Women’s Music Summit Front and Center: Pianist and Composer, Starr Parodi

The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here

Throughout July we’ll be featuring artists who are making an appearance at our upcoming Women’s Music Summit

Front and Center: Pianist and Composer, Starr Parodi

Starr-Piano-ReflectionStarr Parodi is an immensely talented solo pianist and composer for television and film.

Parodi got her start as the keyboard player on The Arsenio Hall Show and has since recorded or performed with a stellar array of artists including BB King, Seal, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey and more. As a Steinway Concert/Recording Artist, Parodi released a full length album called Common Places and is currently working on a new project.

Along with her husband Jeff Fair, Parodi has composed some of Hollywood’s most recognizable arrangements including a new version of the James Bond theme, for which the duo earned a RIAA Gold Record. Parodi and Fair have gone on to produce over 300 of Hollywood’s most visible film trailers including Last Samurai, James Bond, Mission Impossible 2, Harry Potter, Dream Girls, Night At The Museum, and X-Men 3.

We are honored to feature Starr Parodi for this week’s Front and Center. Join us at the upcoming Women’s Music Summit where you’ll have a chance to collaborate and learn from Parodi in-person!

Learn more about Starr Parodi at parodifair.com.

WiMN: How were you introduced to music as a child? Who were some of your main influences as you were learning piano?

SP: My family moved several times when I was a child and I ended up in a small town with just two radio stations, but they played great music–pop and R&B–which was all I listened to; Al Green, The Staple Singers, Stevie Wonder…

My father had given my mother a grand piano as a present and my mom wanted me to take piano lessons. I loved music so much but it turned out that as a younger girl I had some very bad experiences with a piano teacher that was definitely not a good fit for me, so I made a deal with my mom that I would take piano lessons for one year and if it still wasn’t going well I could quit the lessons. A year to the day after we made that deal, I stopped studying piano. It wasn’t until several years later, when I was 14, that I had a chance to get together with some friends who were older than me and in a band. The keyboardist showed me a piano part for one of their songs. I picked it up very quickly and they all encouraged me to play.

After that, I started playing the piano every moment that I could and was really connecting to music in a profound way. Then, in another twist of chance a year later, I was visiting my Auntie and her neighbor heard me play and suggested that if I wanted to seriously study music I should consider going to Interlochen Arts Academy. Next thing I knew, I found myself on a plane, moving to Michigan by myself to attend my senior year of high school at Interlochen. My time there changed my life, and opened me up to the world and all different styles of music. I loved any music that I could feel emotion from in my heart and listened to Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, JoAnne Brackeen, Bill Evans, Stevie Wonder, Chick Corea, Maurizio Pollini, Vladimir Horowitz, Billy Preston.

WiMN: Tell us about your days playing on the Arsenio Hall Show.

SP: Wow – How to encapsulate six years, playing five days a week on live television?! It was inspiring, exhilarating, nerve wracking, and so much fun. Arsenio started out as a bit of an underdog and no one really expected his show to be so successful. We were all (and still many of us are) like a very big close family. It was wonderful playing with the other members of the Posse (our house band) every night. They are all incredibly talented musicians and we all had different strengths which I think made for a very connected band. It was wonderful to accompany so many iconic artists and to become friends with some of them.

Music was important to Arsenio, and not just an afterthought, so there was a degree of spontaneity as one would never really really know what or when we would be playing. Sometimes we would be asked to play for one of the guests in a spontaneous moment or if Arsenio just felt like hearing a certain style of music, he would ask us to start playing whatever he wanted. We had to be ready to play pretty much anything at anytime.

WiMN: You’ve worked with artists like BB King, Seal, Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey, Carole King, Whitney Houston, Ray Charles, Al Green, Carlos Santana ..and the list goes on. What are some of the lessons you’ve taken away from working with such greats?

SP: Usually what I have found is that the greater an artist is, the nicer they are. The higher standards they have, the more passion they have. I remember once getting ready to play “The Thrill Is Gone” with BB King. I am pretty sure he has played this a million times but he turned around and said to me, “Oh… I’m so nervous.” I couldn’t believe it, and of course he was amazing!

One time during a commercial break while working on the Arsenio Hall Show, I had just gotten a new Korg keyboard and had programmed a sequence in it that I thought would be fun as an intro for playing “Superstition”. I started playing it during a break and saw that Stevie Wonder was backstage. He came out and started singing with us and then Whitney Houston who was also there came out and it turned into a wonderful spontaneous jam with both of them.

