Cabaret

Interview with
Tim Di Pasqua

by Jonathan Frank

Tim Di Pasqua is a hard man to pigeonhole. He's a Bistro Award winning songwriter whose music fails to fit into any easy categorization. Pop, country, Broadway and a host of other styles blend and fuse into a sound that is uniquely his and wonderfully so. Tim is also an accomplished singer who is about to open a new show of his songs at Don't Tell Mama in New York, which gave me a great excuse to catch up with this oh-so-talented individual.

Jonathan:  Welcome to Talkin' Broadway, Tim! You have a show opening soon at Don't Tell Mama, do you not?

Monster Under These Conditions
Song Clip Click for
"The Best That I Can Do"
In RealAudio

Tim:  Yes. Mondays in November: 12th, 19th and 26th at 7pm. Tom Andersen and Scott Coulter are going to be joining me on a number from my new CD, Monster Under These Conditions, called "The Best That I Can Do." The three of us are also going to sing a new song I wrote, "What Do I Know?", which is a really nice three-part harmony number.

JF:  So is this the first time that new song will be performed?

TD:   No. I did it as part of the ASCAP Songwriter Series at The Firebird two months ago: I whipped it up in a week while we were rehearsing "The Best That I Can Do." We performed it with the lyrics in front of us and it was the hit of the show. So I decided to bring it back again, since we didn't have that many performances to present it to audiences.

JF:   I assume the show is comprised solely of songs you wrote?

TD:  Yeah. The show is broken into a couple of categories. A large portion of the show will consist of songs from my new CD. A handful will be from my upcoming Tim Di Pasqua Songbook album, which is going to feature 22 wonderful artists ...

JF:   Wow! You just came out with a new CD and you're already almost done with your next one??? Very impressive! When is that going to come out?

TD:  It will probably be done around the end of the year and it's going to be a double CD set. We did a concert version of the material last year and since we had 22 people on the bill for the concert, it was hard to pare it down to a single album. So we recorded everything, and I decided that instead of making one incredibly long CD, I would turn it into two separate albums that could be sold individually. That way if people wanted to buy both albums they could, and we could provide a nice price break for doing so. On the other hand, if they liked a particular artist or song they could then purchase just the one.

JF:   I assume you'll be playing piano at your show?

TD:  Oh yes ... it's just me! It's going to be a very intimate show and I'm only charging a $5 cover charge. I did that for a show back in May and people were going, "Why are you doing that??? People are going to get the wrong impression, that you're not very good!" But I thought to myself, "I don't have any overhead; I don't have any musicians to pay. I don't want to worry about getting people into the show. I want my music to be about giving, not getting." Plus, it costs a lot to go and see a show, between the cover charge and the minimum. If I can provide a way to make it easier for people to come see me and have an evening away from it all, then great! Especially now, given recent events and climate ...

JF:  I wish I could see your show ... it sounds like you'll be doing a lot of songs I don't know.

TD:  Yes. In addition to the ones I told you about, I'm also going to be resurrecting some of my earlier songs. There's a new song that I wrote called "The Possibility" that Scott Coulter and I sing ... it sounds like an Irish hymn or a Stephen Foster tune. The song is about two people who enter in this situation only to discover that they are on two different pages and never end up connecting.

JF:  Is that going to be on the Songbook CDs?

TD:  Actually ... (laughs) I'm crazy enough to be starting a new solo CD for me as well! And it might be on that one. I just feel like I'm in the middle of a very fruitful time and I'm not going to fight it!

JF:  Good for you! I can't wait to hear the Songbook CDs and the next one you come out with as well ... I'm sure I'm going to be pestering you for music.

TD:  Good! If I may say one thing in that vein ... the third song on the Monster CD is called "As Famous As The Moon." My version of the song is very pop sounding. But Philip Officer sings it on the Songbook project and it sounds completely different. It has a very Eastern European flavor, with a bass and cello in it. It sounds so theatrical and almost like something out of the 1800s ... like a Prokofiev piece. And Julie Reyburn is doing it in her Holiday show next month and it sounds completely different as well. I love how there is no definitive way to perform any of my songs and how everything bears the fingerprint of the performer. There are limitless possibilities, which is fascinating. As a composer and as an arranger it's incredible to see the many configurations a song can have and still stand on its own.

