An interview with Daniel Padrón
Daniel was interviewed by Atlanta journalist Deborah Geering.
DG: Tell me
a little bit about your musical background.
What is your earliest memory of music?
I was a little kid, I always had tunes running through my head.
I would go off into the back yard where I thought nobody could hear me,
and I'd be humming them. … I'd hum melodies and I'd make probably what sounded
like very strange noises. I got to where I could play drums with my mouth to
make the beat. (Daniel demonstrates; Deborah laughs)
DG: How old
were you then?
DP: I don't
remember when I started exactly, but I've never really stopped.
DG: What was
the first instrument that you played? Was
DP: It was actually cello.
And how old were you when you started playing?
DP: I was
about seven, and there's a funny story about the cello. I was a very naive kid, and there was a string instrument
demonstration. The one I was
interested in was the violin, but I thought they had called it a cello.
So I asked for a cello. … But when they had gone to the trouble of
getting cello, I had enough sense not to say, "This is not what I had in
mind." They were being
generous, and I was grateful that they took me seriously.
So I actually learned to play and thought, "It's a lot bigger than
what I was thinking about, but I guess it will do just as well."
DG: How long
did you play cello?
DP: About four years, but I was a very undisciplined student. I guess it could only play up to two notes at one time. … I kind of lost interest and became interested in chords and harmonies.
somehow you must have transitioned over to keyboards.
brother actually started playing the piano before I did, but I became more and
more curious about chords. I think
chords were the start of it, and I finally started taking lessons.
DG: So when
was it discovered that you had perfect pitch?
How did that come about?
My mother played
a game with me where I was in another room and she'd play a note on the piano.
I was able to tell her what note it was.
DG: How old
DP: I was
real young. About
three or four.
you ever picked out an instrument, and you could identify notes...
DP: I don't even remember this game. This is what my mother told me.
So where do you think the interest in chords and harmonies came from?
Do you think it's tied to the perfect pitch?
Perfect pitch is an indication that you've got some higher brain function
around music than the average Joe. I'm
curious if you think they were connected or not.
DP: I originally attributed my perfect pitch to just being fascinated with the sound of the piano. It became like a fixation. To me, chords were like colors. I was fascinated. If I ever liked a tune, I always attributed it to the chords of the song.
DG: Do you
associate colors with notes?
DP: I believe I did, particularly when I had the perfect pitch at an early age, but later it became colors associated with chords or keys. Every key seems to have a unique color.
you're alone in the house with a piano, will you sit down and play it?
generally would get around to it. Sooner
or later the mood and the urge to play the piano will come. That has changed a little bit, but early on I started using
the piano more and more to compose. When
I first started as a composer, I was doing it all in my head when I was not
around a piano, but then I learned that a piano could be used as a tool for
composing. Sometimes if I hear
something in my head , I will play it. Sometimes
it depends on what mood I'm in. If I have a jazz tune in my head, such as the other day when
"Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" was in my head, I start playing it and
fooling around with it and am able to do some things with it.
Sometimes I'll take a tune in my head and start improvising with it.
Sometimes I wake up in the morning with a tune in my head and will go to
the piano to see if it's a solo piano tune or if it sounds like a Wild Rice tune
(which is my band) then I will start working with it at the piano. Sometimes I'll just play a tune just because it's fun to
play, not because I am trying to do anything original with it.
it's just you and the piano, are you more likely to experiment with melodies in
your head and basically compose, or are you more likely to play to entertain
yourself and play a song all the way through?
DP: I'm more
likely to work stuff out because as a composer I would be composing a song and
learning to play it at the same time. … Sometimes it's a matter of learning my
music because it is technically challenging.
I enjoy listening to a lot of my music, which might sound like I've got a
fat head, but it it true that it is very nice to be able to enjoy one's own
music, or at least say that I enjoy listening to my music the same way I enjoy
listening to Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev. So
I'll play just so that I can listen to my music and at the same time try to play
DG: What do
you think fuels your musical creativity?
Actually I'd say life experience. I
think one has to be an active participant in life in order to create.
There's something about the experience of being out there and on the
stage of life, not just music, that seems to fuel it.
