One of the
highlights of this past summer was finally meeting Isadar. I had
written quite a few reviews for his music and songbooks over the past
twelve years, but we had never met in person. We got to talking and
decided it was time to do an interview. How did Fabian Thibodeaux
become Isadar and whats it like to have parallel
recording careers as a pianist/composer and a vocalist doing music
videos? We cover it all and much more below! ~ Kathy Parsons, MainlyPiano.com
You recently released four excellent DVDs of live performances of
many of your piano solos. What else are you working on these days?
Thanks for your wonderful reviews! I recently released a
bundled 6-disc set of my piano works, "Solo
Piano Anthology: 1990-2010" which is a
retrospective. Im also getting artwork and packaging
together for physical on-demand CD releases of all my previous
albums. In the past few months, I ended a relationship with a
long-time digital distributor, so getting everything back online is
taking time. I'm also using this opportunity and time to
remix and remaster two of my older vocal titles.
On the back burner
are two projects that I started a few years ago. One is a new
solo piano album, Red, and the other is a Christmas album, O,
Christmas. Both album covers are completed as is much of the
music, but I have a long editing process ahead of me that seems
impossible to begin, much less complete anytime soon. To move
forward, I must have a Disklavier grand piano, and that isnt in
my near-future for various reasons, so it seems the piano music will
have to wait at least another year or two.
Tell us a bit about your early life.
I grew up in Louisiana and have two older brothers. The oldest
is a church organist and choir director/piano teacher. My other
brother, played saxophone in high school and studied piano as a
child. Mom studied piano in her teens. Dad wasnt a musician,
but he was a magician. He had his own childrens
television show in California performing his magic before
moving back to Louisiana and meeting my mom. His dad (my
grandfather) was a Cajun/French accordion player and had his own
band. I recently released some archival recordings of his band on my
label. Its called Cajun
Folk Songs by Howard & J.W. Thibodeaux. So the
music gene comes from both sides of the family tree.
Growing up near New Orleans, I would assume jazz has always been a
very big part of your musical life. Have you spent a lot of time
listening to Dixieland and gospel music?
I have never connected to any of the music I was exposed to while
growing up in Louisiana. That goes for jazz, Cajun, zydeco,
country, Dixieland, blues and gospel. I also dont get rock
music as a genre. The sound of an electric guitar has never
appealed to me. Im probably one of the few people in the
world who does not like The Beatles.
When did you start playing the piano?
Ive been playing for as long as I can remember. My
Mom and my two older brothers were playing the piano long before I
came into the picture and it was always around me.
When did you start piano lessons and how long did you take them?
Piano lessons started around the time I was five years old. My oldest
brother initially taught me theory and keyboarding. He is nine years
my senior and had already studied for more than ten years. He was
advanced enough to have his own small business teaching piano as well
as being the local church organist. I believe he had more than twenty
students at the time, including me. Needless to say, we fought over
piano time to practice between our studies and his students -
when I actually practiced! I hated practicing and hated the
music I was being forced to learn. Everything seemed so complicated
and strict that I rebelled. After repeatedly being driven to tears by
my brothers hateful teaching style, my mom found me a different
teacher in a nearby town. The guy was very strange, but he had a
concert grand piano. Until then, I had never played anything but a
spinet. I remember the first time I sat down and played Bachs Musette
(which I had learned for a recital) on it. The bass on those
octaves resonated through my whole body. That was the first real
conscious moment I had with a piano.
didnt learn much from this new teacher. I learned much more
when working with my brother. My Mom noticed this and found
another teacher - same story. I just wasnt interested in
the game and the exercises. I was finally allowed to quit lessons and
didnt think much about the piano for about five years, other
than the occasional school talent show and entertaining fellow band
mates with the Linus & Lucy Peanuts theme that
Vince Guaraldi composed on the band room piano.
In 6th grade, we
were asked if we wanted to join the school band. My brother had
a trumpet, so I was forced to play the hand-me-down horn he was no
longer using. I didnt like it, but the band director loved me
since I already knew how to read music and she knew I was much more
advanced than the other students. I liked band only because I could
leave 6th grade for an hour each day and head over to the high
school. Eventually, I switched to the flute and was able to
persuade my parents to purchase a really nice semi-pro version (I
still have it). I moved on to piccolo during marching season, which
led to becoming drum major.
Flute was a very
big deal for me and it became my music partner. I instinctively
developed a great tone and vibrato. I eventually worked up to
Bachs Badinerie, which became my signature
piece and that I played in every competition imaginable. My brother
often accompanied me on piano. We were intuitively in synch because
we knew each others musical instincts and language so well.