JF:  I have to say that I really enjoyed Monster Under These Conditions. I especially love the title song. I'm not a big fan of pop-ish music but I really love your songs. I especially love the intelligence which infuse your lyrics, something that is usually missing in the pop genre.

TD:   Well thank you! I know that people need to classify or compartmentalize music, but for me, music really is barrier- and compartment-less. When I hear my songs in my head there's a lot of fusion going on as they cross over various styles. In my mind I can't decide if a song is either 'theater' or 'country' or 'pop;' I feel that I am influenced by a variety of styles. I like to go from one mood or flavor to the next. The new Songbook Album is going to be great because the artists really emphasize the variety of styles and flavors of the songs. You'll have, for example, Karen Saunders singing a really silky jazz number followed by Stephen Schwartz singing in a completely different style. It's also going to have KT Sullivan, Philip Officer, and Brian Lane Green on it, and they all are bringing their own essence to the music, making the songs stand on their own. But when you listen to the album collectively you will think, "OK ... I can hear how they all came from the same composer."

JF:  I hope I didn't insult you by labeling you as 'pop.' But the instrumentation and rhythms are very current; it's the intelligence behind the lyrics that isn't!

TD:   On the contrary! I'm very honored that you would say that, since it was my intention. So I'm flattered that you picked that out.

JF:  It is funny ... there seems to be a large number of singer/songwriters in the cabaret realm who are reclaiming the pop idiom from the banality of the Top 40, where the songs don't tell a story or take the listener on an emotional journey. It's a great sub-genre thing going on.

Now I'm curious about the little dragon drawing you have on your album. I assume you drew it ...

TD:  I did. It's from a series of drawing I did in the late 80s called The Young Kooze Characters. I want to do a children's book someday and I drew a bunch of kids in Halloween costumes. When I was looking through the characters, I thought the dragon costumed kid characterized the songs on the album ... about being a little boy trying to be this adult in the world and finding his way through love. So it really hit me to include him. By the way ... the other day I was walking down Broadway, and in the Children's Gap window was a mannequin in the same little dragon Halloween costume! Isn't that weird? I loved it!

JF:  So what is your musical background?

TD:  To be frank, I was a child of Rock and Roll and 70s R&B. Certainly the classic rock of the 70s was the music that I grew up with and listened to. I was really into the 'California Country/Pop' music of Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, John David Souther, Todd Rundgren, Sting and Joni Mitchell ... all those singer/songwriters influenced me. Later I got interested in theater music ... primarily Sondheim. I was introduced to theater music much later in life, unlike many people I know here in New York who grew up on it. Hearing Sondheim for the first time ... I'm sure it's a cliché to say it, but he really touched me in a profound way. Not just because he wrote music and lyrics, but it seemed that his voice, his style, his essence was really different from everybody else and what they were trying to achieve. While I didn't want to emulate him, I really wanted to allow my channel to be just as open as I think his is and allow my vision to come through in my music. So mixing theater with pop and soul and country and blues ... That's what drives me now in my writing. I see it as 'American Pop' as it's all from the same musical family tree.

Later on I started flipping out over Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin ... and of course I just love the jazz greats of the 20s and 30s and the standards of the 40s that I picked up from Woody Allen movies and Warner Brothers cartoons. Those two influences were really profound and that's how I learned a lot of the music from those eras. So now I feel like I'm channeling an amalgamation of all these styles in my work.

JF:  Did you always want to be a songwriter?

TD:  It's weird ... I was writing poetry and playing piano as a young kid, but I didn't start singing my own music until my mid-twenties. I think that was due, for lack of a better word, to fear. I felt that I could appreciate what others did, but when it came down to doing it myself, I thought that I would fall short. It wasn't until the latter half of my 20s that I realized that I needed to step up to bat and try it myself. Which is a good thing, since now I can't imagine doing anything else and I am earning a living in New York doing it.

