Ed Bazel’s compositions are known as beautiful piano music with a soul-searching touch. His sense of melody, combined with passionate expression, makes him a popular choice for listeners who want to relax and unwind. Studying under such greats as Jay Flippin, Lou Levy, Joe Harnell, and Clare Fischer, he has been a noted solo pianist in Los Angeles including The Beverly Hills Country Club and The Ritz-Carlton, as well as a veteran producer of corporate events for Fortune 500 companies. He was named “The Marco Polo of Modern Music” by the Los Angeles Times for groundbreaking work in China. Now based in Nashville, Tennessee, Bazel has been the recipient of Miller Piano Specialists Hall of Fame Award in the Instrumentalist category (2017), Entertainer of the Year (2018) and a Lifetime Achievement Award (2019). In addition to being a pianist, he is the founder of The River of Calm – Music to Soothe Your Soul™ – an online radio station bringing calming music to a stressed-out world.
“It’s been an amazing life! Hi, I’m Ed Bazel, and I am a pianist, and I am originally from Huntington, West Virginia. I grew up in a household with an older sister. The first thing I remember is my older sister taking piano lessons.”
Ed was speaking with my colleague Karissa Love recently, just a few weeks before the strings and percussion tracks were added to his dream-come-true project, making a recording of his own music at Abbey Road Studios. The full album title is The London Sessions, Reflections from Studio 2 and is now available, starting on October 7, 2022. The album has twelve tracks, painting pictures of the soul that you can’t see but you can hear. Ed Bazel is a true instrumentalist. He is not an extravagant performer, he is simply The pianist. His delivery is quite remarkable, he has a natural way of conveying relaxed comfort, this is how you settle the woes of the day.
The opener is an elegant, uplifting and sunny tune titled “Morning Glory” (2:18). Imagine the morning light playing on delicate vines festooned with blue cone-shaped flowers, which seem to say, “This is where I should be, in my life, right now.”
Ed has an interesting life, the piano is a strong theme throughout. More recently he started a project called The River of Calm, music to soothe your soul, beginning as an experiment presenting streaming calm music, with his friend Eric Bikales. They gradually added more calm composers, now there are over 200 artists featured. In addition to helping so many artists get their music out, they have a special project, partnering with Alive Inside, who provides special headphones. Alive Inside are well known for their groundbreaking work in New York, taking headphones to dementia patients, and gently putting them on with the music from their childhood and highschool days playing and watching them wake up. The partnership with Alive Inside connects using their specially designed proprietary headphones combined with the music from the artists on The River of Calm, and they are donating them to chemotherapy centers.
“We have a pilot project we are just finishing here in the Nashville area,” Ed says. “If we as musicians can in some way at least take away the surrealness of the chemotherapy with calming music, that is our highest and best calling as musicians, I firmly believe that. So I am very proud of The River of Calm, the music that’s on 24 hours a day, and in those headphones for chemotherapy centers, which is starting to go big! I am just thrilled about that.”
Let’s go back to the beginning. Ed tells his story to Karissa:
K: How did you get started?
Ed: The first thing I remember is my older sister taking piano lessons. I would ride with my mom (taking my sister to her lessons), and then I think she also enrolled me in piano lessons because she was very smart, she was thinking, “If I drop both kids off I will have an HOUR to myself!” So that is how I got into piano.
I was forced to take lessons for eleven years, I was dragged to piano lessons, kicking and screaming and hated it! But it worked out in such a beautiful story, I never could have imagined that my life would turn out this way, and frankly, those piano lessons turned out to be the best gift my parents gave me.
I have always had a love for music. I found myself having a band in Jr. High, a pretty popular band in high school, a band in college. I went to Marshall University and have a business degree, and then I went to University of Kentucky with a computer programming degree. And then I told my mom and dad, “Guess what mom and dad, I am going to play the piano for a living!”
They were like (strangling gesture, hands on throat) “YOU’RE GONNA WHAT?”
And I said, “Yes I am!”
