I first met pianist/composer Paul Sullivan several decades ago through an association with Paul Winter when Sullivan was part of the Paul Winter Consort (he also won a Grammy Award for his work on the Consort’s “Silver Solstice” CD). He was living in Blue Hill at the time and I did a live interview and photo shoot at his home there. Ever since, we’ve managed to stay in touch with phone interviews from time to time. He has 18 CDs that have sold more than 300,000 copies and have won three Indie Awards; and in 2017 he wrote a musical “Songs of The Last Ferryman.” I recently got an email from him telling me about his reemergence after the isolation of the past two years and the three concerts he has planned, beginning with one at the Camden Opera House on Friday, April 8. There’s been a two-year silence between us so I requested (and was immediately granted) a chat to learn more about this and other music-related information. I reached him at his Sedgwick home.
Q: It’s always good to talk with you —and it’s been a while since last we spoke, too.
Sullivan: Oh, it certainly has been.
Q: Well, let’s face it, it’s been kind of crazy lately.
Sullivan: It has been and, unfortunately it doesn’t really, well, I was going to say that it doesn’t really look like it’s getting a lot better, but the fact is that COVID is a lot better right now and that’s a huge thing; and we have to sort of say that to ourselves because there’s so much else completely screwed up: Ukraine and the war. But the fact is that COVID is better right now so, therefore, that’s very good news.
Sullivan: And we’ve pretty much made it through this pandemic, but who knows what’s going to happen this afternoon? The only point I’m making is that I have to remind myself that good things happen and bad stuff, like everything, does move on eventually, and if you’re only going to be focusing on what to worry about and what’s bad, if you always do that, you’ll never have a peaceful moment.
Q: Very true, indeed. Now, in your email you indicated that you’re working on a new recording project?
Sullivan: Yeah. From the beginning of COVID I didn’t touch the piano, it was the strangest thing, for like three months. I wasn’t even really aware of it: I had no concerts, I had no recordings and I had no obligations whatsoever with music. So what I did was take a deep dive into piano technique. I went back to scales and arpeggios and Chopin etudes, and I went at it quite diligently for two years. So now my playing is better and I’ve gotten re-inspired and in the last couple of months I’ve been working on a new record that I think I’ll have out maybe at the end of the summer, maybe next fall.
Q: What kind of recording will it be?
Sullivan: It’s just a solo piano album and I haven’t done one of those in 10 years, that is to say, no singers, no other instrumentalists on it, just me playing the piano like my old days. And it’s really been exciting and good, and it takes time so I don’t know when I’ll be able to release it, but I’m thinking about the end of the summer.
Q: Well, remembering back to those earlier CDs you made, there was a theme for most of them that tied the melodies together. Is there a theme behind this new one?
Sullivan: Well, there is, Lucky, and my working title right now is “The Lake.” It’s about my experiences at lakes and that’s the organizing principle. Some pieces are more descriptive of a physical lake and then others are more descriptive of emotional states that lakes can create.
Q: I’m definitely looking forward to hearing that, for sure. Now, would you talk a little about this gig you have coming up in Camden?
Sullivan: Well, I’m going to be playing for about an hour and it is going to be live-streamed, too, and that’ll be the first time I’ve done that and I’m really looking forward to it, and it’s free, you don’t have to register or sign up for it, you just go to the Camden Opera House Facebook page at the time of the concert and you can get access to it that way.
Q: When does this show happen?
Sullivan: It’s April 8 at 7:30 p.m. And the next show is in Brunswick at the Universalist Church on May 14, and the third show is in Harpswell on July 28 at their beautiful Harpswell Bandstand by the Sea. I’ve played there a few times, and it’s free.
Q: Getting back to doing concerts again must be kind of a rush for you, I would imagine.
Sullivan: It is, it really is, and it’s exciting and daunting because, like everything, you get out of practice. I mean, people are reporting that it’s not easy to resume our old social patterns as it was before this pandemic happened, so, yeah, I’m excited and a little nervous, as well, about these concerts, for sure (chuckle).
Q: Now, are these three concerts a prelude to more come summer?
Sullivan: Oh, yeah, yeah! I have several pending and I’m very much looking forward to my own concerts, by that I mean concerts that I produce here at my house in Sedgwick.
Q: That’s right, I remember you telling me about those before.
Sullivan: Yeah, my nickname for them is “Palazzo Concerts.” It’s concerts by me or usually I invite musician friends from here, there and everywhere to come up and join me for a very intimate, almost a cabaret-like concert setting in our house. They are very popular and always sell out very quickly because we only can fit 50 people in, but they’re so exciting because of that, because they are so intimate. I’m looking forward to getting that going again —every couple of months we’d do one and I haven’t done any of those in two years either.
Q: Any other thoughts about the Camden Opera House?
Sullivan: It is so beautiful. And I’m very sincere about saying this, I feel very proud to be playing at the Camden Opera House: it’s a high-class and distinguished place and when I’m in there playing, and I’ve played there a few times in the past, I really just stand up a little straighter because I feel it’s a privilege to be playing there.
Q: Now, is there anything, Paul, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Sullivan: Well, let’s see, I can tell them that I’ll be playing some of my old favorites from over, now, 35 years of CDs. I’ll be playing some of my ‘greatest hits’ (chuckle) and some new ones that I have never played in a concert before. And I’ll be playing some Keith Jarrett and a little Art Tatum and I’m going to play a piece by Chopin — I very seldom play classical stuff in my concerts though I love a lot of classical music. So there will be a wide variety: there’ll be jazz, classical, original and everything in between.
Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.