By Laurie Morrisey
Calling Dave Fleschner a piano player doesn’t really do him justice. It should be compared to an artist finessing the paint brush across the canvas. The way he plays that Nord Stage 88EX or Hammond B-3 organ—it is a work of art.
Dave comes from a very musical family, so becoming a musician was a natural progression. “My mom is a wonderful singer, and she would harmonize with my dad, who would sing and play guitar or baritone ukulele. My mother had training as a kid but my dad just picked up old country and western songs by ear. I didn’t realize it at the time, but having taught for over a decade, I understand now how formative early exposure to ‘live’ music can be,” Dave said.
Dave was born and raised in California—all but a few years in which the family lived in Salem. 1996 brought the musician back to Oregon, but this time to Portland with a jam-band called Uncle Earl and he’s been here since.
He says he wanted to play music from a very early age. The only question was how. “I’ve questioned my sanity many times, but every time I think about what else I could do, I can’t imagine another career. My first paid gig was with my high school rock band, Muddy Undercarriage, when I was 16. We went straight to the music store with the money we’d made and bought a used Kustom PA,” he said. That was 23 years ago and he’s been performing ever since.
In addition to being a musician, he says his day job is “teaching, recording, writing, arranging and anything else I can do with music. I teach piano out of my home and out of the Multnomah Art Center. I’ve picked up a little work as an adjunct professor at Clackamas Community College. I have a home recording studio where I have done full length CD’s, demos, infomercial music, and lots of keyboard parts for other people’s records. I’ve done arranging for the Portland Gay Men’s Choir and for Tapestry Theatre. I’ve worked on a few movie soundtracks for Interfilm productions. I pick up session work (playing parts for other people’s music) in other studios. I also have three kids, so I spend a lot of time being a dad as well.”
When discussing who influenced his music, Dave said, “I’m a bit of a sponge, so I think anyone I play with or listen to has influenced my music. Spending six years in the Curtis Salgado Band was hugely influential on me, and I’m very grateful for all the opportunities Curtis gave me.”
“I was into The Doors in high school. I learned my first blues licks copying Ray Manzarek, before I even knew there was a blues scale or form. The first blues piano record I bought was Pinetop Perkins playing solo. So often, the piano gets mixed way in the background, and when I finally heard Pinetop playing solo and telling stories, I started to get it. Incidentally, decades later, I got to meet him at Antones, in Austin, while on the road with Curtis. He was by the bathroom hawking his own CD’s at Curtis’s gig. I bought one. You gotta love the blues world,” Dave said.
“Otis Spann and Professor Longhair really helped me figure out how cool the ‘feel’ can be. Curtis turned me on to Little Brother Montgomery, James Booker and Lloyd Glenn, and those guys all have a different kind of approach to blues. It’s still got the rhythm and the grit, but they have more harmonic sophistication. Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder are, of course, way up there.”
“More recently, Mike Finnigan is someone who I have come to really respect and admire. He plays piano, organ and sings wonderfully. He can move between styles effortlessly—very versatile. Larry Goldings is another great who plays both organ and piano. I remember seeing him with Maceo Parker, laying down super funky left hand grooves. Jon Cleary is amazing, too—I love his playing, singing and writing. I got to jam with him backstage on a funky old upright at the Britt festival, after opening with Curtis for Bonnie Raitt.”
Dave credits his dad’s copy of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits as an influence, too. “For some reason I loved the poetry combined with the rawness of his vocals. I started finding all his other records. People think of him as starting out as a folk singer, but he’s always been into all types of American music, especially the blues. Throughout all the other music that’s influenced me, I’ve always been a Dylan fan.”
“I know this is an article for a blues publication, but I’ve got to mention some jazz influences. Blues and jazz are like two dialects of the same language. The first jazz guy I loved was Thelonius Monk, for that same kind of quirky rawness I love in Dylan. I learned gospel from Keith Jarrett, funk from Herbie Hancock, chord voicing’s from Bill Evans and Errol Garner, fire and intensity from McCoy Tyner, and bluesy elegance from Wynton Kelly. Jazz is an offshoot of the blues.”
Dave plays a lot of Hammond B-3 in addition to piano. “Besides Jimmy Smith, who is, of course, the father of modern organ playing, I really dig Larry Young. If you hear his Testifying album, it’s all gospel and blues. I think he was 18 when he recorded that, and I still can’t figure out some of the things he’s doing.”
As far as training, Dave had classical lessons as a kid, and he says his mom would always have classical music on in the house. “It didn’t take back then. I thought classical music was for old people. Now I’ve developed more of an appreciation for the history. American music really came about from the collision of African rhythms with European Harmony. I’ll read through literature, or teach a little, but I can’t perform it. I have a hard time playing the same notes in the same order every time.”
He has a bachelor’s degree in jazz performance from Portland State where he had the chance to study with Darrell Grant, Randy Porter, and Charley Gray. He minored in music at Willamette University and studied for one term at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. “Other than that, I learn from watching and listening to other musicians. I’ve never understood the ‘self-taught’ question, because nobody plays music in a vacuum. Everyone learns from everyone else, whether it’s a formal lesson or not.”
Dave describes his music as American Roots. “To me, that encompasses blues, soul, jazz, gospel, funk, rock—even a little country. I’ve had amazing opportunities to learn and play in a variety of styles with great musicians. When I get to do my thing, it’s very bluesy, but I can’t ignore all the other influences. When I write, I really don’t know what’s going to come out, unless I’m trying to write something in a specific style.”