I think it was my way to get back at them for forcing me to take those lessons. I was a pianist for two decades in Huntington, West Virginia, and Lexington, Kentucky, and out in Los Angeles, and I just have always loved music and have been a pianist since the age of five when I started those lessons.
After I became a pianist I became an agent, out in LA, I was an agent for some nationally known acts, and then I developed my own company where we produce concerts for corporations and I have had the bookings from the Great Wall of China to the US Ambassador to the Vatican in Rome, for clients like AT&T, Google, Fidelity…
Just an amazing run, although my mom still wants me to have a real job. When I was a professional pianist, she wanted me to have a real job. I finally got my mom on my side, I would send her pictures of me with Jay Leno, or backstage with Bo Derrick, and she would take them to the beauty shop, and things would be okay.
But she would still say, “You need to get a real job.”
And then one day, I had an event with Frankie Valli, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the Jersey Boys guys, (he holds up a picture, Ed and Frankie, with a hand-lettered sign, “You’re just too good to be true Irene Olga Mary”) and that broke the curse! She has loved it ever since.
I used to be the house pianist at the Beverly Hills Country Club, the Ritz Carlton, Laguna Niguel, and in each of those places, that boils down to somebody coming up asking two questions, and me saying “Of course I can play ‘Misty,’ and the restroom is that way.” That is the down side of the job.
The beautiful side of the job, I was able to play piano for a living!
K: What are some of the things you remember about getting started?
Ed: Throughout the years I have been a pianist in some wonderful locations, beautiful places, and met so many people, one of the strangest ones was one time I was working in a French restaurant called Michael’s in my hometown, my first gig, and it was the high end restaurant in town, and it was about ten until eleven at night, almost closing time, and in walks Rod Stewart and his band, they had just finished a concert at the civic center downtown, and it was just Rod Stewart and his band and me in this little tiny restaurant, with me playing the piano, I was terrified! That was scary.
We can fast-forward to when I was a pianist out in LA, of which by the way I was named the best pianist in downtown LA by a downtown magazine, I was the house pianist at the Sheraton Universal, which is at Universal Studios, so I am playing away and who walks up but LL Cool J, and I have got to take my hat off to him, he was such a fan of these old classic standards I was playing, He was gettin’ into it, leaning on the piano, he is saying “Man, I need to take you home with me to add atmosphere to my night time!”
I have had so many wonderful experiences as a pianist, and felt so lucky to play with my hands and my soul and make a living that way, and now I feel like I am back and able to do this once again, and I will keep on the theme of I am the luckiest man in the world.
K: When did you first hear the Beatles?
Ed: I remember it was a Sunday, I was seven years old, my sister was agitated, big time, excited about something. We gathered in the living room with my sister and my mom and dad for the Ed Sullivan Show. I watched the Beatles come out, and just slay the audience, they just KILLED them! All these girls screaming, it was just a profound effect, and that was my first introduction to The Beatles.
My dad and my sister were the first musical influences in my life, my mom did all the heavy lifting by driving me to the piano lessons. We would have, in the house, Beatles albums playing, of course my mom and dad would have Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Carole King, wonderful influences, so I have always been around music, and always known the legacy of the Beatles, which is huge, for all of us.
I have loved the Beatles since I was a child, there are songs and melodies that are just wonderful, they are fabrics in the threads of our lives. I have always admired that and I have enjoyed playing their songs as a pianist for decades I have done this. They have been an influence on me, I have also been influenced by the standards, “Misty,” “Someone to Watch Over Me,” “Moonlight in Vermont,” something that most people today won’t remember, but if I go to play while visiting in a nursing home, they will remember, because that is from back then. Those songs were structured so well, based on beautiful melodies.
K: How do you get to Abbey Road?
Ed: My experience with Abbey Road was beyond goosebump heaven. I remember walking up to the gates and thinking, WOW this is the place. I have been to a lot of cool places in my life, but this one was like, “Oh wow! This is where it happened!”
I was beyond thrilled to record my upcoming solo piano CD at Abbey Road Studios, not just at Abbey Road Studios, but Studio 2 where the Beatles recorded, how cool is that?!