Its the only time Ive ever really enjoyed performing with
anyone else, and I frequently placed first when competing with that
piece. I love the melody and the energy of it! Ive always been
drawn to music in minor keys, but somehow this piece still manages to
maintain a bright and optimistic mood despite the key signature.
During my junior
year, I fell in love with the sound of the oboe after hearing it
played at a Christmas service my brother orchestrated for midnight
mass. I decided that I wanted to try it and advanced quickly enough
to go to festivals on that instrument as well. I played it in the
orchestra for a short time during college.
Also as a junior,
my high school English teacher asked me to be the piano accompanist
for a musical she was planning. I was very reluctant to even try as I
knew I couldnt sight-read well and I was pretty sure the score
was going to be a complex condensed orchestra score. I was right - it
was a nightmare! She had to hire a college student to play for the
shows, but trying to play the score sparked an unconscious shift to
At the end of my
junior year, I had a confrontation with our new band director and
decided to change schools. I graduated from a Catholic high school
twenty miles away that had no music program, but hindsight proved
this to be a catalyst.
Without a music
program, I was left to my own devices. During this time, I
discovered synthesizers. But the real catalyst for me was a retreat
the seniors had to make to the woods near Covington, Louisiana. There
was a chapel with a nice upright piano. I had never played a piano in
church as most Catholic churches at that time had pipe organs. The
acoustics of that piano sent goose bumps along my neck. Id
sneak into the chapel to be alone and play the piano as often
as I could that week. I have never been a very social person, so that
piano became my escape. During lunch on the last day, a few friends
found my hide-away and listened to me play. Since theyd
known me for less than a year, they didnt know Id been a
life-long musician. I was taken by their reaction. I was
just speaking a language Id always known whereas they
didnt know anyone personally who could play music. It was the
first time I realized that I had something different than most people.
studying piano in college, but it was too late since I was still in
elementary levels of theory and sight-reading. I spent an entire
semester working on the C Major Bach Invention! I eventually learned
it, but it was completely through motor memory. Thats the way
Ive always learned pieces. Either I can play an entire piece
from memory, or I cant play it at all.
The advantage I
had as a young kid visiting the college campus for music festivals
became a handicap during my college years. ALL of the music
professors expected my level of proficiency to at least match my
brothers. Not so! I was never interested in classical music -
that was his thing.
My thing was
electronics, synthesizers and recording studios. After a year as a
music major, I finally convinced my parents to look at alternative
schools. By this time, I was already working on my own compositions
in 24-track studios and knew a traditional school was not for me. We
found that Memphis State offered a commercial music program, but I
was turned off by having to learn complicated jazz theories and
harmonies. Then we looked at Berklee in Boston. I was accepted, but
didnt get a scholarship and couldnt afford the tuition. I
learned that people related to high profile recording artists who
were also trying to get scholarships had their demo tapes produced by
professionals. It wasnt fair, but I was relieved to learn that
it was all a political game.
Since no college
music program seemed to be in line with my goals and ambitions, I
decided to go at it on my own. I switched majors from Music to
General Studies and graduated from college as quickly as possible
with an Associates Degree.
What other musical instruments do you play?
I started out on piano, then trumpet, melodic percussion instruments
(bells, xylophone, marimbas), flute, piccolo, then the oboe, and of
Isadar is actually your middle name. Why did you choose that as your
At the time of my first album, I was advised that using
Fabian could possibly lead to trademark infringement.
I also didnt like the idea that people would
associate me and my music with the teen heartthrob from the 1950s. My
last name, Thibodeaux - forget it! Im lucky
if people can pronounce it! I needed something simple
that people could remember and that was unique so it could become my
trademark. So I turned to my middle name, Isadore, which was my
paternal grandfathers first name. He was Cajun French so it was
pronounced Iz-ee-da. When he started school, it was
given an English pronunciation of Isadar, not
Isadore. I thought my parents made this story up until I
was out with them one day and this old man came up and started
recounting stories about my grandfather, referring to him as
Isadar! I wanted to preserve that pronunciation and changed the
spelling to accommodate that effort. I also knew that by creating the
spelling, it would never be a trademark issue. Twenty years
later, Ive totally embraced it and fondly refer to it as Izzy.
Youve had a couple of parallel musical careers going on for a
long time - one as a solo pianist and one as a singer/songwriter. How
has that evolved?
