Before my career with Dream Theater really got going strong, I spent time working with synthesizer manufacturers as a product specialist. My first job as a product specialist was with Korg in 1989. My job description included designing sounds, creating demos and performing around the world for some amazing instruments. When I started at Korg, they were just releasing the M1. It was a groundbreaking instrument that really paved the way for the workstation keyboard as we know it. In Germany, I had the great experience of premiering the Korg Wavestation at the Musikmesse. A highlight of my trade show experience was with a group called the Wackaadoos which featured Yours Truly along with John "Skippy" Lemkuhl on keyboard drums and Jack Hotop also on keys. It was in this period of time that I was beginning to be noticed by the press, especially Keyboard Magazine, who used to review my performances in each post-NAMM article.
In 1993, I took a year off from product specialist work and went to Arizona to record what turned out to be my first solo album "LISTEN". It was a great year and a productive one for sure but I realized that with the new addition to my family (my daughter, Ariana, was born that year) it was not a great time for me to experiment with being a solo recording artist!
One of the people whom I met in my time floating around the NAMM shows was Chris Martirano. Chris worked for Kurzweil and whenever we would see each other at the trade shows there was always a spark of mutual knowing and musicality. Chris brought me into the Kurzweil world when they were promoting their new product, the K2000, which was another really groundbreaking instrument. Besides the products the thing that excited me about being involved with Kurzweil was the people. The talent there in those days was amazing. They had the coolest engineers who were always there to listen and enjoy the fruits of their hard work. It was cool to have an idea about a product and be able to talk directly to the people who could make it happen. I started as a Kurzweil product specialist and over the course of a couple of years became more like an artist-in-residence. I was carving out a new an interesting role that some of the people there were happy with and others didn’t quite understand!
One thing about Kurzweil, for those of you who are in the know, is that they almost undeniably always had the best piano sounds. This was in no small way because of chief sound designer, Joe Ierardi. When I met Joe, we were instant friends. Joe’s business hours began at sunset. He did not talk with everybody. I remember that a few months after meeting Joe, Chris told me that when Joe wasn’t working on his sounds he was composing orchestral scores. OK, I was fascinated! I remember telling Joe that I wanted to introduce him to some of my friends at the various music magazines that I met over the years. I wanted everyone to know about this undercover musical scientist that nobody knew about who worked in the dark and created some of the greatest sounds I had ever heard on a synthesizer… Joe wasn’t interested in getting the media’s attention.
Moving the clock forward… Joe left Kurzweil when things became unproductive for him there and joined up with another great talent from the company, George Taylor. Together they started Synthogy. I should rewind now to say that for the past five years the only digital piano sound that I would play is the one Joe created for the Kurzweil K2500 and then the K2600. To my ears, all the other digital pianos in the industry (even when the samples became huge) were unacceptable and unmusical. I got word that Joe was going to be working on a new software instrument that was piano based. Now this was exciting! Honestly, I knew before I played it that it was gonna be amazing, because I knew Joe and George, but to be fair, I held my breath and my excitement back until it was complete.
When I arrived at the Dream Theater sessions for Octavarium with IVORY in hand, I introduced the new piano sound to the guys. There was no doubt that it sounded great but we had already rented a beautiful Yamaha 7 foot piano to be in the studio with us. The band was determined to capture the acoustic piano on tape. One day while in the studio we got curious about the real difference between what the Yamaha sounded like in the control room and what Ivory sounded like, so we put some great mics on the Yamaha and recorded it. I then recorded exactly the same part with Ivory. Hands down- everyone in the band made a point of telling me (without my asking) how blown away they were by that Ivory piano sound. It was undeniable. It just sounded better. It became the instrument I used for the entire album and actually everything I've done since then.
So, here we are in 2007 and Joe finally is letting me sing (or play) his praises!
He even occasionally talks to the magazine folks that I tried to introduce him to way back when. In a couple of days I go into the studio to start doing keyboard tracks for the new Dream Theater album and I will introduce the boys to the newest Italian Grand that Joe and George have created. I can't wait!!
December 31, 2007