You walk through the gates and up the stairs, those are the famous stairs where the Beatles sat on. So many people have traveled through there, walk in the front door, the front desk greets you, “Oh yes, studio 2 is down the hallway, to the right.”
“Of course, yes!”
We go down the hallway, we go into Studio 2’s control room, I am like OH GOSH there is the window overlooking the studio where the Beatles looked out…
This is so cool! The microphones, you should see the microphones!
Pink Floyd, Adelle, Ed Sheeran, all these people have been there. There is a door between the control room and the glass panel out to the studio, and it leads to a stairwell and once I opened that door… it was palpable, the feeling, of opening that door, breathing in that smell. It smelled like a high school auditorium, perfect, just perfect, breathing in the vibrations of that room, it meant so much to me, walking down those stairs, thinking how many greats have walked down those stairs, and then, to look in this big huge studio and see this Steinway concert grand piano they set up for me in the exact footprint on that back left corner of the studio where the Beatles set up for their recordings.
And I am like, “Oh my God this is incredible!”
Once we started recording, we had numerous songs to record, everyone else on my team was up the stairs in the control room. The lights were low, it was just me and that Steinway Concert Grand, and I am playing my compositions, thinking “How did I get here? A guy from Huntington, West Virginia, now recording in the same place that the Beatles recorded!”
It was prolific, I can’t stress that enough.
When this whole recording session was over, it was two days, ten hour sessions a day, I made sure nobody was in the studio except me. I took my hands off the keys, I walked to the back wall, and I put my hands on the wall. My eyes started tearing up.
It means that much to me, as a lifelong music professional, both as a player, as an agent meeting my favorite heros in the world. I am thanking heaven and my parents above, they’re long gone, but I wore my dad’s cufflinks, so that I could carry on and he would in that way be a part of that.
Prolific is an understatement. Put it this way, of all the high points that were there, the lowest of the high points (no offense) next door there were a couple body guards outside of Studio 3 I thought, “Who’s that?”
It turns out Taylor Swift was recording next door. That pales in comparison to what I was feeling and doing and connecting, and frankly, this might sound very self involved, that’s not who I am. I really felt, playing my songs and recording, I belong there, I felt, in life, this is where I belong. I am beyond thankful for having this opportunity.
K: Was all of the music you recorded at Abbey Road your own original compositions?
Ed: I also recorded a couple of Beatles cover tunes, that was almost like an homage to the walls of Abbey Road Studios, it’s an offering. We recorded almost twenty pieces in the two days, and so by day two, I was waiting to do the cover tunes at the end. My hands were starting to feel the wear of two days of ten hour sessions per day.
I was able to record both “Yesterday” and “In My Life,” I love those songs.
I didn’t get to “Until there was You” the Beatles covered that tune, it is from The Music Man. They covered it and I have loved that tune, as a player I played that tune ten thousand times when I was making a living as a pianist.
For recording “Yesterday,” it came to me the day before, how to arrange Yesterday with a thundering left hand. By the way Steinways are great for the thundering base notes. It was great to put that out and just lose myself in the piece.
I did not try to make it (sings and beats time) “Yesterday…” nothing like that, it’s very thoughtful and romantic, it was surreal. That is the best way I can describe it, me, playing their song, in the exact same footprint of the studio. What is a guy from Huntington, West Virginia, doing? I feel like the luckiest man in the world!
And then it came to “In My Life,” I love that song, love that song. It was done in one take, that was it, I played it and good night, that was good, that is when I stopped, took my hands off the keys, and laid them on the wall, with tears in my eyes.
This brings out emotions of my long history with my family of music, the Beatles, and being a kid, seeing that magic. Knowing how wonderful music is, it paints pictures of the soul that you can’t see but you can hear. I am the luckiest man in the world to be able to do this.
K: How do you go about creating your music?
Ed: The way I compose is, I hear melodies in my head all the time. All The Time.
