“If there is a great, silver lining to the pandemic, it is that I still get to perform every day. I have all these people virtually gathering around the piano. It has really kept me going through all of this, both creatively and musically. I am very thankful,” said jazz singer-pianist-songwriter and film composer Tony DeSare. I spoke with him recently in a Zoom call from his home outside Atlanta, which he shares with his wife Daisy and their seven-year-old son Christopher.
A familiar face to Indy audiences, I have had the pleasure of interviewing Hudson Falls, New York native DeSare several times over the years. I have also reviewed numerous pops concerts he has performed with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, led by Jack Everly, and several shows he headlined at The Cabaret when it was at the Columbia Club. The last time I saw him was when he performed in concert with the ISO in March 2019.
To stay abreast of his career, I have followed DeSare on Facebook. In doing so, I have discovered he possesses a strong sense of entrepreneurship, insofar as the manner in which he utilizes social media to share and promote his music in the slickest and most professional manner possible. And very smartly, once the pandemic commenced and people went into quarantine, DeSare realized he had a captive national audience, so he began posting nearly daily videos he calls “The Song Diaries.” They feature him singing songs while accompanying himself on the piano. At press time, the silky-smooth baritone has posted 154 (see accompanying video), the majority of which are tunes from The Great American Songbook, which primarily encompasses music from the 1920s through the 50s.
The polished production values that characterize DeSare’s videos result from a state-of-the-art audio and television studio he had built and which occupies an entire floor (1800 square feet) of his home. “About six months ago, I upgraded the studio so I could do livestreaming. I hardly ever used it and really did not know my way around it. I just made sure it was working. Now, I use it every day and obviously, I fully appreciate this space,” said DeSare, prior to giving me a tour during our live Zoom call. Recalling that his dad “made my first recording studio on the top of an air-hockey table with a piece of plywood when I was 14,” DeSare added, “So, I have been preparing for this for years.”
Averaging up to 5,000 viewers a day, DeSare said he reaches many more people than he ever could appearing live. He said working from home has even sharpened his skills. “I am arranging, recording, writing, mixing audio, editing video and engaging on social media. Before this, most of my time was spent traveling to and from gigs.”
Jokingly asking him if there is any chance he could run out of daily songs to perform, DeSare said, “It is getting a little more challenging. The first hundred songs are the ones I had at the top of my head, but yes, I feel like I could go on, at least do a couple of thousand.”
I asked him if all this effort has brought him any new fans. “Yes, once concert halls open again, I hope to see bigger audiences,” he said. “What it did immediately was energize the people that already followed me to a level I hadn’t seen before. My fans are so lovely and kind and generous and smart and sophisticated in their musical taste. It has really been fun to get to know them better. They have really helped and been a lifeline during this.”
As far his ability to monetize his virtual performing, DeSare said, “I haven’t worked really in almost seven months, but I’ve done these livestreams for which people bought tickets and I also receive PayPal donations. I don’t really ask for it very often and yet, it has made a difference. Between donations and livestreams, things that I have gotten paid for, I have pretty much been able to break even during this time. So, it hasn’t been a complete disaster, plus through my corporation, I received the CARES Act PPP loan that helped too. Between all of those, it has been OK.”
In addition to his virtual activity, DeSare has taken advantage of several COVID-safe opportunities, traveling to Columbus, Indiana for a solo gig Aug. 20 at Cabaret at The Commons, presented by the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic Orchestra. “Doing that show gave me hope that we can find a way moving forward to continue performing live.” Other appearances have included a concert with Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra for an outdoor show with a small audience and another with Detroit Symphony Orchestra. “We performed in an empty hall and the show was livestreamed. I thought it would be difficult with no audience, but I’ve had a lot of practice not having one since March,” laughed DeSare.
Another side hustle DeSare engages in that keeps him busy in his studio is film composing. So far, he has scored a Hallmark Christmas movie and two Lifetime thrillers. Currently, he is working on a score for a Lifetime Christmas movie, which premieres on the network on November 7. A romantic comedy, the film is titled “A Welcome Home Christmas” with a cast that includes Jana Kramer, Brandon Quinn, Tim Reid, Charlene Tilton and Craig Morgan. The plot focuses on Chloe, a community volunteer for military organizations and Michael, an Army vet she meets while organizing the officers’ Christmas ball.
When he began playing the piano, DeSare said his first love before he discovered jazz was film music. “I loved John Williams and Danny Elfman and all these film composers of the mid-80s. Of course, John Williams stretches back to the 60s, but his peak was really during my formative years. When I was a kid, he was scoring the Indiana Jones movies and the Star Wars films, so those really developed my ear. So, I had this opportunity about five years ago and threw my hat in the ring to be a film composer. Fortunately, the three films I have done so far went smoothly and the directors and producers loved the scores.”
Shifting our attention to the pandemic, in general, and how he has coped, DeSare said, “It’s really great, to have this time with my son at this age is such a gift. I was going to be gone much of these last few months and instead, all three of us are home together as a family. Before this, I was gone just about every week from about Wednesday to Sunday and my wife, who is in medical-device sales, was also traveling to New York. There were not a lot of days when we were all home together as a family and now we have been together all this time and it has been really wonderful.”
A favorite question I have asked other artists during the pandemic is “What do you hope the post- pandemic new normal will be?” DeSare answered, “Well, it’s just as impossible to predict the future as it was six months ago that I would be sitting here talking to you about all this. It’s impossible to say. I hope the new normal will be a wake-up call to a lot of people for a lot of things. That our way of life is very fragile and we need to take care of it and we need a competent government that has a role. It doesn’t matter if you are Republican or Democrat, it’s for things like this that we need good, competent government. We need the ability to rely on the government for information and how it relates to other problems that are pending like climate change.”
I followed up by asking what gives him hope. “Humans are great at adapting and even if it means that we all can’t consume constantly…we’re always working so hard to constantly make more money and consume more. I think this has compelled people, including my family, to scale back on everything. We evaluated everything and realized, as a lot of people have, that you can have a better quality of life, rather than being in that state of mind where you are always earning to consume. My hope is there is a more balanced way of life that emerges from this,” he insisted.
DeSare said the pandemic has given many people the opportunity to pause and reset their lives, including him. “I told some of my friends this is the sabbatical I needed and never had the courage to take. So, in the first couple of days after this happened, the way I coped with it and the lessons I learned from it was not to resist it. Not to bemoan that it happened and how terrible it is, but to view it as if I chose it this way. Then ask yourself, ‘What can I do? What can I accomplish during this time?’ Shows may take a very long time to come back and may or may not ever come back to where they were, but I don’t know if I will ever have a year like this ever again for a while, so I am trying to take advantage of this time,” he emphasized.
In light of all the social unrest taking place concurrently with the pandemic, I closed our conversation by asking DeSare what impact he tries to make with his music. “I have thought about that over time and asked myself what the point of my art is. Unlike Bob Dylan, who almost had a calling to be a voice of change and a voice of a generation, what I have found, for me, is the role that music plays is to be a counterbalance to getting too dark. We still need the ability to be as outraged about what happened to George Floyd and what’s gone on the last few months. However, there is still reason to take a few minutes, to allow yourself to be comforted and to enjoy beauty, which is what I try to do.”
To view The Song Diaries, follow Tony DeSare on Facebook @TDeSare.