There’s a good chance that as you’re reading this, Grammy-nominated pianist and Eau Claire native Geoffrey Keezer is either running to the post office, returning from there or thinking about when he will next have to go back.
If not, he’s writing one of six personalized songs to fan members who pledged $600 or more to his Kickstarter campaign, an online project he used to fund “On My Way to You,” his first jazz trio album in 13 years, and his first new album in five.
“In a way it’s (the album) a love letter to my fans to say, ‘This is what I have to offer in this format, what I have to say’ — which hopefully is something good,” Keezer said Tuesday in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “I have 250 backers on this project — 250 people found it worth their while and worth sending their hard-earned money to help this record exist. That feels really good.”
Pledgers were asked to donate whatever they felt comfortable with, and at certain dollar amounts they were rewarded with prizes ranging from signed CDs to VIP passes and concert tickets, performing a song with Keezer or hanging out with him in L.A.
On Friday, the campaign reached its $35,000 goal (as of Wednesday, it has raised $38,514). And now Keezer is making good on those promises by signing CDs, packaging rewards and sending them off in the mail.
“On My Way to You” will be available June 22, with a release party at 8 p.m. Sunday at Sam First in L.A. His goal with this album was to return to a trio, while making that format his own.
“I wanted to go back to that traditional piano trio and see if I could come up with something fresh,” he said. “I wanted to explore it in my way, in a different way.”
“On My Way to You” is performed by Keezer alongside bassist Mike Pope and drummer Lee Pearson, both of whom he has worked with in separate projects over the years. Five songs on the album also feature the talented singer Gillian Margot, whose smooth voice exudes the calm feeling of sitting by a fireplace listening to lively jazz music on a cold night.
Margot worked with Keezer to compose those songs, marking one of the first times he collaborated with an artist on his own music.
“As a composer I’ve always been fiercely autonomous ... but I’ve found that lately I’ve been getting tired of my own stuff,” he said. “Working with Gillian was really refreshing and inspiring, like breaking into some new territory.”
The album includes a mix of contemporary and older jazz standards such as jazz great Thelonious Monk’s lesser-known “Brilliant Corners” and the title track, which is most famously done by Barbara Streisand. Keezer said they have slowed it way down to mimick the style of one of his favorite jazz pianists, Shirley Horn.
“She had a way of making time stop with her tempos, and we really tried to capture that kind of feeling,” Keezer said.
Keezer also pays tribute to his Chippewa Valley roots, featuring an author whose work he has long admired. Michael Perry wrote the words for the song “Red Leaf.” Knowing the author’s style, Keezer reached out via email to see if Perry would be interested around eight years ago
Perry, who said he appreciates jazz music and Chippewa Valley artists, said yes, “of course.” So Keezer sent him the instrumental track, which Perry said he listened to for a long time before deciding it made him feel like “it was autumn and I was lonely.”
So he began to write these lyrics, which became the first verse: “Milkweed and heartbreak in the letterbox/Is the summer gone? Will the snow fall to the sound of beating wings?/ I thought I saw you at the corner shop.”
Though he has yet to see it performed, Keezer did send him a recording of Keezer’s first live performance of the song done with vocalist Julia Dollison in 2011.
“The idea of writing something in rural Fall Creek in my little office within view of my chicken coop, and then knowing that somewhere in a big coastal city in some jazz club an artist you’ve never met is singing your words accompanied by a world-class pianist — I just marvel at that,” Perry said Wednesday. “I still get a very simple, straightforward kick out of it.”
The song is performed on the album by Margot, and Perry said he is excited to hear the final version, adding at the time he wrote it he didn’t know what it would become. He was just happy to help out a musician he respects.
“Geoffrey Keezer is a world-class talent,” Perry said. “You hear that phrase tossed around a lot, but he truly is, so for me to be able to work with someone like him is fun. I take it as a privilege to share work with someone of that caliber.”
Keezer, on the other hand, was grateful to Perry, whose words he said fueled “Red Leaf,” turning it into the song it became.
He’s also grateful to Morgan Music in Eau Claire, which provided funding to his Kickstarter campaign, and Jamf co-founder Zach Halmstad, who offered in May to do a 1 to 1 match on the remaining funds, contributing around $8,500.
Knowing he had the support of his hometown as well as hundreds of fans was perhaps as rewarding as making the album itself, Keezer said, which is a costly endeavor even for talented musicians. On his campaign page, he breaks down the cost, estimating around $12,000 for recording, $17,000 for publicity and marketing and $6,000 for manufacturing.
“A crowd-funding campaign is a way for our fans to say in a very tangible way, ‘we’re willing to help you pay for the costs of this record because your music means something to us,’” Keezer said. “That really means a lot to me as an artist.”
Keezer’s album will be available on geoffreykeezer.com starting June 22. Until then, he’ll be putting the finishing touches on his “thank-you” rewards to the fans who made it happen — making as many trips to the post office as necessary.
Contact reporter: 715-833-9214, firstname.lastname@example.org, @KatherineMacek on Twitter