I get to a piano and I use my iPhone and I record for myself a note, sometimes just a thought, a notion, sometimes a whole piece. I went through 223 different song ideas and notes, boiled them down to just enough. This took a year, this past year I did this. In the last six months I practiced twice a day, two hours a day, to get to the point to go there. The best I can describe is laying my hands on the beautiful Steinway, perfectly tuned. I remember laying my hands there, playing effortlessly. I feel so lucky to be at that point, when many people struggle, and I used to struggle to play.
Effortlessly! It was, at the risk of sounding woo-woo, it was a spiritual experience for me. I was able to let out my emotions. My music is thoughtful romantic melodic, it is not machine gun piano (which is nothing wrong with that) so it is very emotional, the spaces in between convey emotions and depth, it came out!
I was so pleased with how this turned out. We are now still working on the instrumentation we are adding to some of the pieces, other pieces stand on their own, just solo piano pieces.
Somebody once asked me if I am a performer. I am not a performer, I am the pianist is what I am, I am an instrumentalist. That is how I can best express what is inside of me, through the melodies and the feelings. I am not a showman, I am not flashy and you know, big runs up the board and all that, that is not me, the songs are simple but elegant.
I hope our listeners enjoy it, I really do.
K: What are some of the difficulties you have had to overcome?
Ed: Anxiety and stage fright as a performer and instrumentalist is very real, I know I’ve had it. For me, personally, when I was recording my first CD I was a frightened pianist, worried about what others think, it was very real and caused me to not be as flowing.
For the Abbey Road, it can be intimidating but I’ve got to tell you, I went there fearlessly, absolutely fearless. I practiced for a year, I’ve played for 10,000 hours at least, and I figure if not me, then who?
I went there with such confidence, it was such a joy to play effortlessly, and I am very lucky to be on that spectrum because learning to play the piano with 88 keys, with three pedals, and so many millions of note choices is difficult, and I have just been at it long enough to be able to do this, so I was thrilled but again, stage fright is very real because you are worried about what other people think, which has been a theme of my life but I am finally getting out of that theme.
K: You have played the piano for so many years, night after night, is recording a CD something very different from playing live, in front of an audience?
Ed: This will be my third piano CD, I have two others. I was a pianist for many years and I have been in the concert industry, and done really well, but there was something that was calling me back to the piano.
I thought, I want to record a CD because I have songs that have been in my head since I was a player, so I composed a CD called Bella Piano, which in Italian means beautiful piano, in my mind means, a scared pianist at this first recording session.
I went from the Clavinova to the Yamaha C7 which is under microphones, so I called this the scared pianist CD, it was like going from a Toyota Camery to a Ferrari. My songs were, in theory, good, but they were a bit tight, in my opinion, but I did solve that problem. After that I bought my own Yamana C7 Concert Grand Piano (gestures at the piano behind him), is this not the best dining room furniture? I am now very attuned to the touch and feel of an acoustic Grand Piano.
K: How did that first recording session go?
Ed: I went to the Tracking Room in Nashville, they have a wonderful Yamaha C7. The first time I recorded an album, and it was like, I practiced for years on a Yamaha Clavinova, which is an electric keyboard with weighted action, because I was in the booking industry I didn’t have time to be a pianist.
I recorded my second CD, Homecoming, in 2021 right here in my dining room during COVID. The recording engineer Alex Carter did a wonderful job for us, and I have had some good success with that too.
K: How did your online radio station, The River of Calm, come about?
Ed: Getting back to playing a few years ago really calmed my soul, and I thought, maybe there is a way I could get my music heard. I have a friend of mine, Eric Bikales, who was Neil Sedaka’s pianist, he’s got a wonderful CD, so I thought, why don’t I start an online radio station, I worked in a radio station before, so I called it The River of Calm, music to soothe your soul.
It started out with just me and Eric on there, and I thought, “that’s fine.” At most we had five listeners, and I thought “that’s cool, that’s fine with me.”
I think that many more people are looking for a calming influence in their life, and The River of Calm now has grown from just Eric’s and my own music, to over 221 independent artists and we’re heard in countries all around the world! It is stunning how The River of Calm has grown!
