All Heart with Paul Cardall

Emmy Winning Composer Kurt Bestor on All Heart with Paul Cardall

Episode Summary

Paul Cardall speaks with Grammy nominated composer Kurt Bestor about his career scoring award winning documentaries and films. Kurt was one of Paul's mentors in learning the music business.

Episode Notes

Paul Cardall speaks with Grammy nominated and Emmy winning composer Kurt Bestor about his career scoring award winning documentaries, films, and producing a Kurt Bestor Christmas concert performed annually in Salt Lake City. Kurt was one of Paul's mentors in learning the music business. 

ABOUT KURT BESTOR

Perhaps best known for his innovative interpretation of seasonal carols found in his popular 5 CD boxed set “The Complete Kurt Bestor Christmas,” and his haunting musical prayer for peace “Prayer of the Children,” the Utah based composer and performer launched his career writing music for television and movies. His credits include more than 40 film scores and more than 40 themes for national TV programs and commercials. It is Bestor’s music that has introduced NFL Monday Night Football, and National Geographic Explorer; he scored TBS’s Wild! Life Adventures and the IMAX film “The Great American West.” He also was given the Outstanding Film Score Award at the New York Film and Television Festival for his music for PBS’s “A More Perfect Union.” Bestor was awarded an Emmy® for his collaboration with Sam Cardon on the original music for ABC’s coverage of the 1988 Winter Olympics. In 2012, his arranging and producing of Jenny Oaks Baker’s CD “Wish Upon a Star” earned the two of them a Grammy nomination.

ABOUT ALL HEART WITH PAUL CARDALL

https://paulcardall.com/podcast

 

 

Episode Transcription

- [Announcer] Hey, everybody. Welcome to the American Songwriter Podcast Network. This is "All Heart with Paul Cardall."

 

- Hi, everybody, I'm Paul Cardall. Welcome to "All Heart." Today, man, this guy, I've been watching his career since I was a young kid wanting to play piano. Mr. Kurt Bestor. He's an Emmy Award-winning, Grammy-nominated composer. He's worked with countless musicians. He's arranged music for the Tabernacle Choir, Jenny Oaks Baker, and so many people. He's won awards for his music scores for the documentaries for National Geographic, for TBS's "Wildlife Adventures," for IMAX films, and of course the ABC 1988 Winter Olympics. I've loved his music. In a way, he has been my mentor because he is also from Salt Lake City, Utah. And early on, when I was getting started, I went to Kurt for advice. I wanted to figure out how to make it in the business, because, to me, Kurt is the business of making instrumental music. So without further ado, my good friend, Mr. Kurt Bestor.

 

- Nice to see you.

 

- Well, it's better to be seen than viewed.

 

- Well, that's true. There's a lot of-

 

- As I tell people.

 

- It's weird, man, Planet Facebook and all of the above. It's kind of like we connect, but not connect. It's strange. How are you feeling?

 

- I'm doing good. I had COVID.

 

- I know you did. That's not only why I'm asking, but-

 

- Oh. Yeah, no, I'm doing really well. It was a mild case so I was very fortunate to get through it. But I was landlocked there, obviously, in Salt Lake and away from my wife, which was... To her credit, she loved it, I hated it, so.

 

- Well, I don't wanna get into that now, but I have learned, I have learned over time that sometimes far is good. Good from afar, whatever. Anyway, it's nice to have a little space.

 

- We're gonna talk about that because, you know, you're a composer, you're a creative, you're an artistic guy. So when you marry, it's a total, like, the... I don't know if we're borderline narcissistic. I think we have to be.

 

- There's some of that, yeah.

 

- And then trying to deal with creatives when you're such a common sense, down-to-earth person and you're married to someone who's a dreamer and a romantic, passionate, imagine-it person.

 

- I know. I think my wife every once in a while dreams of an accountant with a nice pension plan. But I'm the yin to her yang so, you know, she's-

 

- That's awesome.

 

- You'd have to meet her, but she hates the spotlight. And that's fine 'cause I need it all on me.

