A few times a year I like to include interviews with different artists in the piano world. My final blog post for the year is an interview with pianist Donovan Johnson. Donovan is such a versatile pianist. I enjoyed getting to know him a bit more. I’ll include some links at the end of the interview so you can discover Donovan’s music.
PW: Please tell us about your background?
DJ: I grew up on a farm in in a secluded rural community in Northern Iowa. My family did not have a lot of money, but when I displayed a talent at being able to replicate melodies on the piano at a very young age, my parents wanted to be sure that I was able to take lessons. There was an elderly woman named Sarah Ryerson, who charged $5 per lesson and lived just down the road. Soon I would be taking lessons with her, continuing for the next twelve years, at which time I graduated from high school. From there, I studied at Waldorf University in pursuit of a music degree and eventually moved to Omaha NE where some of my friends and extended family lived. I was able to take up a teaching position in Omaha and taught private piano/music lessons for 18 years. During that time I also became well established in the local music community, performing with various classical and jazz acts, rock and country bands, and providing solo piano entertainment for weddings and corporate functions. In 2015 I established Enlightened Piano Radio, an online radio station and 501-C3 organization to promote original piano music for artists worldwide, and to provide a social network for them. Educating the public about the arts, and specifically the piano, has been one of my main goals ever since. Since that time I’ve also established a sheet music business for artists who need to have their work transcribed and/or produced.
PW: What did you want to be when you grew up?
DJ: A musician. Never a question.
PW: How old were you when you first started playing the piano?
DJ: I’m not sure when I started playing on the piano keys, that happened too early in my life to be able to give you a definite answer. I started taking lessons at Seven.
PW: Who where your earliest music influences?
DJ: Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, John Denver, Vince Guaraldi, Dave Brubeck
PW: What got you into playing the piano?
DJ: I’ve been familiar with a piano for as long as I can remember. Nothing “got me into” it per se, as it’s been a part of who I am from birth.
PW: When did you know that you wanted to be a solo piano artist?
DJ: I really don’t know that for sure, as I certainly don’t prefer being a solo piano artist over anything else. Solo piano is fine when the occasion arises, but as long as I’m making music I’m a happy guy. Maybe a better answer would be that I began writing the music for my first solo piano album in 2005. I really couldn’t afford the cost of a proper piano and the studio work prior to that.
PW: What inspires you musically?
DJ: More accurately, what doesn’t? I hear music in everything, from traffic to machinery to wildlife. It’s all music, and it all inspires me in one way or another.
PW: Your most favorite song in your catalog?
DJ: “Morning Coffee With Grandma” from Infinite Beauty.
PW: Biggest joy in your career/life?
DJ: The biggest joy in my life is simply being able to live it. I’ve had some close calls, and I don’t take living for granted anymore.
PW: Biggest struggle in your career/life?
DJ: Clinical depression and money have been lifelong hurdles.
PW: Advice you’d give to up and coming artists?
DJ: 1) Be certain this is what you’re called to do. The longer you take this journey, the more you’ll learn that it’s not for the faint of heart. 2) Observe and be very wary of everyone and everything. All is not as it appears, and people are not who they appear to be. Your best interests are not always going to be taken into account, even when you’re led to believe they are. Proceed with caution. 3) Don’t get too wrapped up in the “game” that is very alive and well out there. There are many distractors, some of them cleverly disguised, that will appeal to your ego and keep you from accomplishing your true goal – making a living creating music. Stay humble. 4) If you get discouraged, that’s not only ok but expected. Because you will. A lot. And I’m not going to tell you to hang in there either, that’s up to you. What I can tell you is that one of two things will happen: Either you’ll find a now hobby/career, or you’ll find your way back to the path you’ve been walking. See number 1) on this list.
PW: How do you want to be remembered?
DJ: I won’t be. None of us will be. In the long term scope of things we will all be forgotten, and the idea of “making my mark” on this world is, in my view, pretty ludicrous. In the short term, I’d like those who are close to me (my family and small handful of close friends) to know the “real” me – to know my heart, and to know who I “really” am. And they do. I’ve already reached my destination here.
PW: Thank you kindly for the time Donovan.