Pianist pays tribute to art-house works with new album titled ‘Foreign Films’
Who: John Nilsen
When: 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5
Where: Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church, 4051 N. S.R. 224
Guitarist and pianist John Nilsen will put aside his 12-string for the keyboard when he performs Oct. 5 at Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church.
The concert will include compositions and renditions of music Nilsen has written and arranged over the past 36 years, including a batch of instrumentals from his new album, “Foreign Films,” which is available now.
The release is Nilsen’s 20th album that features original songs he wrote that could be heard in film soundtracks, he said.
The album is also Nilsen’s first piano album in a few years, and it follows his last two albums he recorded with his folk-rock band Swimfish. So, he wanted to do something unique to celebrate his 20th release.
“I’m always looking for interesting concepts,” Nilsen said. “The words ‘Foreign Films’ worked well together, and they lead to interesting connotations.”
Nilsen had the idea for the album while watching HBO and Netflix with his wife.
“I noticed is that there is some very good music that I find personally more artistically deep in these programs than what you would find on major network television shows,” he said. “So I started paying attention to the soundtracks, and got this idea and added to it.”
As Nilsen worked on the concept, he not only wanted the new songs to sound like film scores, he wanted to sequence the record in a way that would help listeners feel like they were watching a film.
“When you hear soundtrack (music), you hear so much variance,” he said. “That’s very important because the mood of films continue to change.”
Nilsen wrote 17 of the 18 songs on “Foreign Films.” The last song on the album is called “Falling Leaves,” and it was written by his 94-year-old mother when she was 12.
“My mom was a private piano teacher for 67 years, and two-and-a-half years ago, she played the song for me,” Nilsen said. “I was bowled over by the fact that she wrote it when she was very young. So I told myself that I would learn the piece and record it for the new record.”
As Nilsen arranged the work, he decided to bring in a string quartet to highlight the track.
“It made more sense to do that, because my mom’s a huge classical music fan,” he said. “And from then on, I knew I was going to write more songs with classical leanings for the album.”
Some of the songs on “Foreign Films” clock in at under 45 seconds in length, and Nilsen said that was essential to the track sequencing.
“These songs serve as palate cleansers and become preludes to the following, longer songs,” he said.
While it is a challenge to write a piece that has a beginning, middle and end in less than one minute, Nilsen relied on his 36-year experience as a musician to rise to the occasion.
“You learn your craft and you get better at it as time goes by,” he said. “You listen. You work hard. You have to take constructive criticism from others who are better than you. And if something didn’t work out, I would trash it and start over.”
The pianist has also put together a set list that he feels is one of the strongest of his career.
“I try to be exactly who I am artistically,” Nilsen said. “I will feature songs from my new record, and then I’ll play songs from my back catalog.”
Those songs include renditions of Beatles hits, boogie woogie staples and classical works. And he will also perform some sacred music.
“My dad was a pastor, so I have some sacred music in my repertoire,” he said. “I try to grab all of those components and put them in my performances and move forward.“
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