Interview by Scott Preston
Michael Bellar has performed music on six continents but being a native of North Carolina, he stands by his slow, southern roots. Along with creating music and touring with his group, the AS-IS Ensemble, Michael has also toured and or recorded with Amos Lee, Art Garfunkel, Howie Day, Wheatus, Jump Little Children, Teddy Geiger, Euro pop superstar Giorgia and Jay Clifford’s Rosebud. His national TV appearances include Late Night with David Letterman, the Late Show with Conan O’Brien Show, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Ellen Degeneres Show, TRL, Good Morning America, Regis and Kelly and the CBS Morning Show. Michael has produced and scored music for CUT Music (LA), Fluid (NYC), Bang Music and Razorhead.
Michael is the founder, composer and keyboardist of the AS-IS Ensemble. This highly excitable, alt-jazz group has performed at such venues as Avery Fischer Hall at Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, South By Southwest and the JVC, Bell Atlantic and New York City Winter Jazz Festivals along with being the former house band at the world-famous Blue Note jazz club in NYC. They have opened for John Scofield, Tea Leaf Green, Medeski Martin & Wood, Grant Green Jr. and JFJO. In a review of their first ever performance in New York City, they were hailed as “Generation Next” by Billboard Magazine. The group has recorded three studio CDs – “Turned On Turned Up” (2009), “Like It Is,” and “REACT!”
Cincy Groove: When did you start playing the piano?
Michael Bellar: Not till late in high school. My parents are both classical musicians but that wasn’t my thing then. I’m torn between the fact that if would have started earlier I would have either been 1- super great or 2 – would have quit soon after. Anyway, the beautiful thing is that it’s forever.
Cincy Groove: How did you meet up with your band mates in the AS-IS Ensemble?
Michael Bellar: Went to same school (North Carolina School of the Arts) with drummer Brad Wentworth. When he later moved to New York and we hooked back up it was amazing and he was the one who suggested that we hang with Robby Josty.
Cincy Groove: What was the writing and recording process like for “Turned On Turned Up” compared to your first 2 records?
Michael Bellar: Better for sure. Cause we toured with this line up fro about 2 years before I took them in the studio.
Cincy Groove: What have been some highlights for you musically over the past year?
Michael Bellar: Well it’s amazing to have your own baby like the AS-IS Ensemble is for me. It’s most everything that I love to do in it’s own package. I’ve also been lucky enough to be a sideman with some really great artists. I think single gig wise – I think that playing at Royal Albert Hall when I was touring with Art Garfunkel is near the top. I mean all my heros have played there. For AS-IS I think that the Avery Fischer Hall show was really special. We were invited to play there with a bunch of other great artist for a benefit for Habitat for Humanity years ago.
Cincy Groove: Which of your tv appearances has been your favorite?
Michael Bellar: Letterman. I got to hang with Paul a bit and his mentor was Richard Tee who I have always loved. So he gave me some insight into Richard’s playing.
Cincy Groove: Have you performed outside the U.S? If so which ones stand out in your mind?
Michael Bellar: I’ve toured a lot in Europe and have always had a great time in Italy. I mean come on – it’s Italy. Actually the first European gig I ever had was at a solo piano festival in Sicily. A guy who I thought was going to mug me – ended up housing me in his 100 year villa in Tuscany while his grandmother fed us 3 times a day for a week. Crazy….
Cincy Groove: What are your main musical influences?
Michael Bellar: Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Led Zeppelin, Nusrat Ali Khan
Cincy Groove: What’s the last album you bought that you’re enjoying?
Michael Bellar: all of Ray Lamontagne’s stuff. Fleet Foxes. Sia’s first cd.
Cincy Groove: What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you on stage?
Michael Bellar: Well, a funny one that comes to mind is on a show with Amos Lee, in this beautiful little theater, all of a sudden the back lights were such that a giant silhouette of my head was on the front wall in front of us. And the whole band starts cracking up and Amos makes the whole audience turn around to look at it.
Cincy Groove: If you could craft an all-star band, who would play in it?
Michael Bellar: Yikes?!?! Depends on what kind of music we are playing really. Alive or dead?!? Man, this is impossible. Stevie Wonder on keys, Stevie Wonder on drums and Stevie Wonder on vox. That’s sound perfect.
Jan 8 2010 AS-IS @ the Carnegie Club. APAP SHOWCASE New York, New York
Jan 9 2010 AS-IS @ the NYC Winter Jazz Festival!!! the Bitter End. APAP SHOWCASE New York, New York
Jan 10 2010 AS-IS @ the Rockwood Music Hall. APAP SHOWCASE New York, New York
Jan 10 2010 AS-IS @ the Carnegie Club. APAP SHOWCASE New York, New York
Feb 19 2010 AS-IS @ Studio 99 Nashua, New Hampshire
Feb 20 2010 AS-IS @ the Pittsfield Brew Works Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Mar 17 2010 AS-IS @ SXSW. Venue TBA. 17th thru the 20th Austin, Texas