|Steven Jon Kaplan has just completed his first CD, "Temptation", on which he performs his original songs.|
Tell us about your musical background?
I was born in May of 1960 and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. My parents liked to listen to records, and my mother's mother played the piano, so I was exposed to a lot of music at a very early age. My father taught me to read piano music before I reached my fifth birthday, and at the age of seven I passed an audition to enter the Peabody Preparatory Institute. For ten years I took classes in piano performance and composition from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Saturday. I won a classical piano competition which led to my first television appearance at the age of eleven on the show "Upbeat", performing Bartok's Rumanian Folk Dances. My strongest memory of that day was throwing up afterward.
How would you label your music?
I find it difficult to label my own music, since it covers a combination of styles including folk, classical, jazz, country, reggae, Latin dance, and rock. I'm not sure if the variety reflects a conscious attempt to cover all bases, or if I haven't yet quite found my own niche. Each tune has a chorus that's easy to sing and remember, and lyrics that anyone can relate to. If people listen to my songs and don't end up humming them in the shower, then I figure I haven't succeeded.
Which artists have been big influences? Which lately?
When I was a kid I was a huge fan of Jim Croce and the way he could create a mood with a simple ballad about the problems that ordinary people face in their lives. In my college years the Roches became a big favorite, with their humor, irony, pathos, and amazing three-part harmonies. I admire Leonard Cohen's ability to be sweetly musical and verbally jarring simultaneously. My friend Jack Martin introduced me to the old jazz standards, which strongly affect my musicianship and styling. Recently I have listened to composers from as many backgrounds as possible so that I can learn from their diversity.
What music did you listen to as a youth?
My father liked Broadway show tunes and folk singers like Pete Seeger, while my mother loved the classics, so that was what I knew before I had any choice in the matter. At Peabody we were saturated with classical music. When I was eleven years old I visited a distant cousin in Long Island-she played Carole King's album "Tapestry" and it blew me away.
What kind of music did you first start to play, and what kind of bands were you in?
I first learned to play the piano arrangements from the Broadway musicals "South Pacific" and "My Fair Lady", since those were the first two songbooks that my father bought for me. Once I started formal lessons I mostly concentrated on classical music, and the bands I was in were performing chamber music and symphonies. In high school I had fun exploring more popular genres-my piano playing made me one of the best known students in my class. A guitar-playing friend of mine was a Led Zeppelin fan so we performed some of their songs at parties. When disco was at the height of its popularity-during my senior year of high school-I played the songs from Saturday Night Fever at friends' houses, at parties, at school gatherings, even in restaurants. It sounds corny but I miss the energy of that era, which I try to recreate in my songs like "Temptation" and "Get Up and Dance".
When and why did you first start writing songs?
I first started writing songs at the age of seven because I had to as part of my Peabody class assignment. At the age of nine I was fortunate to have David Hogan as a teacher, whom we affectionately called "Hoagie". He not only taught us rigorous music theory, but forced us to concentrate on how all aspects of a song have to fit together to form a unified whole. At the age of 14 I won a scholarship to a composers' summer camp run by Hoagie. I learned a lot but it was a little intimidating to eat, swim, hike, study, and shower with other composers all day long-especially since some of my fellow campers had already gotten nationwide recognition and most of them were a few critical years older.
When do you compose? Where?
Some of my best inspirations have arisen while I was bored killing time in places away from home, when I didn't have much to eat or drink or do. At my brother's interminable graduation ceremony . . . on a slow train from New York to Baltimore . . . between two acts of an offbeat off-Broadway play . . . on a ferry from Manhattan to Weehawken . . . waiting for a performer to show up for a concert . . . these led to some of my favorite tunes. I wrote the lyrics to "Forever Blue" to prevent myself from falling asleep at a BMI workshop. I never go anywhere without paper and a pen. If I'm at home and well fed, forget about it!
What experiences do you draw from when writing songs?
Often it's something that happened long ago which, when filtered through the passing years, serves as the basis for an idea which leads to a song. Sometimes in the ordinary course of life a routine activity will have one minor item out of place, or a small unexpected turn of events, which will trigger a creative impulse.
What is the driving force or inspiration behind your music?
My songs are inspired mostly by the people in my life, present and past. I pretend that I am one of my friends and concentrate on that person's emotions. I think about someone that I met a long time ago and cared about and how our relationship faded away. I recall a simple emotion from a chance encounter.
Where are you heading musically?
When I was in junior high school, I listened each week to "Casey Casem's Top 40". My dream has always been to write a number-one hit record-that's what keeps me going. I would rather have a song on the top of the charts than to be the opening act at Giants Stadium for Billy Joel. I am working on directing my efforts, apart from my actual songwriting, toward convincing big-name artists to record a few of my tunes.