March 3, 2024

The Piano Men

BJ Leiderman and Kenny White to play City Opera House
By Ross Boissoneau | Oct. 8, 2022

Two singers. Two keyboards. And a guitar in between.

That will be the setup when BJ Leiderman and Kenny White come to town. The two singer/songwriters are teaming up for a series of concerts together, including an Oct. 22 date at the City Opera House in downtown Traverse City. They’ll each perform solo and back up one another as well.

Getting to Know You
Now, maybe Leiderman and White aren’t your typical household names, but they’re well-known in certain circles. White worked with several pop acts in the ’70s before settling in the studios for most of the next two decades.

White toured as keyboard player for Jonathan Edwards and with Livingston Taylor backing Linda Ronstadt. In the ’80s and ’90s he was a fixture in the New York studio scene, producing and arranging music for hundreds of commercials for TV and radio, and working with artists including Gladys Knight, Mavis Staples, Ricky Skaggs, and Aaron Neville. He also contributed to film soundtracks as writer/musician, and his production credits include Shawn Colvin’s Grammy-nominated “I Don’t Know Why,” as well as the last four CDs by former J. Geils singer Peter Wolf.

Leiderman, meanwhile, has composed numerous themes for programs on National Public Radio. In fact, Leiderman is still credited for the themes, the only such composer to receive on-air credits. His first theme was for “Morning Edition” in 1979. Over the following decades, Leiderman composed music for other shows on NPR, including “Weekend Edition,” “Car Talk,” “Marketplace,” “Science Friday” and “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!”

Getting Together
Leiderman’s appreciation for White is obvious in conversation. “He’s one of the best writers I’ve ever seen. Meaningful, deep, funny lyrics. Kenny is steeped in so many different types of music: rock, jazz, folk,” says Leiderman.

So he called White up. “I reached out and said, ‘I love your stuff.’ I was going to go on tour, and [thought] how cool it would be to partner up with someone whose songs thrill me.”

That sparked the concept and collaboration for their “Piano/Piano” tour. “Our styles complement one another,” says Leiderman. “I regard myself as Ringo of piano. My first instrument was drums, and I play like a drummer. I beat the living hell out of the keyboard.”

For his part, White says the opportunity to join another keyboard player was new and exciting. “BJ approached me last year. I’d not done anything like it and I was intrigued,” he says.

While he still backed other performers, his solo shows were just that: Solo. So the chance to have additional voicings on his original material was appealing, and to have it be someone he was both personally and musically compatible with was the icing on the cake. “We get along well. I enjoy having another piano on my songs. BJ’s a good singer, and we have nice harmonies.”

Taking the Stage
Now, this concert will not be any kind of a dueling pianos/piano bar show. “Originally we were looking at two acoustics, but I chickened out,” says the ever-modest White.

In actuality, they decided that including one acoustic and one electric would give them a broader palette of sounds. It would also preclude any of those dreaded dueling piano comparisons. White will also occasionally trade his keyboard for guitar.

The show will revolve around their originals, though Leiderman leans toward including favorite covers by the Beatles, Cat Stevens, Elton John, even Bruce Springsteen.

Leiderman’s portion of the show will focus on songs from his solo album as well as his public radio theme medley. BJ—Leiderman’s first recording—opens with the rowdy “Sometimes,” and the rest of the eclectic disc is similarly rocking. He’s backed by the Randall Bramblett Band with Béla Fleck on banjo. Leiderman’s piano is prominent, but so is the electric guitar and—unlike his NPR themes—so is his voice. That voice and his music are at times reminiscent of another piano man: Billy Joel. (Truly—download “Sometimes” and you’ll be doing an auditory double take!)

White points to the fact he’s released five albums (compared with Leiderman’s single recording) and sharing the show means he’ll only be doing eight of his nearly 50 original songs. “I’m not a classic singer. I don’t do covers unless we can do a new spin,” says White.

Both believe the positives, including new harmonies and voicings and working and traveling with a friend, far outweigh any downside. Plus, there’s the fact each will gain exposure to a different audience than might come out to see either individually.

Of course, neither has performed in such a duo before. Leiderman, for one, admits to some nerves. “It’s just the right mix of excitement and butterflies,” he says. “Onstage I’m crazy. Kenny’s smart crazy. It’s the perfect chemistry, more than the sum of its parts.”

For tickets or more information, go to cityoperahouse.org.

Photo of White (right) by Sandrine Lee.

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