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New Age: Solo Instrumental Easy Listening: Mood Music Moods: Mood: Dreamy Moods: Featuring Piano New Age: Neo-Classical

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John Boswell


John Boswell is a pianist of three distinct personalities. He has served as the exquisitely sensitive accompanist to a host of pop and cabaret singers, including Judy Collins, Andy Williams, and Maude Maggart. In such popular traveling revues as 3 Men and a Baby … Grand! and Cashino, John provides not only musical direction but joins in the comedy.

On his own, however, he is renowned for his CDs of gossamer-toned, classically inspired, lyrical meditations for piano—some of them composed, others improvised. Desert News called them “gentle, peaceful and very accessible impressionistic tone poems … graceful in their spare simplicity.” To Judy Collins, John’s work is “beautifully musical, yet spiritual at the same time.”

Garden of the Sky is John’s eighth album, and his first solo release in 15 years. While other musicians have joined him on some CDs, this new one is solo. It is marked by John’s shimmering textures, spacious touch, and atmospheric mood-weaving. “Some people have called my playing neoclassical,” he says. “I call it film music without a film. I’ve gotten letters from a lot of people saying that they paint to my music, they write to it; that it helps them tap into their creative spirit.”

Born in Seattle in 1960 and raised in Northern California, John moved to Los Angeles to study classical piano at UCLA. There he wrote a musical with the future film star Tim Robbins, and won (in a student competition) the Frank Sinatra Award for Pop Instrumental Performance. John went on to work on such shows as Liza Minnelli’s Stepping Out at Radio City, The Secret Garden, and Crazy for You; to compose music for TV; and to accompany numerous Broadway stars, including Mary Martin, Michele Lee, Faith Prince, and Jason Graae.

His excursion into “neoclassical” piano began in the late ‘80s. “There was a Christmas when I was very cash-poor,” he recalls. “I wondered what I could get my family. I recorded improvisations for each person who was there. I got such an emotional response from them that I thought, maybe I should do this more.”

His first album, The Painter, inaugurated the New Age label Scarlet Records in 1988. Subsequent releases included Kindred Spirits (featuring jazz saxophonist Dave Koz) and the Christmas album Festival of the Heart (1992). Singers rather than instrumentalists influence him the most; John has been inspired by the luxuriant fantasias of Sarah Vaughan, the mystique of Peggy Lee, the otherworldly mysticism of Kate Bush, the soul of Dusty Springfield. “They don’t inform my style,” he says, “but they stoke my creativity.”

Now, in his long-awaited return to the studio, John has created an intensely intimate experience. Typically, nature and the feelings it arouses are prominent themes. He calls the improvised Garden of the Sky “a dream that shifts from scene to scene, a walk through nature that is full of floating trees, flowers that pop out of clouds, and weightlessness, as if I’m a ghost or spirit.” Nightlife Of A Dragon Fruit Flower is another improvisation. “I relate to the dragon fruit flower. It starts to bloom at around seven p.m. and then is in full bloom between the hours of midnight and two a.m.—kinda like me.”

Unusual people also inspire him. Lucca is dedicated to his great nephew, Lucca, newborn at the time of these sessions. Frosted Yellow Willows is the translation of Anna Mae Wong’s Chinese name. She was the first Chinese American movie star, born and raised in Los Angeles. “For this piece,” says John, “I challenged myself to write something using only the black keys on the piano.” He named Iya (Little Flower) after an old Russian woman who plays for Caffè Taci, an opera café on New York’s East Side. “I went there one night and marveled at how she knew all of these arias from memory.” (The Russian translation of her name means “Little Flower.”) As a birthday gift for the songwriter Babbie Green, whom he often accompanies, John created Green Road.

The album’s closing piece, Home Again, sums up its spirit. To him the song evokes “a return to wherever you are the most comfortable, be it home, friends that understand you or a place of beauty that gives you peace.”