason Newman, visit www.jasonthomasnewman.com.