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Dean Angermeier rediscovers his 'roots'

Dean Angermeier's musical roots grew out of hours he spent with two baby grands and an upright in his mother's piano studio in Oakland County, Mich. 

"She was a full-time professional musician," Angermeier says. "She taught classical piano and theory to about 40 private students a week and directed a choir. I learned a ton from her, but I never was really drawn to classical."

After forcing the issue for a while, the two came to an impasse. The young Angermeier picked up the trombone and played in his high school's band and orchestra.

"It was somewhere around that point that I discovered jazz and blues," he says. "That's when I started playing piano all of the time. I had this innate knowledge of things I learned from my mother to draw from. I was immersed in learning jazz from age 13 to 15. I also was a rock fan, putting the two genres together."

Angermeier didn't start playing electronic keyboards until a few years later. He studied trombone, jazz piano and digital music at University of Michigan, then left school in 1990 to join a rock band.

"There are jazz artists I really admire," he says. "Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner, guitarist Pat Metheny and Donald Fagen. Fagen is a huge influence on me. I think I was a freshman in college when I heard Steely Dan. I was like, 'Hey, that's not something that sounds new to me. That's what I've been hearing in my head for five years.' Some of my originals sound like Fagen's, but it's not by design. It just happens that way. It's amazing the way he puts complex sounds with simple combinations. That kind of thing definitely factors into my compositional style."

Not a jazz piano purist, Angermeier likes to fuse rock and other genres into his music, bringing in standards and contemporary sounds. 

"I want to make my music unique and accessible at the same time," he says. "I don't want it to be so weird that people find it too heady. It's another Fagan thing, making esoteric chords, concepts and lyrics sound cohesive and listenable."

The interesting thing about playing electronic keyboards is that Angermeier was always trying to mimic a real piano sound, he says.

"I'll use a Fender Rhodes sound or a Hammond organ sound," he says. "Some electronic keyboards sound very close to real pianos, but it's not the same. It's not strings and wood, not the overtone harmonics you get when you hold the pedal down. It's an approximation of sound and not the real vibrational sound."

So when he began a new recording project this spring, he rededicated himself to acoustic piano.

"Different things come out of the creative process when playing the real instrument," he says. "It's a fine line, because electronics can get super close, but I'm rediscovering the whole point of acoustic piano. It's kind of funny because I've always thought that electronic is good enough, but when I started this new solo piano album, I realized I had to do it on a real piano."

Another reason Angermeier moved back to acoustic piano is because his late mother always wanted him to honor his talent. That and the fact that his wife, Tina, told him that this project is the one he must absolutely do next, he laughs.

"With all the bands I've played with, I've never payed much attention to my talent — just the effort on the instruments," he says. "Now I want to get back to those first couple of years and the feelings of discovery, wonder and immersion in the sound. I want to lose myself in the music and let it come through me. There's something about acoustic piano that gets me to that place."

Angermeier's new recording will include three categories: original instrumentals, pure improvisation in which he will play anywhere from three to 10 minutes without preconceived notions, and jazz standards. He's set an aggressive schedule to launch the new project. He'll start recording at the end of this month with Los Angeles producer and engineer Dennis Moody and is aiming for his birthday, Nov. 8, to have it "in the can."

Over the past 15 years in the Rogue Valley, Angermeier has played with Borderline — with Bob Evoniuk, Emmy Phelps and Sam Cuenca — along with Craig Wright and his band Horse Feathers and The Rogue Suspects. While he still wants to work with various bands, Angermeier is working to make himself a brand and stand on his own as a pianist.

Dean and Tina Angermeier will perform as a piano duo at 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24, at South Stage Cellars, 125 S. Third St., Jacksonville. Look for such artists as sax player Tony Hayes and trumpet player Mikey Stevens to sit in.

Dean Angermeier