Born in Brooklyn, New York, Bayer spent most of his growing up years in Cleveland, Ohio, and still considers himself a "Clevelander" even though he now resides in College Park, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C. Growing up, the main musical influence on Bayer were the Beatles, a group he listened to almost exclusively until junior high school. In junior high, he took the next step and joined the school's jazz band, it "seemed like the logical extension from playing guitar and bass and piano," says Bayer. Musical talent comes naturally for him as well, "My dad is a ragtime piano player, so I kind of heard music growing up. And the Cleveland Zoo had a great free concert...Maynard Ferguson and a lot of other cats that I got to see for free," he says. "It was really very cool and our jazz band director was in one of the bands, I can't remember which, if it was Ferguson or Stan Kenton, anyway, he was a real heavy hitter before he gave it all up to teach public high school. He always took us on some very cool field trips. I definitely was in the right place at the right time. I went to a good school, got to study and play with some good people and just kept building from there."
Those lessons from the past have really made their mark on the musician of today. When asked how he creates a song, what inspiration does he need to begin a a tune, there again is another sign of his modesty. "I like to think that in this point and time in my life, once you develop skills and tools to craft a tune, I like to think that I just write music for music sake. Sometimes I just sit and say, 'OK, I am going to write a tune.'" For this man, it can really be just that simple--sit down and knock off a song. This is not to say that there cannot be the same struggle to find just the right note or right lyric. It's just that sometimes when it comes, it can be as easy as opening yourself to the music and just listening.
"There are so many starting points in my life and I compose. I compose for orchestra and jazz band. I have had things for string quartets published and so forth. So if there is inspiration, thank God. If not, get to work." Although even some of Bayer's talents still have their moments, "Believe me the garbage can is filled with great ideas."
So once the ideas are there then what? In the case of the latest release, there were some numbers he just wanted to do. "Nostalgia" always loved that tune. "Skating" always wanted to do that one. I have always loved "A Charlie Brown Christmas." "Off Kilter," that one I wrote for one of my student groups. I coach a group at a couple of schools and they needed something that was an example of a minor blues, so i had twenty minutes and I wrote the tune.
Give me twenty minutes and when I am finished, I am just twenty minutes older. Mr. Bayer, however, can turn out some amazing music that makes you feel younger just for hearing it. "The song 'New Voice,' I had never written a Latin tune before so I just sat down and wrote that one. Same thing with "Old Voice."
It can make your head swim how easy this all sounds, but when you hear these numbers, when you hear the gentle sway and swing to them, feel the emotion that they conjure up, you begin to wonder if this simple "carpenter of tunes" is not pulling your leg. It really cannot be that easy and sound that good. It also helps that this musician is a teacher. For one thing, there is the almost daily practice of the rudiments of music. Then factor in the idea that he writes charts for many of his student groups, so there is the constant need to deliver professional quality charts on demand, quite the workout for anyone. Joshua Bayer seems more than up for the challenge.
The educator helps the musician. Even if he plays what his students might consider "weird stuff," this is not out of the ordinary. "I had a piano teacher and once he started to play some really weird stuff and I asked him about it. He said that he had to play it on the road in about a month." So the teacher helps the student and the student becomes a makeshift audience for the teacher, but it all works out in the end.
What makes Joshua Bayer stand out from the rest is easy. He simply knows what he does and he knows how to do it better than anyone else around. When he records, he is a one-take kind of guy and he is not really a fan of recording to start with. In fact, he "hates it." "It can really wear on your chops after a while," he says.
Old Voice:New Voice first saw the light of day as a concert done in Washington D.C. "Then we recorded it the next day," says Bayer. "That was three, eight-hour days in a row doing the same thing." Performing live is after all "the whole point of what we are doing." The interaction of player and audience is one part of what makes this complex and very gifted musician work and we the listening audience, benefit from it the most.
Joshua Bayer is the sum of his parts. Those who get the chance to hear him either through his recordings or through the interaction of a live performance will soon find out what many others already know. Joshua Bayer is no simple carpenter of tunes, but a master craftsman, skilled and driven to deliver to his audience a level of satisfaction others only dream of.