Trills, Thrills and A Heart’s Purpose – The Music of Dan Siegel

Dan Siegel 1

Hard-hitting drums set the stage for the song “Rite of Passage” where a bluesy piano lead from Dan Siegel sets free a scintillating melody. Shifting direction and changing key, the guitar keeps a rich, concentrated groove; the bridge takes a step back in tempo; then the passage continues rolling. Outstanding harmonies shine luminously and lead their way to an irresistible hook. “After All” adds vocals and a Latin flair, bringing the listener to new floral journeys. Don’t miss “Under the Sun” either because it speaks of love without saying a word.

Siegel’s new CD “Origins” (where these tracks reside) is edge-to-edge with dimensional, moving songs that resonate with the deepest of human emotions. There’s a fullness that pervades each track, with a tasty instrumentation made even more beautiful by the heartbeat-syncing rhythms and balanced compositions.

Dan Siegel CD cover

What attracted you to piano? 

When I was eight years old, my mom forced me to take piano lessons. My teacher was a phenomenal woman named Francis Ragozzino. Unlike most teachers who taught at that level, she focused not only on repertoire but theory. We studied how music was constructed. There was a student with red hair named Anne Fox. That was probably why I never missed a theory lesson. 

What is the most important aspect of music you taught yourself?

To listen. 

How does your early work compare with your current work?

I recently had a conversation with Rob Thomas (who teaches at Berklee) who was the bass player on my first few albums. When those albums were re-released we observed that we still play the same licks that we used to 35 years ago – that was sort of amusing and depressing.

I think I write a lot better than I used to, however. 

In your bio you mention that “Hemispheres” combines unique and unlikely instrumental combinations. Please elaborate?

I thought about instruments that you would never hear playing in the same ensemble: banjo and steel drums with harmonica and mandolin; bouzouki, sitar and koto; accordion with koto, trumpet and violin.

The culture and music associated with these instruments are all over the map. I wrote music featuring various combinations of these instruments and then called Bela Fleck, Masakazu Yoshizawa, Tollak Ollestad, Andy Narell, Osamu Kitajima, Mike Marshall and John Bilezikjian. There are some great musicians on that record and it was a fun album to record.

One funny story about that project was when I called my manager to get the contact info for the singers in the group The Story, he put me on hold for a couple of minutes and when he came back, he thought he was talking to someone else and he said, “Berlin?” I responded, that’s an interesting idea, get me their number, and Terry Nunn [lead vocalist for Berlin] ended up writing lyrics and singing on the album.

Which of your session experiences were the most memorable?

When I got signed to Elektra in 1981, I got to go to Hollywood and record an album with mostly LA studio musicians: John (JR) Robinson, Abraham Laboriel, Tom Scott, Larry Carlton and Lenny Castro. This was really a dream come true.

Having already made three albums, I thought I knew what I was doing. During the recording I realized I didn’t know very much about music production at all.

I was so impressed by the professionalism and knowledge that these players projected, that from then on, I tried to emulate them.

What do you like about film and TV work?

I like the fact that it’s an intense collaborative process. There’s the people on the audio side, but more importantly all the people on the video production side. The deadlines are excruciating, and it is extremely high-pressure. I always felt like I had accomplished something by managing not to get fired when a project was over. 

What did release date of “Origins” look like?

The album was mastered in September 2017. I missed the window for releasing it at the end of the year and had to wait until January. It’s always exciting and a little terrifying when you put a new project out there. 

How would you describe this new CD?  

The performance of the musicians is stellar. Everyone made a unique contribution. The album is musically cohesive in texture and composition.

Did you write to a certain theme?

Most of the music was written in a period of about a year, and there is a similar texture that holds it all together. It sounds somewhat thematic, but it was not conceived with that intent.

Which track stands out for you?

The most unusual track is “Strange Sky.” It’s different from everything else. I love how Vinnie played this sort of free, straight-ahead groove – almost defying the song’s implicit nature. The tune sounds like the theme from a space western. 

How did you write this to feature acoustic piano?

I write at the piano, so everything is realized from that instrumental perspective. What’s unusual about this project is that there were no melodies given to a saxophone. The piano is at the center of everything. 

You explain the name of your new CD as referencing both Latin sensibilities, an American-bluesy feel and a Mediterranean flavor. Why is each element worth highlighting?

I realized that after everything was written there was a common harmonic thread that ran through the songs. Sometime after the album was finished, I was in the car listening to the radio and Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” came on.

It hit me that I had utilized a lot of those classic harmonic progressions that follow the cycle of fifths, in addition to some basic blues changes and Latin grooves. Those were the musical origins of the compositions. It wasn’t methodical. It just came out that way. 

Why did you want to gather top-shelf musicians from LA for this album?

I’m lucky enough to be close to some of the best musicians in the world. It’s next to impossible not to get something great when you book a session with exceptional players. You just have to know when to get out of the way. 

Who participated?

There is the incomparable Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. He is an amazing musician who knew the songs better than I did the first time he read them down. He is technically phenomenal and brings abundant musicality to any project.

No one plays the acoustic bass like Brian Bromberg. His approach is a mix of jazz tradition with a firm rhythmic groove. His experience and musicianship are valuable resources that I relied on often.

Allen Hinds is a one-of-a-kind guitar player. He provided the atmospheric accompaniment on most of the songs. His approach always injects a unique musical personality.

Lenny Castro is featured abundantly on this project. I knew who would be the percussionist long before I finished writing the material. There is only one guy in town that grooves that hard and is a joy to work with, and that’s Lenny.

Ramon Stagnaro, originally from Peru, plays acoustic guitar on a couple of tracks. He brings an authentic Latin feel to those songs.

Vibraphonist Craig Fundyga is another amazing player. I’m always impressed with how easily Craig handles the material and understands his function within the ensemble.

Lastly, Rogerio Jardim sings melodies on a couple of tunes. I love how his voice blends with the instrumentation and provided a beautiful aesthetic to those tracks.

The tracks have evocative titles (“Moon and Stars,” “Strange Sky” and “Under the Sun”). Intended?

Giving names to instrumental songs can be challenging. Is it red or green or maybe blue? I try to assess the feeling projected and attach a relevant title. Sometimes the title reveals itself during the compositional process, but not often. Names are usually given after the recording is finished because what you thought the song was about can change drastically during production. 

Favorite small club?

There’s a private little club in Osaka, Japan called The Green Note.

Favorite large concert venue or festival?

One of my favorite venues of all time was Park West in Chicago. I don’t think it’s there anymore.

What do audiences ask you about?

I’ve been asked many times what the inspiration was for a particular song. Sometimes a song will resonate with a listener and elicit a deep personal feeling. Even though I am the creator of the work, I feel like I am just the messenger for something that takes on a different meaning for that person. Music is an incredibly powerful force. 

Where will you perform this year?

The summer and fall are still in the planning stages. I did a couple of dates in the northwest in February, and will play at the Catalina Jazz Festival later in the year. I am hoping to get to Japan and Europe as well.

Where would you most like to perform that you have never been?

I have never played in Scandinavia.

For more information, visit

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Dan Siegel.
© Debbie Burke 2018

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