JF:  What was the defining moment that made you decide to take that plunge?

TD:  I was asked by Tom Andersen to play for him at Carnegie Hall in the early 90s. I had to let go of my apartment in San Francisco and I came out here with just a suitcase. It was then that I decided that I had nothing to lose so I might as well give it a shot. Playing for Tom at Carnegie Hall made me think that the door was at least open so I might as well take a step inside and see what lay there for me.

JF:  Do you do a lot of accompanying for people?

TD:  I used to. I started out playing for Tom Andersen, and I've played for a bunch of people, including Philip Officer and Alix Korey. I have found, however, that the more I play for other people, the more I talk myself into not pursuing my own career. It's like actors who keep their restaurant job for the money rather than going after their own dreams. I realized that, while I could make a bundle playing for people, I really want to do my own things. So then it was like staying out of a bar after realizing you're an alcoholic ... I had to stop playing for people and concentrate on my own career.

But I love playing for people, and that was what was so great about putting together the Songbook albums. I would get together with all these great singers, play them a few tunes, and ask them to pick out a song that they resonated to. Then I would say, "From this point on, it's not my song: I don't want you to do it the way you think I want you to do it, I want you to make it your own. I'm your accompanist; tell me what you need." During the initial concert, one reviewer said to me, "I saw you looking at the singers, making sure they sang every note and word correctly!" And I just smiled and said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah ... " He didn't get that it wasn't like that at all: I was in heaven! While it was great that they were singing my music, it was really more than that. I just love playing for people, supporting them, and lifting them somewhere so that they can do what it is that they do best. Every now and then I need to get a fix of that to get that aspect back in my life!

JF:  Did you have any training in composition before you moved to New York?

TD:   No. I play by ear. I can't read or write music ...

JF:  My God, not another one! You, John Bucchino and a slew of others ...

TD:   (Laughs) Isn't that something else? John is a good friend of mine, actually, and I just wrote a new song that I want him to sing. He's such a great guy and has been very instrumental in helping me here in New York. We talk about our not being able to read or write music! I've tried ... I've taken lessons, but when you boil it all down, reading music is a very mathematical thing and it just doesn't compute for me. I have looked at other writers in regard to format and structure, but the older I get and the stronger and more confident I become in songwriting, the more I feel the courage to depart from a given structure and make up ones myself. And that's really helping me come up with new things.

JF:  Is Synchronicity [which is available on CD] the only musical that you have written to date?

TD:  Yes. It's weird because it has gained a lot of momentum and there is a great deal of interest in putting together a nice production of it someday. I'm working an a couple of other musical projects, but right now I'm trying to galvanize Synchronicity because I know that there is the right life and team somewhere to make it happen.

JF:  Has it ever been staged?

TD:  We did a staged reading of it at Seven Angels Theater in Connecticut and did two staged readings at the BMI workshop in 1998.

JF:  Is that the series that Stephen Schwartz is affiliated with?

TD:  No, he does the ASCAP one. Maury Yeston does the BMI ones.

JF:   Any productions on the horizon?

TD:  Not in the near future. There are some things in the works and we're still meeting with potential producers and directors, so that, if a New York production doesn't happen, perhaps we can get a regional production somewhere. We just want to get it up on its feet. It has so many good things going for it; chiefly that it's a five person, intimate musical. My only concern is that I have a passion for arranging and orchestrating ... I always envision a seventy-piece orchestra when I write things, which isn't all that feasible!

JF:   Any chance that you are going to publish a songbook at some point?

TD:  I would love to. Ideally, however, I would need a major publisher to do it for financial reasons; it's not something I would be able to take on myself through my own company. We'll get the CDs out and do some concerts to kick them off, and hopefully the songbook will follow.

JF:  Well, I for one can't wait to hear them. Best of fates on your shows and with Monster.

TD:  Thanks!

Tim will be performing at Don't Tell Mama in New York November 12th, 19th and 26th at 7pm. For more information on Don't Tell Mama, visit www.donttellmama.com.


For more news and information about the cabaret scene, visit: