Originally from the miniature metropolis of Glendale, Kentucky (population at the time: approx. 350), John Baumgardner played his first solo public performance, “The Pink Panther,” in second grade. In third grade, he accompanied his first singers at his school’s Spring Music Program, playing Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” At 11, he played for his first church service. At 15, he played in his first wedding. At 17, he gave his first piano lesson. And at 20, he arranged his first song. Since this series of firsts, he’s played at all sorts of shows, events, and weddings at various entertainment venues, churches, restaurants, lounges, and private events.
Dabbling in almost every genre, John can emulate many classic and popular piano pieces. But his forte lies in the ability to create drastically different arrangements of existing songs.
“If a song was originally written to be performed fast, then I might slow it down and turn it into a ballad. Or vice versa,” John explains. “Sometimes I’ll change the genre from the original recording. Perhaps it was originally a heavy metal song, so I’ll turn it into a jazz waltz. Or if it was originally written in a major key, I’ll play it in a minor key.”
John just released his The Big Day: Soundtrack for a Wedding. It features 16 songs which can be played in chronological order for an entire wedding. In addition to several piano solos, the record includes three vocal performances by Markita Conner, as well as Kurt Baumer on violin/fiddle.
In 2020, John released a piano tribute to alternative rock band Counting Crows , Mr. Duritz and Me. Currently, he has another recording in the works – a collection of wedding songs, which features three songs with longtime wedding collaborator and vocalist, Markita Conner.
Until then, listeners can enjoy The Big Day, as well as previous releases Mr. Duritz & Me, Downpour, Fruitcake with Nuts and My Sunday Best.
John started putting this one together almost 15 years ago. Before the piece was finished, it went through dozens of iterations. He considered and tinkered with approximately 40 songs and originally planned to record with vocals and a full band. But once he finally started recording a couple of years ago, and he heard the piano played back all on its own, it became clear that the only thing the songs needed were some dramatic sound effects.
FRUITCAKE WITH NUTS
Mix some sleigh bells with jazz pop, intertwined with rock, Latin, opera, new age, country and avant-garde and you get the sometimes quirky, sometimes beautiful Fruitcake with Nuts. That may sound like a lot of genres thrown into one album, but the elements that hold them all together are John’s piano and the two alto voices of Amy Hueneman and Markita Conner. This collection of non-traditional arrangements of traditional Christmas songs (and a few obscure ones) also features members of the Louisville Orchestra’s string section, as well as trumpet solos by Bootsy Collins band member Gary Winters.
MY SUNDAY BEST
John’s debut record has been described as part church hymns and part movie soundtrack. Often told to “slow down and stop playing so fast,” John took slowing down to the extreme on this collection. My Sunday Best is subtitled “Ten piano solos for the close of the day” and features fresh, reflective, modernized arrangements of traditional church hymns.
“If you grew up like I did, playing tic-tac-toe and hangman on the back of a church bulletin, these songs will be something you recognize,” John explains. “If you are familiar with these songs, then hopefully these arrangements will breath some new life into them for you. If you haven’t heard of these songs, then hopefully they’ve been adapted in a way that you’d never guess that most of them were written more than 100 years ago."
What do The Eurythmics, Prince, Taylor Swift Counting Crows, Rhianna, AC/DC, Patty Griffin, Jack Johnson and Kermit the Frog all have in common? They’ve all recorded songs that have titles or lyrics that revolve around the subject of rain or thunderstorms – and they are all on John’s record, Downpour.