Posted by: Quinn Vincent Hough in Billboard, Feature, Music, Stars
EXCLUSIVE | One day before I spoke with American pianist Paul Cardall, the 41-year-old was celebrating the five year anniversary of a new heart and an optimistic vision for the future. At age 34, during the peak of his musical career, Cardall suffered from heart failure and was given one year to live, however, on September 9, 2009, the end of one life allowed another to continue on.
Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) affects approximately one million children worldwide each year, but poor funding means that 100,000 children won’t live beyond the age of one. Cardall’s new album, Saving Tiny Hearts, will be released on November 11 and for each album sold, one dollar will be donated to the Saving Tiny Hearts Society.
When I spoke with Paul, the Utah-based artist had just released a music video on both Facebook and Twitter for “Gracie’s Theme,” which was filmed in his native state near the Uinta Mountains and features children who represent survivors of Congenital Heart Disease.
“I wanted an anthem; a call to action for people to recognize that congenital heart disease, even though it’s the #1 birth defect, is the least funded.”
Paul Cardall grew up in Salt Lake City and lived a normal childhood, despite being born with half a heart, thanks to the support of his parents. He played baseball, listened to Rush and used money from his paper route to buy cassette tapes at the local music store.
“I come from a large family and my parents never treated me like I was a boy in a bubble, because there was no Google. They could not find symptoms and be afraid of every little thing. They didn’t know about germs, diseases and all that stuff, so it was to my benefit. I could play all day without washing my hands and then have dinner. It was no big deal.”
The music of Yanni and David Lanz caught the attention of young Cardall, along with the 1984 Miloš Forman film, Amadeus, about the famed pianist, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. As a piano player myself, and film fanatic, I spoke with Cardall about the powerful influence that musicians like Mozart and Ludwig van Beethovencan have on a child already interested in music.
“You start to learn about these guys and it’s amazing. Beethoven was tormented his whole life because he couldn’t get to a hotel to meet the woman he loved. There was that little moment where he was not able to connect with the woman, who loved him, but assumed he wasn’t interested. You learn about these guys and you hear the pain, the joy and everything associated with it — and for me I really connected with that.”
Cardall stepped away from the piano for several years during high school, but returned after the death of a friend and composed a piece titled, “Dave’s Farewell.” While playing at a local Nordstrom’s, a woman approached the young pianist about his music, as she had lost her husband (also named Dave) two years prior, and ultimately purchased 200 CDs. One of the lucky locals to receive Cardall’s music was the woman’s neighbor, Richard Paul Evans, who had written The Christmas Box and asked Cardall to collaborate on an album.
“People were asking what the music sounds like, and so he kept saying, ‘it sounds like Paul Cardall.”
By 1999, Cardall signed a two-album record deal with one of the premiere New Age record labels, Narada (owned by Virgin Records), and established Stone Angel Music while “smooth jazz” appeared to be taking over. Cardall was poised to stay loyal to his own sound.
“Everybody started doing smooth jazz. I had no interest in that stuff — and the distribution channels had already opened up — so I established Stone Angel Music, added a couple employees and started putting out my records. We put out an artist named Steven Sharp Nelson, who released “Sacred Cello,” and he’s now a member of The Piano Guys. I took a lot of joy and pleasure in building Stone Angel Music from not just my albums, but some of the artists that I performed with and having them do albums that you wouldn’t normally expect – like a cello record.”
When Cardall signed his first deal fifteen years ago, the Internet was already exploding worldwide, although musicians didn’t have the ability to use Facebook and Twitter to instantly connect with fans. As Cardall’s heart problems intensified during the late 2000s, fans began to worry and reached out to the musician via social media. As a result, Paul opened up the communication and noted his daily thoughts on a blog.
“I was very honest and very open. Mostly I was writing because I had a little girl, my daughter, and if I wasn’t going to be around, I wanted her to have this legacy of my thoughts that she could read. That became the purpose of the blog, so we called it “Living For Eden.” Eden is my daughter. Fortunately, they tell you that when you’re going through something crazy like that, the best form of therapy is to journal, because it allows you to process your feelings and get it down on paper. It was really healing for me to just write.”
Shortly after his successful heart transplant, Cardall released an album titled “New Life,” which embodies the inner peace and joy of a new perspective. Over the years, Cardall has received numerous messages of gratitude from local followers in Utah all the way to U.S. soldiers based in Afghanistan. Cardall’s musical ability also caught the attention of the world-renowned Steinway & Sons, who invited the artist to join their roster of the world’s best musicians alongside greats such Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Franz Liszt, George Gershwin, Igor Stravinsky and many more.
“It’s a huge honor and I think for the first time in my career I felt vindicated for all my hard work, because I’ve been independent and I’ve been able to manage my label and my career on a very personal level with my audience. I know my audience – my audience knows me – and we have a good relationship.”
Paul Cardall will perform in Paris on September 26, and London on October 2, before returning home for the release of Saving Tiny Hearts on November 11. The biggest battle of his life may be over, but Cardall continues to spread his message of hope for young children living with CHD across the globe.
“What I’m trying to do is show people that we have come a long way. We are making progress. I survived. I’ve beaten the odds and I want other kids, and the medical field, to recognize that we are achieving a lot of good. We just need to keep going.”
Visit PaulCardall.com for videos, music and information on the release of Saving Tiny Hearts.