 

- Well, it's so good to see you and thank you for doing this. You know, this podcast has been growing quite a bit. American Songwriter is the network that has propelled it. There's only, I think, a dozen people that are doing a podcast for the American Songwriter and some of the guests have been amazing. And so I'm thrilled because, for those that are watching and listening, Kurt Bestor... You heard my intro, 'cause we're doing the intro, but Kurt Bestor is what I consider my silent mentor because he comes from the same, well, he lives in the same state that I grew up in until I moved to Nashville. And so this was the guy that was doing everything I only dreamed of doing. And so I would sit and watch and observe and attend concerts and pay attention, listen to every note to try to figure out how can I create and capture what he's doing through what I'm feeling, what I'm experiencing. So I'm really excited to share, everybody, Kurt Bestor.

 

- It's great to be here. I had no idea you were watching from afar. I either should charge you or, you know, now I'm going to school on you, man.

 

- Yeah, well, it was early on, obviously. You did a lot with the KSL, which was the NBC affiliate, and I happened to have a father who, anytime there was a composer coming through the news station, he would tell me about this composer because I was just learning to play piano as a 16-year-old improvising. But you by then were, you know, this was about the same time, 1987. This was about the same time where you began, I think, it was an internship with the Sundance Film Institutes.

 

- Exactly the same year. Yeah, 1987, that was. And the first year, the first year I put out an album. That was the first album I ever put out was 1987.

 

- And that was "Seasons"?

 

- Mm, even earlier than that. I put out an album, kind of a local thing but lot of people know it, "Joyspring."

 

- Oh, that's great.

 

- So I did an album called "Joyspring" in '87. And the same year I did... Oh, actually '86. In '87, I did "Airus Christmas."

 

- Okay.

 

- And that was the one that kind of was funny 'cause at the time there wasn't really a Christmas section in the store. This was back when there were record stores. There wasn't a Christmas section.

 

- No.

 

- And I talked to several different album labels and I said, "Hey, I got this idea. You know, there's this Mannheim Steamroller, they're the only guys that are doing this kinda instrumental thing that I kind of like. I'm different than that, but in the same zone." And everyone I talked to said, "Oh, it's a terrible idea." You know, "That's like a very small niche. You wanna write and do an album that you could sell all year long." I said, "Yeah, but Christmas music is cool, you know." So I had to kind of really sell it, but that was 1987. That was a real pivotal time for me, so it's interesting you should jump in about that time.

 

- Yeah, because as I started to play and, you know, had a job at a restaurant during the holidays, I'd just been playing a year. You know, everyone would talk about, "Are you going to the Kurt Bestor concert?" because you have a tradition in Utah that we'll get into that has really been mind-blowing, the way you've been able to pull this off year after year after year. But at that time in the '80s, new age music had become one of the more powerful genres. Since then, it's kind of like evaporated into smooth jazz, and I don't even know what's going on now. It's just been absorbed by all the, you know, the mergers and acquisitions that the record industry does and some of the labels went bankrupt after being embezzled from. So, but new age music was a very big... You got George Winston and you had Chip Davis from Mannheim Steamroller. So I always saw you, Kurt, as the Chip Davis of the West. You know, he's out in Omaha, but you were out in what some of my listeners will refer to as "Zion." You know, it's Salt Lake City.

 

- Zy-zy, whatever we call it. Yeah, I know it's funny, Paul, 'cause I have never, ever... Even back then, I did not think, "I'm doing a new age album." And I wasn't even inspired, and I don't mean to say I don't appreciate these guys, but I was not inspired by George Winston, or even David Lanz, who's a friend now. But some of the people that were doing things at the time, I didn't really follow that. I was into Dave Grusin.

 

- Great.

 

- I was into films, film music. And so my inspiration, honestly, and if somebody said, "Who's your inspiration today?" I would say probably Dave Grusin, listening to the theme from "On Golden Pond."

 

- Yeah.

 

- That was the thing that got me to say, "Hey, I love that. Whatever that is, it's not really new age, it's just kind of nice relaxing music, but it's got a melody to it." So at that time, it couldn't officially be new age. I mean, you remember.