I started out as a singer/songwriter, although Ive
always felt thats a poor description. I see myself more as a
recording artist, a one-man band - even though I AM singing, and I
DID write the songs. Singer/songwriter seems to be a
specific genre that Im so far from stylistically.
I had years of
studio experience playing the piano in my vocal recordings long
before I ever set out to compose anything strictly for solo piano.
That experience made it much easier when it came time for production
of my piano music. I already knew what effects to use, how to place
the mics, and how to mix it.
Do you have a preference of one genre over the other?
I really prefer making my vocal music. Its much more
challenging and interesting to make. So many palettes of sound,
texture, and effects to work with - not to mention taking the music
to the next level with remixing, music videos and visuals.
Solo piano is
always challenging for me - its like singing one note.
Thats why Im so careful going forward with what I release
- it all starts to sound the same to me. Its also one of the
reasons its taking me so long to get this new album together. I
need time to go by so that my way of composing and playing evolves
into something new and will hopefully have something interesting to
say thats not what Ive already said on the first five albums.
I would imagine that improvisation is a very big part of your musical style.
You are correct. Improvisation is the root of my entire creative
process. The analogy for me is like telling a story, but instead of a
literal subject, Im communicating feelings through the music.
As much as you might get bored repeatedly recounting a story about
taking a walk to the store and what might have happened along your
way - every time I tell the story it's always different - I might
remember nuances that I didnt remember yesterday telling
someone else. In the end, you want the person to get the gist of what
really happened along the way, yet there are countless ways of
communicating this idea.
When I first began
writing music, I used to hear completely produced songs in my head.
Then Id spend so much of my energy and time trying to bring
them to life perfectly and exactly. In the end, none of those ideas
ever came close to match the beauty I heard originally. They became
something else instead. So, these attempts only frustrated me and
made me feel like a failure.
Now, every aspect
is simply improvised. Then once it starts to take some shape and
form, my task is to try to make it as technically sound as best I can
from a performance and production standpoint. I enjoy working this
way - I have no expectations so Im never disappointed with the
outcome. I can also surprise myself quite a bit along the way.
How many CDs have you released?
Fifteen - five solo piano albums, a piano sampler, and a box set
piano anthology; six vocal, a vocal sampler, and an electronic
We first became acquainted when you sent Active
Imagination to the print version of Wind & Wire
for review in about 1998. Thats still one of my all-time
favorite albums, by the way! You also sent me Dream
of the Dead, which was entirely different. That was
an enormous project and you had some major plans for it. Is that
something youre still working on?
Im so glad you still enjoy Active Imagination! Im
always thrilled to know when some of my work creeps into peoples
consciousness, or at the very least their CD collections.
In reference to
Dream Of The Dead, I had three definite ideas for the album. The
first was to perform it as a performance-art stadium
concert. I was inspired by the stage work of performance
artist, Laurie Anderson. Of course, Ive dismissed anything like
that happening with Dream of the Dead. Thats beyond any means
or reasons Id have to present it publicly.
The second idea
was to turn the album into a film - also very ambitious and
incredibly expensive. But I composed the album with the intent to one
day realize that project, unaware of the actual budget required.
Its not obvious, but there was a reason to my madness
throughout the journey of that record. It has an arc and tells a
The third idea was
to carve out music videos from the film in order to promote the album
and the film. Recently, I realized part of this idea, although
its not what I had intended from a creative aspect.
Right after I
finished my last album (The
Omega Point) in early 2008, I started producing and
directing my own music videos. I had begun to realize the impact
YouTube was having on entertainment and knew Id have an outlet
to get the videos shown. To date, Ive created 75 of them
and they span repertoire from every album Ive released over the
past twenty years. I dont think any artist, major or indie, has
made as many! Im extremely proud of this work -
especially knowing the conditions, equipment, and technology I used
to make them. I spent just a few dollars making these
videos and some of them look incredibly expensive. I handled every
aspect of production - there was no one there but me - just like how
I make my music.
Of the 75 videos,
five came from Dream of the Dead. The concepts were modified to
better fit my means of production than staying true to the motion
picture script I had in mind. I knew these clips were not going to be
experienced linearly like in a film, so I concentrated on a mood or
atmosphere that fit each best. The exception was the title track. I
stayed pretty close to the original story board because it was the
centerpiece of the album.
Tell us a bit about that project and the story behind the work itself.
Believe it or not, the title, Dream of the Dead, was taken from a
childrens book that I read in 3rd grade. My story and the plot
of the book have nothing to do with one another, though. The
gist of the album is that its all a dream that the narrator
experiences. He is taken on a journey of self-exploration and
realization and is forced to look at both positive and negative
aspects of himself. When he awakens at the end, he understands how
much hes grown and that he is no longer the guy in that dream.
