They say talent must meet opportunity in order to fulfill its course. For New York born Beth Sass, destiny played a part as well. Because her grandmother didn’t want her two sons who played piano to fight over the family grand piano, she willed it to her daughter who didn’t play piano. By four years old, the little granddaughter, Beth, climbed onto the piano bench and taught herself how to play with little how-to books.
Beth still has that grand piano where she lives in Nashville today, but the journey has been long and deep since that time in Boston, Massachusetts where the family moved when she was two.
By 12, Beth, inspired by her poet mother and artists such as the Beatles, Laura Nyro, Dusty Springfield, The Carpenters, Paul Williams, Judy Collins. Leonard Cohen as well as jamming with other musicians, she wrote her first song.
By 8th grade, she was part of a duo with a friend, Nancy Walt, that lasted throughout high school and resulted in a vinyl record.
“Once Carole King hit the scene when I was a freshman in high school, it was all over because that wasn’t sort of what I wanted to do, that actually was what I was doing,” says Beth.
“I wrote 20th century classical music at Berklee, which forced me to learn arranging and orchestrations and conducting, but I applied it to Debussy type music instead of big band,” she says. “I studied a lot of pop/jazz vocal technique and a lot of pop/jazz piano. Berklee was amazing because I fed many appetites. Since then I have made my living all these years from doing all these things I learned during college.”
Meanwhile, as Berklee’s original pop songwriting guru Jon Aldrich suggested, she sent her compositions to Nashville, where then Tree Publishing’s Cliff Williamson, now currently long-time Starstruck Entertainment Chief Operating Officer, signed songs from her catalog and flew her in from Boston regularly to write and record demos of her material.
Her college years yielded not only academic musical growth, but tremendous personal metamorphosis while she came to terms with the fact that she was a solo artist. She began to perform at colleges and coffee houses and suddenly, fraught with angst that was captured and recycled into songs, she found herself a huge draw at massively attended piano bars.
In 1986, Sass moved to Nashville formally, where she was signed as a staff songwriter by the same Cliff Williamson toMultimedia Music and later Alabama Band’s Maypop Music Group. where she was mentored by great country craftsmenDon Pfrimmer and the late John Jarrard. while also supporting herself as a honky-tonk country keyboardist, and demo singer.
She admits now that she wasn’t quite prepared for the business side of the industry and that was a piece of the puzzle she needed to develop. “I was in a vacuum because I was an artist,” Beth says. So, In 1991, she decided to return to Boston, while commuting back to Nashville to record the material she had stockpiled.
While based back in Boston, she was hired from 1991-1997 as a keyboard player/singer, working for oldies backup bands for acts like Herb Reed and the Platters the Drifters and The Coasters as well as having the opportunity to open their shows.
When not on the road, Beth began packaging herself as an artist. Sponsored by ASCAP and with an attorney on retainer, she promoted her new demo recordings to New York City and Los Angeles record labels and publishing companies. Although she scored only close-calls, people responded very positively to her poignant songwriting and elegant piano work, and thus her artistic identity was solidified.
Returning once again to Nashville in 1997, she began to learn how to combine business savvy and the craft of songwriting as she recorded Seven Songs , with producer Richard Adler (Neil Young, Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, Alison Krauss, Johnny Cash, Doc Watson, John Prine, Bela Fleck, Natalie Cole, Sam Bush, Jerry Jeff Walker, Dave Mallet, Shel Silverstein, Iris Dement and John Hartford), featuring a live band.
In 2003-2004, with independent promotion and the burgeoning internet, “Naomi” from Seven Songs hit Indie Music Community Garageband.com, reaching #1, Track of the Day, and Track of the Week in Acoustic. The song “Naomi” was also named best potential soundtrack in folk/country. It’s all-time ranking peaked at #43 of 2,213 in Acoustic.
In 2005, her song “Stampede” from Seven Songs was chosen for a Shuteye Records Americana compilation, The United States of Americana.
As Ryan Hoffer, A& R at Shuteye Records reported: “It looks like we peaked the Americana Music Association charts at an estimable #53 – quite a task for a compilation on such a lofty chart (remember 700 high!). Some of our biggest supporting/reportng stations have been Twangcast, KFAN, KCUV, WGCS, WDVR, WRIU, WHAY to name a few.”
Earlier, during the recording of the album, the most significant change in Sass’ life had occurred: the birth of her daughter, Bianca.
“Before she was born, I could trudge or skip down my life path with abandon, mostly, but not always, honorably. Once I became a parent, my journey became unalterably witnessed by my daughter. This change meant, and still means, that the words I choose, the emotions I wrestle with, the friendships I work at, and the goals I strive for are always transparent, and must be worthy of her.”
The change also meant Beth, a single parent, needed to be financially responsible for another human being and eventually be able to pay for her education while supporting the both of them. She did that by developing early childhood programs at Akiva School, The Nashville JCC, West End Synagogue, and the famous World Music Nashville Performance Center/Store/School.
In 2010, the Beth Sass Pandora Radio Station was created, featuring Seven Songs.
“Just one man worked best for me on this record,” says Beth, who says Kimbrough was invaluable. “We did it all ourselves. This was a product of two people having a big conversation.”
She describes the CD as six months of her life.
“It’s a cross-section of feelings that I might go through over six months. It’s six songs and six emotional places that I hit over the course of a season. It’s a season of feelings.”
Today, as Beth’s life experiences have deepened the compositions she writes on that very same piano inherited from her grandmother, she knows that her ultimate goals are to honor all the work she’s done, to role model and to have it heard.
“When you love something and do it naturally, my abstract goal is to celebrate the fact that I do this and encourage other people,” she says. “My first goal is to never stop being there for myself creatively. Another huge goal I have is that the fruit of my caring falls into the hands and the hearts and the ears of an audience, that it’s not just in my own backyard, that as many people as are supposed to be on the receiving end, get to be.” After the release of album Knowing Me, Beth went on to release several more digital singles, My Favorite Target and Huntington Avenue, also written and produced with Jerry Kimbrough.
After an appearance on Nashville’s Fox 17’s Rock and Review, hosted by good friend and impressario gear maven Eric Dahl, Beth became an official endorsed CasioMusicGear Digital Piano Artist, promoting Casio Keyboards for performance, recording, and education throughout the United States. In June 2017 the Casio Px-5S was her featured keyboard for Beth’s songwriter and artist showcase at Los Angeles’ Ghengis Cohen.
Over the past few years, Beth began collaborating with the very much still active 1970’s rockstar Walter Egan (“Magnet and Steel” and “Hot Summer Nights”). The music they create together, “WEBS”, explores the complex nature of relationships. The recordings feature Walter Egan’s ironic and brilliant lyrical take on Beth’s way of peering inward, plus his remarkable guitar layerings. Beth brings her melodic and chordal compositional style as well as her strong sense of melody. March 2018 marks the release of the first WEBS album.
In November 2017, Beth was the featured artist on Studio23Nashville, a one hour show focusing on the stories behind the songs as well as a live in-studio performance. In March 2018, Studio23Nashville goes live, gathering together guests from the in-studio series for a night of music including Bobby Tomberlin (Diamond Rio’s “One More Day”), Tim Buppert(Kevin Sharp’s “She’s Sure Taking It Well”) and Walter Egan. Beth is not only the keyboard player for the evening amd all artists, but will perform her own set, featuring the powerful song “Last Safe Place”, from the upcoming WEBS album.
As ever, Beth’s passion as educator/talent scout/coach/mentor for vocals, keyboards, performance, and songwriting supplies her with a full roster of students and she continues to come in intimate contact with multitudes of talented singers and players and songwriters at all stages of their careers.