 

- Sure. At that time, a lot of new age music was just music to get a massage by, and I wanted to do something a bit more than that. So I guess, for me, it's kind of cinematic music.

 

- Yeah.

 

- Kind of chill cinematic.

 

- We were all kind of thrown into that genre.

 

- Right.

 

- Technically, because... You're totally right about your style. It's more Dave Grusin. But, you know, I was... You learned from him at Sundance. You spent time with Dave at Sundance. What was that experience like? Because I know as I listen to your music, I hear lots of elements of "The Firm" and "On Golden Pond."

 

- Oh yeah, but there's not... I don't even hide it. I don't even hide the influence. I say, I mean, I didn't steal from him, but I mean I was so influenced by him that there's a lot of little things I do, little filigree things I do up on the right hand that's kind of like Dave Grusin inspired. So what happens is, you know, you have these people that you look up to, and you play like them at first 'cause you don't really have your own style, so you kind of play what you hear and what you like. So for me it was Dave Grusin and Aaron Copland and, you know, film music guys like Ennio Morricone, and all these people. And then little by little, you start to, all of this stuff goes into your data bank and then it starts becoming you. And the next thing you know, young guys, younger than even you, Paul, they start playing and they sound like you. So it's kind of a never-ending thing, but yeah. New age music, for me, it made a real difference. A lot of people made fun of it. I remember we used to call it air pudding or, you know, David Lanz calls it "heavy mellow," I think is his term.

 

- That's right.

 

- And people did kind of make fun of it, but it has found its place into film scores. Thomas Newman will do some kind of things. And then you've kind of got the arpeggiated sort of stuff that makes its way into commercials and films now. So you can laugh at it if you want, but it did make a statement. And whatever you call my music, I'm just glad people listen to it.

 

- I remember when I was a kid who'd started, people would ask me now, "Are you gonna grow your hair out like Kurt Bestor or Yani?"

 

- Oh, look at that, I'm still doing the thing, but...

 

- Yeah, I'm not as good looking as you guys, but I thought to myself-

 

- Oh, come on now. I thought to myself, "Well, at least I'll just sit down and try to play the best I can." But it's been interesting because your background, it's fascinating to me because you've been able to establish a career doing so many different things. You're a composer, you're a performer. You are also a kind of a behind-the-scenes entrepreneur, because you can't just go out and do all these Christmas concerts and do these productions without understanding business.

 

- Well, look, that is the start and the beginning of lots of composers' and songwriters' careers. They're great songwriters, but they got terrible people skills. They can't, you know. I'm not saying I'm a great businessman, but I think I understand marketing and I understand what connects people to what I'm selling. And you have to do some of that or at least be really close to somebody that does it, you know? And sometimes there are people like that. Guys that are kind of shy and they don't know how to, they can't talk about the sales, but they got a great manager or a great spouse or something like that to go out and sell it. But, yeah, I've been lucky. I'm not ready to do a retrospective of my life yet, but when I look back, it's an interesting thing. I was gonna be a film composer only. That was all I was gonna do. I wasn't gonna do piano. I mean, I was a trumpet player in high school. I wasn't even a piano player. I played piano, but when I started, I just kind of went that way with the Dave Grusin influence and my first album and the first Christmas album. And then the first Christmas album meant that I had to perform. Now I'd perform when I was a kid, you know, one of those little singing groups, "Buttons and Bows" sort of thing. And, you know, I was a ham. I was in theater and so forth. So it was not unusual for me to be on stage, but I had never performed music like that. But somebody said, "You're doing an album, you gotta promote it." So we did an album. We did a concert in 1988, I guess was the first concert, Christmas concert. And we were gutsy enough, I say we, the record company I was with, gutsy enough to say, "Let's book Abravanel Hall." You know what that is, Paul. That's 2,600 seat hall. I mean, I could've gone to a 100 seat theater. At the time, nobody knew who I was, but maybe that's the cocky part that came out when we did that. So I don't wanna get ahead of you, but that's... And I look at my career, the fact that I've done a lot of things is just kind of, I kind of followed my muse, you know, from here to there. Now I do a lot of arranging. I never thought that I'd do a lot of that. I don't do as much film scoring 'cause film scoring has kind of taken a dive in the, how much money you can make and it's not a real pleasant lifestyle. You don't sleep for four weeks. And so I kind of been just kind of following my musical muse on that, and I like where it's taken me. I don't mind.