There are also scenes of being visited by the ghosts and
spirits of people he knew and loved. These evoke bittersweet memories
during the process that help in his clarity and understanding.
Eventually, I got
to the point where I simply could not continue to work on the album
due to studio limitations and, ultimately, funds. So out of my
frustration, I turned to the piano and figured I would continue
concentrating on songwriting for future production. I began to write
music that felt impossible to add lyrics to and seemed to be little
works on their own. These compositions were the early versions
of what became Near
the Edge of Light. The more I played them, the more I
gave into the Windham Hill-ish vibe they were emulating to me.
By 1990, I had
several years of professional studio production under my belt and
knew how easy it would be to put together a solo piano album. I was
really torn because I felt like I was abandoning Dream of the Dead,
but I was determined to get an album out that year. I felt pressure
from myself and from people who knew I had been working on
something for years.
I finally scraped
up enough money to pay for a days worth of piano recording. It
went really well, but then I needed the money to professionally
master it and get CD and audio cassettes duplicated. I took out a
loan to cover those expenses.
The album was
well-received and played on local radio. I gave two big concerts at
the auditorium of the music college with a nice turn-out. Sales of
the CD and cassette were disappointing, however. I had planned to not
only recoup the money to pay off the loan, but to also finance the
completion of Dream of the Dead. That didnt happen and almost
Who and what do you consider to be your biggest musical influences?
No doubt, Kate Bush. I first heard her in 1982 when I was in the 8th
grade. Her album, The Dreaming was very dark, emotional, and
like nothing I had ever seen (album cover) or heard before. It
seriously blew my mind, and I found it very disturbing, which was
part of the appeal. This was her 4th studio album, so she was in her
prime, in control, and knew exactly what she was doing. US radio
simply could not fit her music into any format. She was and is a huge
star everywhere else in the world and has done groundbreaking and
breathtaking work. Her only hint at success in the US has been her
1985 Top 40 hit, Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God).
Years later, on my
way home from an all-day recording session, I turned the car radio to
PBS and they were playing the most beautiful piece of music I have
ever heard. It was solo piano. I had never heard a piano played like
that and it caught me off guard. As soon as I got home, I called the
DJ at the station and asked what I had heard. The best he could tell
me was that it might have been a Windham Hill sampler called A
The next day, I
went to Musicland and bought it blindly. Sure enough, I found
the track - Greensleeves. The liner notes said,
Traditional, arranged by Liz Story. I still didnt
really know who was playing, but I remembered seeing a CD or two by
Liz Story, so I bought those later on hoping they would make it clear
who was performing Greensleeves. After listening to
the playing style of the two CDs, I was convinced that she was indeed
What has been your best-selling album so far?
My best-selling album to date actually has nothing to do with
anything I composed. Its a collection of recordings I made of
antique music boxes that were manufactured from 1891-1916. After
that, the cylinder and Victrola phonographs made these boxes
impractical to reproduce. My brother had an interest in collecting an
assortment of these pieces and invested a lot of time in selecting
disks that are played on these massive boxes. It all started in
December 1998 when I was wrapping up the recording sessions for
Active Imagination and In
Search For The Meaning Of Christmas. I thought it
might be interesting to record a few Christmas music box disks to
possibly use to segue between compositions on my Christmas piano
album. That didnt work out, so I sat on those recordings for a
When I bought a
home computer and recording software in 2000, I rediscovered these
recordings and decided to compile them into their own album, Regina
Music Box: Memories Of Christmas. I got the idea from
a very old recording I had heard as a child.
In a nutshell,
this album sold so well that I decided to revisit recording my
brothers collection. Over the years, he kept building the
number of songs and the assortment of boxes he owned. He also became
quite skilled at maintaining and tuning their sound combs. We took
our time and crisply recorded over 375 different compositions.
The results were a
6-CD box set that I released called Antique
Music Box Collection. All tracks are in alphabetical
order, with a dedicated disc of only Christmas tunes. Some of the
compositions had never been recorded before and the collection
includes a lot of early American composers. Without these
recordings, a lot of this music would have been lost forever. I feel
good about preserving these works.
As far as my own
music, Active Imagination has been the biggest seller. I
attribute this to the fact that I took out a full-color ad inside the
front cover of NAV magazine to promote it in early 1999. A track from
it was also included on a CD sampler enclosed in the magazine and I
assume radio stations picked up on it.
