Pianist Woodbury Kasius finds food for soul in music

Troy resident Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius is composer, pianist, bandleader and collaborator with dance

A restaurant is a perfect place to play for Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius, though she has a lot on her menu. A composer, pianist, bandleader and collaborator with dance companies and monologist David Greenberger, as well as musicians, Kasius finds playing solo piano on Thursday nights at Fifty South in Ballston Spa comfortable for several reasons.

“I love to cook and I’ve worked in a number of restaurants, cooking in various capacities and doing all the other stuff, including waitressing,” she explained on Saturday, traveling with her husband, Edward, to a duo gig in New Jersey with guitarist John Ehlis. If she needed a Plan B, it would probably be food, but she firmly decided on making music at 24, after seeing the Bulgarian Women’s Choir. “From the first note, I started crying and I decided then that this passion is just too strong and I had to commit to it.”

Now, she finds that playing solo is “a time when you can explore and change meters and drop beats — all the things that drummers will kill you if you do.” She tries out new originals, plays jazz standards and improvises. “It’s a very relaxed creative time,” she said.

Sometimes, she combines those passions, inviting friends into her Troy home for evenings of cooking lessons and music.

Healing arts music

She and her husband are also training to be yoga teachers. So she recorded her new “Watermusic” album to be useful in yoga and the healing arts, although it takes the listener on a journey rather than functioning, as much New Age music seems to, as static sonic wallpaper. She recorded it with guitarist Christopher Currie, an occasional collaborator since both were 17 year-old rock ’n’ rollers in the Queensbury band Road Closed, named for a salvaged highway sign whose acquisition predated the band.

Before learning to play rock covers by ear, Kasius took piano lessons with Paul LeBlanc, who recognized early the range of her musical curiosity and taught her pop and show tunes. She said: “If it was a steady diet of classical, I would have gotten bored.” She started writing her own tunes at age nine, using her own system to notate melodies.

Kasius had received her first two albums only a few years before and remembered bringing them into kindergarten for naptime: the Jackson Five and the Carpenters. During high school she saved up for her first good stereo, just in time to discover Prince, Weather Report, Steely Dan on CDs, which were just being introduced.

Graduating from Queensbury High School in 1986, she started Brown University as an English major but graduated in African studies, moved to Seattle with a band, enrolled in a Ph.D. music program at the University of Washington, then transferred to the Cornish College of the Arts, also in Seattle. There she studied ethnomusicology — she had become fascinated with Brazilian music through its connection with African cultures — piano performance and composition.

Also in Seattle, Kasius began collaborating with dancers, improvising together, which she continued on relocating to Saratoga Springs, where she has worked with Jose Limon, Mark Morris, Doug Varone and Ron Brown through Skidmore’s summer residency program. She now plays for Russell Sage College dance classes two days a week.

On returning to the East, she also formed a trio dubbed Jupiter Circle to record and perform her compositions, an elastic ensemble with winds and strings orbiting around her piano. “To play the things I heard in my head, I would go search out musicians,” she said. “Or I would find a musician I enjoy and start writing for that instrument.”

Jupiter Circle released “Shade Songs” in 2002 and it instantly sprang onto area Top 10 lists for its sturdy classical structures, impressionistic charms and intelligence. Jupiter Circle also recorded an as-yet-unreleased album with David Greenberger, the Greenwich-based archivist/monologist who recites harvested opinions and recollections of older people in various musical settings.

Ambitious album

She now uses the name Heard for a reconfigured band that released the healing arts-oriented “Watermusic” last year and will release “Lullabyes and Riversongs” in next year. While “Watermusic” is quietly meditative yet lightened with pop touches, the next album echoes “Shade Songs” in its ambitious orchestrations and earthy beats. She also plays with the 20-piece Brazilian-music ensemble Berkshire Bateria, singer Joy Adler and others, and presents house concerts around Troy.

“I’m the type of musician and composer, I’ve got to live life and experience life,” she said. “I’m not one for locking myself up in a room and trying to think things up. If you look at the titles of my music, especially on that first CD (“Shade Songs,” which includes “Tinney’s Tip Top” for a roadhouse in Lake Desolation), everything comes from an experience or an image, and then at some point my imagination takes over.”

Elizabeth Woodbury Kasius

WHERE: Fifty South, 2128 Doubleday Ave. (Route 50), Ballston Spa

WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday

HOW MUCH: No cover

MORE INFO: 884-2926, www.heardmusic.net, www.fiftysouth.com

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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