 

- The Abravanel Hall that you're talking about, this is probably the most prestigious, at the time, the most prestigious hall where the symphony would perform. And the one thing that was interesting about when you set out to do that, I remember, I remember you were not necessarily a local musician. You were local, but you never treated your career like you were a local guy because you set the ticket price.

 

- You remember that? We talked about this when we sat at a table once. I don't think you remember this. We sat at a dinner together. You were just getting into the business.

 

- Yeah, Night of the Stars at-

 

- That's exactly what it was. And I remember telling you, "Paul, if you set your ticket price at a local price, you will always be a local price ticket guy. If you set your price like big-time, even if you don't feel like you necessarily are, you will be known as that." And I think that was kind of a stroke of luck for me. I mean, I still don't price my tickets high enough according to my manager, but at least people view me like the national guy who happens to live here. And that was by design.

 

- Well, what that taught me was treat your music as though it's for everybody, even though it may be a specific niche or inspired by a specific faith or heritage. Treat it like it's for everybody and put value on it. If you want Honda Accord music, you're gonna get Honda Accord music. If you want the BMW, you know, you're gonna go to the Kurt Bestor concert. It was sophistication and class.

 

- Actually a Tesla. It's a Tesla now.

 

- Okay, it's a Tesla. I'm still trying to figure out the whole Tesla thing, but I'm sure there's some geeky science behind it. But, yeah, I saw that. So I would sit and observe what you're doing. And, you know, people who come to me for advice, I'm like, "Go observe what your, I guess, mentors or, you see them, you know, you kind of see them as idols and heroes, and then you just try to pattern, pattern after that." And you were one of those. You have quite a heritage actually in music because your grandfather played trumpet in a lot of Midwestern bands.

 

- Yeah.

 

- And then your great uncle. I mean, I didn't... He wrote, "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?"

 

- I mean, come on, man, that's a standard. People sing that at weddings.

 

- And even with the-

 

- I didn't know that at first. I actually, over here somewhere I've got... Here, hang on a second. Talk to yourself, man.

 

- Yeah, the great thing with him, also, is his great uncle was in Jack Benny's band as a trombone player. So, you know, Kurt, you see his trumpets back there, a trained trumpet player.

 

- Alright, you can't really read it, but here is a Victrola.

 

- Wow.

 

- With Don Bestor, my great uncle, on this. And somebody gave this to me and I think it's so cool. I didn't even really know that he was the trombone player and conducted the Jack Benny Orchestra and he also wrote music. So there you go.

 

- When did he write? What's around the time he wrote "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?" Because that's like the '30s.

 

- Well, that would be in the '30s. The '30s, something like that. He also wrote the J-E-L-L-O theme.

 

- Jello.

 

- The commercial. ♪ J-E-L-L-O ♪

 

- So, but then who owns that music today? Because obviously-

 

- Well- Was that a Disney thing? They owned it, they bought it?

 

- You know, "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?" was originally not Disney. I think it was used at Disney. I'd have to go through my copyright stuff now. It's a lot of stuff though. Back in those days has now gone past the 75 year mark, and now...

 

- Right. Like Gershwin, I think somebody grabbed onto it, but Gershwin is just going into public domain.

 

- Wow.

 

- I mean like Bach and Beethoven, all the old guys are in public domain, but a lot of the early songs in the '20s and '30s now are going in the public domain unless a family corporation grabs it.

 

- Okay, yeah, I was gonna say-

 

- I was going to ask my, I have a relation who I met on a cruise ship named Bestor who's Don Bestor's son.

 

- What?