In addition to helping so many artists get their music out, there is a very special collaborative arrangement, we have partnered with Alive Inside. We have a pilot project we are just finishing here in the Nashville area. If I had more volunteers to help, we could get these headphones out to many more chemotherapy centers.
K: What is it about providing music for use with chemotherapy that attracts you?
Ed: My family has a history, my dad had leukemia, my mom breast cancer, my sister passed from breast cancer, this is very much a part of who I am, to help. I’ll tell you how much, even thirty years ago when my dad had leukemia, I organized a bicycle ride to raise money from the City of Hope. It started at the Santa Monica pier in Los Angeles and it ended at the St. John’s Pier in St. Augustine, Florida. That was three thousand miles on a bicycle. I could not help my dad, but I could raise money to help treat cancer.
Back to the headphones, if we as musicians can in some way at least take away the surrealness of the chemotherapy with calming music, that is our highest and best calling as musicians, I firmly believe that. So I am very proud of The River of Calm, what it does with articles on music and health, the music that’s on 24 hours a day, and in these headphones for chemotherapy centers, which is starting to go big, I am just thrilled about that, and I have my songs on The River of Calm too, so that works also for me.
If you want to help us, we welcome that too, for the processing of the headphones and getting them out, or identify chemotherapy centers that we can donate to. This is a grassroots effort, the more help we can get the more we can help others on that. For The River of Calm and the music on there, we are very selective and we want to make sure we provide a great strong programming that fits our vibe.
If you are an artist, looking for your music on The River of Calm, just email us, you can email me, with your MP3 links, we’ll go from there. There is no huge organization, no large office building with tons of people to go through, we are a very grassroots effort, it’s me and our interns, so feel free!
At The River of Calm we are always looking for calming music that fits our formatting, if you are an artist and are looking to have your music on The River of Calm, simply email me, [email protected] and we will take a look at your music, and point you in the right direction, thank you.
K: What is the work you do with The Bazel Group?
Ed: I feel like the luckiest guy in the world, my booking company, The Bazel Group, we’ve provided celebrity concerts for corporations around the world, we’ve worked with Bad Company, Foreigner, Huey Lewis and the News, I have been lucky enough to serve as president and lifetime member of IEBA, which is the International Entertainment Buyers Association, and also president and lifetime member of NATD, the National Association of Talent Directors, it’s been a great run, and as you can see, music is such a passion in my life.
I have found that working with concert artists, they might be gifted with multimillion dollar hits, but some of them are just not gifted with the Meet and Greet! I feel like I am half artist and half business person.
K: What would you care to share about how you manage your creative process?
Ed: You know, the creative process is different for each and every one.
I admire the people who can sit down and in five minutes write a hit song, I also admire fellow pianists who can record and make things up on the spot and have a complete album or two out of it.
That is not my particular style.
My style is, as I said, I hear music in my head probably 90% of my waking hours and 90% of my sleeping hours too. I hear melodies, specific melodies, all the time, and so the question is, how do I capture those? If I am near a piano I try to work out a theme, and then my trusty iPhone is recording an audio note at all times, so I end up having numerous themes, numerous sections, it just doesn’t stop, I thought after Abbey Road it would stop, but the melodies are still in my head, and I guess I am lucky to have that.
So, with that I have a theme now on my phone, and now I have to put them in a spreadsheet because there are just so many, with what key it is, I give it a number, is it melodic or is it upbeat… And it’s a working project in progress, it takes some time.
I think there is a simplicity in a straight line between A and B and getting there with emotion. If you saw my iPhone it’s got ideas for the next studio session I’ll do, already in progress.
K: What influences have brought you to where you are now?
Ed: I mentioned that, thanks to my parents, I am standing on the shoulders of many, not only my parents, the piano teachers, Genevieve Gardner, Harriet Tucker, Irving Parsons, Janice Chandler, who were in my childhood, who helped me, who have lifted me up, and people that have supported me along the way. I’ve had a wonderful team for Abbey Road, beyond a dream.
This isn’t a solo effort, this is a team effort, and every one of them is very important to me.