Every day of life is a lesson–being an artist, working with great artists, budding artists, or children! It is about seeing and supporting the greatness in everyone. There is never room for a bad attitude and if one is open and willing, amazing creative opportunities await.

WiMN: How did you begin composing for film and TV? What is it about this field that you enjoy?

SP: I have always loved composition and wrote and recorded some pieces with a friend that were more suited to underscore for a picture than songs. We sent this recording to a very well known television composer who we were asked to start doing some writing for. I wrote music for several television shows and the orchestra played it every week. It was an incredible way to get started, to hear my music being played every week by these wonderful orchestral musicians.

When music and picture work together there is something so gratifying in a way that is hard to put into words. I think they both become bigger than the sum of the separate parts in so many ways. If you have ever watched a movie or TV show without any music, the emotional weight and importance of music becomes obvious–although it is usually the last to be done in a production!

There are so many things about this field that I enjoy; the collaborations with other musicians, with the directors and creators, and really hearing everything come to life. Along with my writing partner, Jeff Fair, I got involved in writing music for a lot of movie trailers too. There was a time when most movie trailers were scored with an orchestra and live rhythm section. Now it is mostly library music that is used in that genre however when I started doing trailers (Mission Impossible, James Bond, Last Samurai, Braveheart, Stuart Little, Rules of Engagement, etc…) that was not the case. Working on so many amazing projects is wonderful, especially when we rearranged and produced the James Bond theme… that particular project really had a life and was very exciting.

WiMN: Can you tell us about any solo piano projects that you’re currently working on?

SP: I have been playing with some ideas for another solo piano record. On my last one, Common Places, I just sat down and let the music flow without trying to censor it and did a series of improvisations; some on known songs, and some original compositions. I felt so free when I did that record and I would love to do another in that way. I also have a project in the works which is a collaboration with some other musicians that would also involve some orchestral works.

WiMN: Tell us about the grand piano in your studio. Would you say this is your favorite instrument to write with?

SP: Whenever I sit down at this particular piano, I feel that it is pulling music out of me. If I am ever stuck, or need inspiration, this is where I go. There is definitely something to be said about being fortunate enough to have an instrument that you can connect deeply with.

My piano is a 1928 Steinway B that was originally on the MGM soundstage during the late 1920’s, ’30s and ’40s. It has such a beautiful voice, rich harmonics and the longest sustain when holding a note of any piano I have ever heard. It is rumored that the original Wizard of Oz music was recorded on this piano and although I have had a lot of work done on it, I have never let anyone scrape the chewing gum off from the underside of the keyboard.. who knows who’s gum that was!

WiMN: Can you share your experience as a woman in the industry? Have there been challenges?

SP: This is a subject very close to my heart. I had someone recently complain to me that a woman got a certain job instead of him and he felt that it was because this person was a woman. Really.. REALLY?? If you look around at the lack of diversity, there are so few women in the higher levels of music getting jobs because of the fact that they are women.

In film/TV scoring there are literally only a handful of women. My hope is that at some point we won’t even be talking about this subject–that there will be no such thing as calling a band an “all female band” but just a band of great musicians, creative and connecting and making wonderful music, and there won’t be a deal made about a female composer–again, just someone who has the talent, skills, passion and desire to write music for picture.

I had a funny thing happen to me once. I was the leader of an amazing 13-piece band for a developing TV show after the Arsenio Hall Show was over, and the producer was a very well known guy who was also quite lovely and visionary. However, sometimes, when he would speak to me about music in regards to the show, if I happened to be sitting with my husband he would look directly at him while talking directly to me!

That being said, I have worked for some wonderful people, both male and female. In fact some of the projects I have scored recently (The Starter Wife with Debra Messing and Bert Stern: Original Madman–which was released last month) both had either women directors or women producers that are amazingly creative. Also, the Laguna Arts – Pageant of the Masters (which I compose for) is directed by a woman and I really felt like we connected on a deeper level.

WiMN: Can you offer any tips or advice for women aspiring to enter the music business?

SP: Figure out what your unique strengths and gifts are–value yourself. Be kind to everyone and keep an open mind. Sometimes an opportunity will come along that you are not expecting that can turn out to be life-changing.

WiMN: What can we expect from your workshop at the Women’s Music Summit?

SP: I will be talking a lot about scoring to picture; different approaches with some examples, telling stories, talking about ideas, plus anything that the workshop attendees want to talk about, and brainstorming. I can’t wait to meet everyone and talk about music together!

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