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Who Are You: With Pianist Bill McKay

What inspires you every day?

Primarily my children. My son is 12, my daughter is 6. Their joy and loving, innocent approach to life reminds me of the importance of being here now, and embracing each moment for the beauty and wonder that it is and how quickly it passes. All music that flows through my ears on a daily basis is inspiring on some level. Nature and the world around me, from the majesty of mountains to the serenity of a birds song, are uplifting and inspiring every day. The ability of love to transcend all pain and earthly troubles!

Most treasured item? 

Well, little pictures and art from my kids are always treasured. 

My Hammond B3 is very important to me, as are all my instruments. My van is treasured because it is so important to everything I do - without these items, I wouldn’t be able to make music and pursue my livelihood. I am always worried that my financial struggles will cause me to lose or sell instruments, or not be able to repair my vehicle. 

Favorite live music performance and why?

I played Red Rocks a few times with Leftover Salmon, and that was always special. Any gig, even the smallest, can provide special moments and surprising enlightenment. However, my 50th birthday party this past September at the Oriental Theater was a favorite musical experience. So many of my friends from all the different musical chapters of my life played with me that night, and it really hit home how wonderful a life I lead, how amazing my family and musical camaraderie is.

What does a day look like when you are away and not performing? 

If I’m on the road, I’ll be walking, reading, exercising. Maybe find an interesting book store or art gallery. At home, I spend time with my kids as much as possible. Playing and listening is always a part of my days. 

Who is your favorite composer?

I truly enjoy all kinds of music. Favorites include:

Rachmaninoff, Mozart, Beethoven.

Jimmy Smith, Miles Davis, John Coltrane.

The Beatles, Grateful Dead, John Prine.

But my favorite inspiration and composer is McCoy Tyner.

Will you be touring in 2020 and if so where? 

I'm doing a tour to Hawaii in January with Steely Dead - a fantastic and fun project that I’m really enjoying. I'll be in the US Virgin Islands in February doing a solo tour - I try to return there every year in some capacity. The year looks exciting for some touring and festival dates with Coral Creek, as well as Steely Dead and some solo trips. I hope to get my project “Chill” with the fabulous Channing Lynn on clarinet, sax, and banjo, on the road some more. 

I was recently involved with recording a new album for Johnny and the Mongrels, with Joe Michaels and Scott Sharrard producing, and I hope to be doing some shows with them. Johnny Ryan is a great singer and the album is too notch with some fantastic songs!

Where do you pull inspiration from? 

Again, my children in so many ways. Any music that passes through my life on a daily basis. I’m a poet, so I’m always reading and looking for inspiration in literature and poetry, as well as history. Life and love are my biggest inspirations!

What about the craft of being a pianist brings you satisfaction and joy? 

I've played piano since the age of six, and the instrument itself still fascinates me. It is an orchestra unto itself. The dynamics and expressive qualities are limitless. I will always search for more possibilities and strive to be better every day. I’m still awestruck and in love with the piano more each day!

When did you know that this was the career you hoped to pursue in your life? 

I began playing at six. I sang in choirs starting at six. I felt the need to be a musician from before I can remember. I feel I’ve been spiritually handed this job on earth, and strive to utilize my gift in the most positive ways possible.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job? 

When you play and sing, and someone tells you that you had a huge impact on them - I reminded them of a lost loved one, I brought them back to a cherished place in their memory. If I’ve inspired someone to live life with love and passion, to understand you can always be a better person, to cherish your loved ones and embrace the beauty and wonder of life!

  • Bill McKay Throwback
  • Red Rocks Amphitheater
  • US Virgin Islands
  • Favorite inspiration and composer is McCoy Tyner