I have been influenced by them, I’ve been influenced by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Earl Garner, George Shearing. I have been taught by some of the great people in LA in the music school out there, artists like Jim Brickman, Danny Rite, and my friend Yiruma is a wonderful Korean musician…
I want to stress again how important music is in my life and in others, if it weren’t for my sister being wild about the Beatles and taking piano lessons. If it weren’t for my parents dragging me, kicking and screaming, to piano lessons, the worst thing ever that happened to me, as a kid on the street playing football, was my mom yelling out the door, “Eddy! Time to practice piano!” and I was like (cringing and hiding face behind hands) There went my street credibility!
It’s been such a gift. If you are a parent, and happen to have a child that you can introduce to music, it truly can be the best gift of their life. Look at me, I never thought that in my life I would be recording piano fearlessly and effortlessly at Abbey Road Studio 2, and I have, thanks to my parents, the best gift they have ever given me.
I look at music like ice cream, there are so many different flavors, it depends on what you like. I know my music isn’t for everyone, but if it just touches one or two people, I am on the right track. I am thrilled to be able to do this right now!
K: What are your next big dreams and goals? Who would I like to collaborate with?
Ed: Wow! Everyone!
If I really have to think about this, I would love to do a duet with cellist Yo Yo Ma. I think the beauty of a cello , counterpoint with the acoustic warmth of a grand piano. That would be a dream come true.
I would love to play a healing concert for the world in St. Mark’s Square, in Venice, Italy. That keeps coming to me, I don’t know what it means, but maybe it is with Yo Yo Ma, and it is because the world is crazy at times.
And then lastly, in my own world, I would love for one of my pieces to be a theme song in a major motion picture. If the day comes that that happens, and I go to a movie theater, and hear my song on the big screen.
I’ve had Abbey Road on my vision board, and I have had other things like the tour of France, Kilimanjaro, things like that, that I have accomplished that are really cool. One of my big dreams and goals is to have one of my thoughtful romantic melodic pieces as the theme to a major motion picture. I am looking forward to that day, and sitting in that movie theater chair, with some popcorn and just saying, “I’m the Luckiest Guy in the World! Thank You!”
I mentioned that Abbey Road has been on my Vision Board, so many things, like Mt. Kilimanjaro, which I accomplished, Tour de France, cycling vacations, the house I bought, the kitchen.
K: Hold it right there, Ed… Vision Board? What is a Vision Board?
Ed: I found out about putting these pictures on a board and looking at them daily, it helps me to manifest and go forward. I really believe it helps, I laminate them and put them in my shower so that I can see them every morning, and it has worked! I have not gotten everything, but I have gotten major things out of this and it’s a driving force for me.
I am the strange one at Kinko’s, they look at me when I send them the file, I create it in PhotoShop, and then I send it to Kinko’s and have them laminate it. I go to pick it up and they are looking at me like (strange face) “This is yours?”
This is an older version of my vision board that you can see, (points to images on a laminated collage) here’s the CD, there is Abbey Road, right there, Mt. Kilimanjaro is already done, there’s the healing concert in St. Mark’s Square, I want to be the best dad in the world to my daughter, and there is my project of creating a Theme Song to a Major Motion Picture.
I am a firm believer in Vision Boards.
K: Do you have any other special partnerships?
Ed: I do have a dog, her name is Honey, two years old. I got her when she was a puppy, and this poor dog has listened to more piano music than anyone in the world. She is just a beautiful golden retriever, there is a picture I have of her standing on the piano keys as a puppy. Now she is two years old and Honey knows, she lays down by my side on the floor, and has listened to every single note that I have played. Honey seems to enjoy it and be calmed by it.
She has been a great partner, I’ll take her on walks and we will listen to rough tracks for song ideas as we go. It’s a working relationship, she has just been great, I love her to death, what a great comfort she is, she’s right down there, sleeping right now.
Ed’s newest album, The London Sessions, Reflections from Studio 2, is now available, as are his other two albums, Homecoming and Bella Piano:
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