You also have recordings of your music that are playable on Yamaha
Disklavier pianos. How does that technology work? How do you make
Its complicated and partially why the two new albums are taking
a long time to make. Since 2000, Ive recorded my piano albums
through .MIDI pianos or Disklaviers in order to capture the framework
of the compositions prior to making the actual recordings. This adds
an extra step, but also gives me flexibility with editing and
correcting missed notes or even radical arrangement changes.
Sometimes I might really nail a piece emotionally, but miss that E
flat on the last chord, or something minor. This fixes those
issues and allows me to change tempos - even change keys - before
making my master. I also have the framework of the performances that
can be reproduced on any of these modern day player-pianos or any
other technology that becomes available or is invented in the future.
Furthermore, I can make recordings of the performances on different
pianos, giving me flexibility from a production standpoint.
It also gives me a
different market to target with an additional product. Yamaha has a
very limited catalog of new-age style music software -
most of their stuff is Broadway, showtunes and classical. People who
own these pianos and like contemporary piano music enjoy having this
software and having my
music on disks. For the customer, its like my ghost
is giving a private concert in their home. These pianos are also
located in grand hotels, shopping malls, airports, and bars and
restaurants. When Im long gone from this Earth, people will
have the opportunity to sit next to a piano and actually hear me give
a performance of my music!
Disklavier system is the ultimate. They have perfected playback and
recording to the nth degree. Their pianos are built around laser
accurate components - NOT the other way around.
You recently started performing live again after a very long time. In
fact, your re-debut was at a house concert at my house with Rebecca
Oswald in July. Why did you stop performing?
There are two reasons. One, I am not a big fan of performing.
Its like flying on an airplane. I dont like doing it, but
once I do it a couple of times, I get used to the idea. Then its
no big deal. But if I dont fly for a long time, I get the same
anxious feelings boarding that plane.
takes a lot of effort in promoting the event, finding a venue, and
getting your chops up. Its a huge time investment, and since I
already have a full-time job and Im not really big on
performing to begin with, I would rather spend that time making new
music. I guess I dont really need feedback from an audience to
make my music complete. I realize that a lot of artists have a great
desire to share their music and get this fuzzy warm feeling from it -
a high like a drug. In fact, for some, thats the
entire motivation for doing what they do - to perform in front of an
audience. I dont really care what people think, I dont
need or want the attention, and quite frankly, an audience offers me
nothing in return for the vast amount of energy Im putting
forth to make a performance happen.
I think the concert with you and Rebecca was one of the most exciting
house concerts weve had. You have very different backgrounds
and styles, but you were both very evenly matched pianistically, and
the contrasts were absolutely wonderful! After that, you did a couple
of concerts at Joe Bongiornos Piano Haven near Seattle. Do you
have more live performances
Thanks for saying that! I really enjoyed sharing the performances
with Rebecca, Joe and Tim Neumark. Ive always had the pressure
of doing a concert by myself, so it was nice to turn the piano over
to someone else during the process. I dont have any concerts
planned at this time. I don't generally seek to plan concerts,
but I am always open to events already planned that I can piggy-back
my participation. I would like to do a concert with Lisa Downing and
have mentioned this to her. I absolutely love her music! We were both
influenced by Liz Story which I think is obvious in our styles. Of
course, I couldnt say no to an offer to share a
performance with Ms. Story herself. That would be a complete honor.
Has working in the music industry at a major record label helped you
make some inside contacts?
Yes, and no. In my role, Ive seen pretty much any and all legal
situations imaginable. To me it was like grad school for the music
business when I first started. Someone else might have
socially worked their way through every possible niche and clique of
social status inside the building, but thats not my
personality. Many people know the dual role I play as employee
and indie artist, and Im not alone.
I had some
interesting meetings with A&R people when I first started. The
music business was a completely different animal at that time,
though. I was eager to get their feedback on my work and was
trying to get a recording contract, which was my motivation for
moving to NYC from Louisiana in the first place. Ive learned
that everyone has an opinion, and unless it matches yours and aligns
with your goals, it really doesnt amount to much. Over the
years, Ive realized that the music business wasnt
designed for what I do as an artist. It was hard, but I had to accept
this fact and forget about getting an advance and a deal to
further my work. I had to come up with my own plan. Luckily, the
internet was right around the corner, and luckier yet, YouTubes debut.
Many thanks to
Isadar for sharing so much with us! For more information and to
hear samples of his music, be sure to visit www.Isadar.com. Click
here to go to Isadars YouTube
page and here to go to his Artist Page on MainlyPiano.
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