I'm hoping that I can have some element or emotion or excitement in my
music that might not be there in pampered classical virtuosos because I have
experienced a lot of the things everyday people have experienced and not lived a
DG: So do
you think locking yourself in a room and practicing 10 hours a day wouldn't work
DP: If I did music 24 hours a day for whatever reason, I don't think I would have the experience to truly draw on the emotion necessary to compose new music because that seems to require having human experience that is non-musical. In a way, I'm going to be trying to find ways to throw myself into the fire in order to get that experience. Sometimes I wonder if I didn't have any stress in my life if I'd be able to compose the way I do.
part of the musical process do you enjoy the most?
DP: I would say the nicest moment is when you have composed something and finally sit back and hear a final version of your music either, performed live or recorded, and be able to hear it played back the way you envisioned it in your mind, such as I did when I was finally finished with my Whisper to the Night CD. It was very satisfying to hear all my pieces recorded. The result and culmination of all the work come together in one recording and one product, and you can stand back and admire it.
DG: Have you
gotten a feel for how people experience it?
Do they experience it as classical music or do they experience it as
jazz? To me it's a little bit of
DP: I'd say
they perceive it as a little bit of everything:
jazz, new age, classical. The
jury's still out on that. I'll be
interested to know how future audiences perceive this and experience it.
I only know how I experience it.
does it feel like to you?
DP: I guess
I just get a big boost just thinking that it might sound like maybe Rachmaninoff
had written it, or Chopin, or one of the great composers had written it and that
they would have been proud to have written something like what I wrote.
I like to think that my music could … possibly be innovative in the
different ways that I combine classical and jazz.
For instance, there's something on my Whisper to the Night CD called The
Lone Hiker Suite which is unique in a way with each of its movements.
… In each, one part of it is written out, somewhat impressionist, and
there is a part that's improvised. I
like to think The Lone Hiker Suite is a very unique piece.
In a way, it's somewhat like Debussy, but there's a jazz element.
In a way, I use my own vocabulary.
Rice is clearly very jazz based with some rock influences. Whisper to the Night seems more classical in essence, but
there's all those other elements in there.
How do you describe your music?
DP: I guess I'm more concerned with music that sounds good rather than having my signature on there, so I think if you hear my music you wouldn't necessarily know it's me the same way you would know it's another composer, like Mozart. I think it's a natural process to develop one's own vocabulary and style. So yes, I think there are certain styles that are unique with me and characteristic of the music I like, including Latin jazz, classical, my favorite composers Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Prokofiev, and of course my favorite piano players like Lyle Mays. All of those musicians and composers I admire are instrumental in the vocabulary that I use.
what's your ambition as a musician, and where do you hope to be?
DP: Well, I'd like to go as far as I can. I do have a big ego...
DG: You do
DP: Well, the though of having my music known throughout the world does inspire me and I guess that would mean that I have a big ego in a sense.
DG: So is
your ambition mostly as a composer or a performer or a recording artist?
DP: I'm not going to put any limits on myself, but I would like to be a great improviser and I would like to be able to compose. I would say that to be able to compose, perform, and improvise at the same time is really what a good improviser can do.
DG: What are
your immediate plans career-wise?
DP: I would
like to get gigs where I can perform some of my music. I would also like to continue working on new compositions and
practicing them. As a composer, I
write music to make myself a better player.
If I can play the music I compose, that really makes me a better
musician. … I don't have a real plan except that there's one thing I'm
working on that I'm going to call "Rhapsody on Yesterdays: A Tribute to
Sergei Rachmaninoff and the American composer." I have high hopes for this piece because it's giving me a lot
of inspiration. This piece borrows
from jazz and classical and Rachmaninoff, and is hopefully something that jazz
and classical musicians can appreciate because I'm giving somewhat of a
Rachmaninoff treatment, similar to "Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini."
I'm trying to apply that treatment to "Yesterdays," which is a
jazz standard and a classic American song.
five years from now, where do you see yourself?
DP: I'd say as long as I can be performing my music at least two times a week, not every single day of the week, and I can still compose and practice, I would be happy whether that means I'm already famous or I'm just in my little modest humble way carving a little place for myself in the world.