“People who have hired me or bands I’ve been in are: Curtis Salgado, Duffy Bishop, Earl Thomas, Karen Lovely, John Nemeth, the Mel Brown B-3 Group, Chris Mayther, The Alan Jones Sextet (subbing for Randy Porter), Soul Vaccination, The Strangetones, Rob Sheps, Kathy Walker, Rubberneck, Toque Libre, Groove Revelation, Gary Burford, and The Kathy Walker Band (My first CBA meeting). I’m sure I’m forgetting some, please forgive me.”
Right now Dave is focused on his duo with Alan Hager. “We have so much fun. It’s personally gratifying and musically rewarding. Alan is a master and it’s an honor to be on stage (or in a corner of the room) with him. It might not sound very spectacular, but our residency at O’Connor’s Vault is one of my proudest accomplishments. The people who come in seem to really dig the vibe, and the word is spreading. We’ll be there on March 12th and 19th. Check my website for all our upcoming dates—www.davefleschner.com
He serves as Musical Director for Earl Thomas. “He is an amazing singer. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to work with him.” He’s also been performing with Duffy Bishop, Karen Lovely, and Toque Libre.
Most Thursdays you can find him with Ben Rice and Dave Melyan at The Lodge, 6605 S.E. Powell Blvd. “Those guys are both fabulous musicians, and I feel it’s really helped me re-connect with the local scene.
“The biggest ‘stars’ I’ve had a chance to play briefly with are B.B. King (At the Blues Music Awards), The Pointer Sisters (through a pops concert with the Portland Symphony), Steve Miller (at both of the Concert’s for Curtis), China Forbes of Pink Martini (we played a benefit for our kid’s school together, and she was gracious enough to perform with me at a ‘Raise the Roof’ concert for the Blues Foundation). I got to play with Paul Delay three times, and I treasure those memories. I’ve played “one-offs” or jam sessions at festivals with Joe Louis Walker, Taj Mahal, Eden Brent, Jason Ricci, Boyd Small, Phillip Walker, Robert Cray, Rod Piazza, Andrew Jr. Boy Jones, Sherman Robertson.”
Dave received two Muddy Awards when he was with Curtis Salgado’s band: 2006 Performance of the Year – A Concert For Curtis; and 2009 R&B Act of the Year – with Curtis Salgado. “I’m honored to have been nominated last year in the keyboards category of the Muddy Awards. Thank you to the CBA and its members for the recognition.”
Dave has a long list of CD’s. As a leader or primary member:
Hager/Fleschner Duo, Live From the Vault, 2013
The Dave Fleschner Trio, Creepin’ Up, 2010
Dave Fleschner, At Home, 2004
Zuppa, Walk Funky, 2004
The Dave Fleschner Trio, Just Like You, 2002
The Dave Fleschner Trio, Live at McPeet’s, 2002
Zuppa, Live at the Goodfoot, 2002
Groove Revelation, Grindin’, 2000
Groove Revelation, The Arch Cape Sessions, 1997
As a sideman:
Buzz Holland, The First 21, 2013
Muriel Stanton Band, The Way You Love Me, 2013
Murali Coryell, Live (DVD Portion only), 2012
Kenny Lavitz, Flip Side of the Blues, 2012
Miriam’s Well, Indian’s and Clowns, 2010
Deep Roots volumes I through XI, annually from May 1998 to 2009
Ken Ollis, Confluence, 2009
X-Angels, Mississippi Sessions, 2008
Bad Dates, Primates, 2007
Dave Milne, 2006
Eric Ferguson, Brachiocephalic Trunk, 2006
Elena Lunevskaya, DYX, 2006
Ben Fowler Quintet, The Pilgrimage, 2005
Chris Mayther Band, Big Blue Eyed Soul, 2005
Kenny Lavitz, Too Many Hats, 2005
Michael Partlow Four, 2005
Young Lions of Zion, Your Sanctuary, 2003
The Vantucky Diamonds, Rock House, 2002
Billy Hagen, You Should’a Been Pretty, 2002
Jane Wright, Synergy, 2000
Runs Good, As Is, 2000
Blake Woods and Monica’s Dress, Safe in Heaven Dead, 2000
D. Mark Jackson, 3 Years On, 1999
The Mak Groove, Live at Jimmy Mak’s Compilation, 1998
“Alan Hager and I have at least two records worth of original material we’re working on for future CD’s. We wanted to get a live CD out fast to help promote the duo, but we’re taking our time a little more with the original stuff. Hopefully we’ll get something out this year.”
“I’m also working on recordings right now with Duffy Bishop, Toque Libre, Karen Lovely, Earl Thomas, Ron Rogers and helping Curtis Salgado with some demos. All that stuff is in various stages of pre-production, so I’m not sure what I’ll actually perform on and to what extent.”
“I feel blessed to work and play with so many amazing and talented people. The ‘Raise the Roof’ concert I worked on last fall, with Earl Thomas and Joey Scruggs, was an incredible experience. It was the most involved I’ve ever been with a show from a production standpoint. All the artists who performed were amazing and gracious, and the show went off without a hitch. I’m very proud of that. I’d like to thank all the performers for their involvement. I hope we get to do another one soon.”
For more information on where to find Dave performing, visit his website at www.davefleschner.com.