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Life & Work with Ed Kornhauser

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ed Kornhauser.  

Hi Ed, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I got my start with music in middle school band (fund the arts in schools y’all – it’s important) playing the tuba. I wound up playing in Palomar College’s jazz band the summer before high school, reading off the bass trombone part. One night the bassist didn’t show up, so I was given the bass part. I saw all these chord symbols on the page and was really intrigued at the idea that one could improvise along with other musicians’ lives. The pianist in the group was good, and I felt inspired to go home and start goofing around on my mom’s piano. After I started attending Coronado School of the Arts, I found myself spending my time in the practice room goofing around on the piano, ignoring my horn. Of course, I was also listening to jazz on the daily. By the time I graduated I was playing piano only and went on to SDSU to get a jazz degree. While there I studied with pianist Rick Helzer, who opened up my mind and ears to all sorts of new harmonic, melodic, conceptual, and textural possibilities within music. Simultaneously, I was also beginning to gig full-time as a freelance pianist (which I still do). Getting both the academic and artistic side of things in school but also the real world-on-the-job-fly-by-night experience of just being a working musician really helped me. Both worlds informed the other. Since then, I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing musicians in this town, sometimes getting to do my own music as well. It’s hard profession at times but one I love and am committed to making the best of. 

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
The full-time freelance musician life isn’t the healthiest, both physically and mentally. You’re out late a lot. There’s often free alcohol. It’s hard to eat well sometimes when you’re constantly on the move. Plus, you miss out on things. I basically have the opposite schedule as all my friends and loved ones. I’m leaving for work as they’re getting off. I book out weeks (or even months) in advance so being spontaneous is hard. Maintaining good relationships of all sorts can be tough. I’m workaholic too, although I’m getting better about this. My late friend Nina Leilani Deering coined the term “Kornhauser Shuffle,” which is when you cram (often at some peril) multiple gigs into a single day. In the past, I was proud of that bit of notoriety, but these days I’m valuing the time off far more. Moreover, the stress can be killer. Mentally of course (thoughts of inadequacy… lack of sleep/focus), but even physically. Stress can manifest all sorts of physical pain. I’m learning to work with that. I deal with hand/arm pain but as I learn to recognize and work with my body, I often can get myself to relax, hopefully preventing injury. You have to play light when it comes to piano. When I was younger, I played with my arm muscles all tense which wrecks them. I intended to keep doing this for the rest of my life so I’m learning to be better about this. 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I’m a freelance piano player, mostly playing the music a lot of people call jazz. Professionally I do a number of other styles to make my living, and I try to play them idiomatically appropriate while never totally sacrificing my own artistic feelings. I have this idea that I’m 3/4s an artisan and 1/4 an artist. When I play my church accompaniment job (which I’ve done for the past 16 years), I’m an artisan. When I sit in the corner of your company’s conference and noodle around lightly on some jazz standards, I’m an artisan. When I play your wedding and do whatever pop tune you want to walk down the aisle to, artisan. I try to play the part right to add whatever musical ambiance/wallpaper is desired. Largely, that’s what keeps me employed. It’s not what satisfies me, but it beats working. However, I do occasionally get to play my own music, or play other people’s original music, and really stretch. I can do my own thing in a much more complete way. Those times really help tie all the other (sometimes silly) gigs together into a career that I can be proud of. I’m honored to be a part of the musical community here in San Diego. These days I’ve been given some opportunities to perform my own stuff much more, which has been a real thrill. I’m looking forward to writing and recording more music in the years to come! 

How do you define success?
It’s different for everyone. Some folks want that American Dream life, so they get jobs they (hopefully) can tolerate to make the kind of cash needed to bankroll a house, nice car, kids, etc.… Success can look like that. It can also look like doing a job that you love to do, and being able to make out doing it. I don’t earn a lot of money doing music but it affords me a decent little life. Most importantly though, it makes me happy. More often than not anyway (some gigs are just bad, or you play badly and have to live with that). It’s still a net gain for me. 

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Image Credits

Anastasya Korol
Robert Sanchez

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