Kyle Walz is back in the classroom these days, teaching English in the gifted program at Riverbend School in Pacific, but his music is being played all over the country, maybe beyond.
His newest CD, “Lifted Standards,” caught the attention of a promoter in Los Angeles, Calif., last fall and is now the focus of a nation-wide campaign.
The 13-song CD is Walz’s interpretation of jazz and rhythm-and-blues standards. It features songs like “I Just Called to Say I Love You,” “Killing Me Softly,” “Black Magic Woman” and “What’s Going On.”
“For jazz purists, a swinging version of ‘Afternoon in Paris’ evokes the reedy tones of a saxophone with the melody,” notes Walz. “Showing a flamenco guitar influence, ‘Blue Bossa’ combines the guitar’s percussive elements with the bossa nova rhythm.”
And, as a personal touch, Walz added his version of “Mack the Knife,” which he dedicated to his parents, Jim and Betty Walz, formerly of Pacific, now of Springfield, because it reminds them of youthful days.
“Lifted Standards” is Walz’s second CD. He recorded his first, “Figurative,” all original music, in August 2011.
The sudden success he’s experiencing now with his music is exciting, said Walz, especially because recording his own CDs is something that came about a little by accident.
Walz, who is the third member of the St. Louis cover band, The Rebounds, decided that to practice it might be helpful to record himself playing. So he purchased the necessary equipment for his computer, set it up and began playing. Even he was a little surprised by the result.
“This instrumental came out . . . I got the chord tracks, wrote a melody . . . it was jazzy and I was hitting the harmonies,” he said.
Just for fun, he loaded the recording onto YouTube.com and friends who listened were impressed, and that left him “inspired.” He continued to record more of his practice sessions and then began to notice something.
“I realized whenever I did a recording, I used the first takes. They weren’t bad and had a lot of interesting musical thought,” said Walz, noting several were personal, even autobiographical.
“I wondered where I should go with them.”
He shared them with a few teacher friends and then one suggested he make a CD and sell it to teachers. He liked that idea.
“I like making music and having someone listen to it, especially someone you don’t know,” he said.
That CD, of which Walz created 100 copies, was “Figurative.”
Most of the songs are instrumental, but a few do include vocals provided by Kyle Oesch, one of Walz’s former students who is now a music major in college.
“Styles range from rock, bossa nova, samba, contemporary jazz and blues,” it reads on the CD’s inside cover. “This array of tunes shows the wide range of someone who loves all aspects of guitar and music.”
Walz quickly followed up “Figurative” with “Lifted Standards.” The name has a double meaning, said Walz — “Lifted” refers both to the fact that the music is ideal for elevator listening but also that the songs are “lifted” (that is, covers) from other musicians.
Unlike “Figurative,” which Walz made into an actual CD, “Lifted Standards” is a digital-only release through the CD Baby label.
Back before Thanksgiving, he was rushing to get it to the company the week before the holiday expecting it would take several days before it would be loaded onto iTunes, Apple computer’s digital music store. His goal was to have it on sale at Thanksgiving.
The way the process works, said Walz, is that CD Baby loads the music to its site and then distributes to stores like iTunes and Amazon.com.
Even before Thanksgiving, Walz saw Apple had posted a notice saying it would be closed the week of Thanksgiving, so he expected his CD would be delayed.
He was surprised then when he checked iTunes the Friday after Thanksgiving and saw “Lifted Standards” was available on iTunes, and even more surprised the next day when he received an email from a Wavelength Radio Promotions in Los Angeles, Calif.
That isn’t a ticket to instant stardom, Walz understands, but he is optimistic about what the company can do for him.
“It’s a service, I know,” he said. “They will do a seven-week genre-specific promotion for me and give me feedback.”
That means Wavelength will send out promotional materials for “Lifted Standards” to jazz magazines, blogs and other outlets, hoping to garner attention and reviews.
“Essentially, they are doing all the marketing for me,” said Walz.
More than that, however, is the “legitimacy” that Wavelength adds to his music.
“I’m not just some guy in his basement,” Walz remarked.
Playing guitar since he was 4 years old, Walz credits his older brother, George, with getting him started.
“He gave me a guitar when I was 4, and I would bug him silly until he would teach me something,” said Walz.
Walz comes from a somewhat musical family. His father, who grew up in St. Louis city, played the violin and was in youth orchestra all through school, and his brother George was a member of the popular local band Savana, which played area venues from the late ’80s to late ’90s.
The guitar George gave him at age 4 wasn’t just a toy. It was a harmony guitar for beginners. Looking back, Walz said the lessons his older brother gave him were probably more the stuff of trying to preoccupy “an annoying little brother,” but in the end they only made him a better musician.
“He would teach me a chord and tell me, ‘Until you learn that, I’m not going to teach you anything else,’ ” said Walz. “Now I can see how that really helped me . . . Those were the building blocks.”
As he grew older, Walz never took formal music or guitar lessons, but he did join the marching/concert band at Pacific High School where he played the flute. Walz still played the guitar and had become so good, in fact, that when the parents of a friend heard him playing once they thought it was a recording.
Walz was encouraged by their enthusiasm and looked into options as a studio musician, which is a musician for hire for bands needing to fill a slot, but when his parents moved the family to Springfield his senior year of high school, “that option seemed totally unfeasible,” said Walz.
He enrolled at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield where he majored in English with thoughts of being a teacher. He continued to play music, even starting up an underground band with a friend.
After college he played music “off and on” as “an informal thing,” fitting it in around work. After beginning his teaching career in Owensville, Walz moved to Pacific in 1999.
That’s when he started creating his own electronic “techno” tracks as an independent artist for Liquid Dreams Records. He did that until 2003.
For the last several years he has been playing with the St. Louis area cover band, The Rebounds.
“Music is always something I go back to to ease the soul,” Walz remarked.
In addition to playing and recording his own music, Walz has for years been teaching others how to play the guitar. He gave his first lessons when he was a freshman in high school and continued, off and on, through college.
Four or five years ago Walz began giving lessons to some of the students at Pacific High School. Conversations with parents occasionally led to talk of his music talent and before long a few asked him to give their child guitar lessons.
He also has published two guitar books.
Looking ahead, Walz said he is interested in performing solo shows, such as at restaurants during happy hour.
Walz has set up a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/kylewalzmusician, to help promote his music. It has links to his recordings and also YouTube videos.
The band he plays in, The Rebounds, also has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/therebounds.