 

- I was on a cruise ship and there was some guy down in the bottom playing, a sad guy playing piano down in the lower, the lower deck.

 

- Yeah, the lower deck.

 

- The lower deck, there's no windows. There's a few holes.

 

- Where the lonely alcoholics go.

 

- Yeah, remember back when we went on cruises. Anyway, there was a guy down there and I looked at his name and his name was Bestor and it was Don Bestor, Jr.

 

- Wow.

 

- And I said, "Hey, we share the same last name. Your dad's not the guy that wrote 'Who's Afraid of Big, Bad Wolf?'" He says, "Yeah, that's my dad." So there you go. It's a small world after all.

 

- That's, exactly. I wish I wrote that song and get the residual on that, so-

 

- I know the guys who wrote that, by the way.

 

- Oh, you do.

 

- I don't mean to deviate, but I worked on a project with Richard and Bob Sherman, The Sherman Brothers, who wrote "It's a Small World."

 

- Wow.

 

- And I worked with them at the Osmond Studios back in the '80s.

 

- They are legends.

 

- So you were gonna ask me the question about Dave Grusin, what it was like to study with him?

 

- Yeah, what was it like to study with Dave Grusin?

 

- Well, this is will hold true with a few people that I've worked with, but let's talk about David because he really was my hero. So I had heard his music. I bought everything he had, I listened to it. I'd play, try to play like him. So when I met him in '87 up at Sundance, it was one of those kind of "I'm not worthy" moments. Like, I was goofy. Like, I went up to him and I just . I couldn't talk. It was embarrassing. But he's a real nice guy and I think he could see that here was a kid that looked up to him. And so he kind of put his arms around me and said say, "Hey, why don't you come and jam with us? A bunch of us guys are gonna go jam up at this cabin up at Bob's Redford's place."

 

- Ooh, right.

 

- And I realized at that point, oh my gosh, he's not only a great composer, he's a nice guy. And from that moment, and I did learn a lot from him, but from that moment 'til now, I've used his same engineer on many of my projects. And now Dave and I are friends. I mean, we went from mentor to friends.

 

- That's beautiful.

 

- And Don Grusin, Dave's brother, were also friends. I played on stage with him. And, you know, he's still my mentor, but I look at at him now as a guy that's just a little farther down the road. Dave likes my music. He knows I've been influenced, but he likes some of the stuff I do. And so it's kind of cool when that happens.

 

- I love that.

 

- But, yeah, the first time was "I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy."

 

- You know, I've had several experiences where I interact with people whose music, their music is so above and beyond them, that it's, you do, you freeze up and you tense up. And then, you know, and it's happened while, you know, being married with Tina. Tina's like, "Why can't you talk? Why can't you just talk?" I'm like, "Because, you don't realize, this person has like created, has pretty much made my heart beat." So has there been anybody else, that you admire them?

 

- Well, John Williams. John Williams is a guy that is so above my pay grade, but my orchestral music oftentimes is reminiscent of him a little bit, I've been told.

 

- Yeah.

 

- And I met him once briefly during the Olympics in 2002 when he was in Salt Lake City, and I was doing some music for the Olympics and of course he was. And I got to meet him when he was recording with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. But he was somebody that I still would not really be able to talk to him. But here's what you need to remember, and I think your listeners and viewers here need to remember, that most people who are at that high level, they don't necessarily think they are. And it's kind of goofy. Like when you meet fans, Paul, they come up and they want their picture taken with you and they're being really weird, and you think, "This is really weird 'cause I'm just a normal guy." If they only knew what a pig I am in the morning, you know, whatever. So that's all kind of an artificial thing. And Dave Grusin reminded me of that. I'm sure that if I had lunch with John Williams, he'd probably make me feel right at home and we'd have a nice chat, but right now he's kind of like a God.

 

- Well, he is one of those composers that will be remembered.

 

- Oh, for sure, absolutely.

 

- Long, long after those films. He'll be remembered for those themes. And did you always want to do music?

 

- Yeah, yeah. I didn't really remember, like, suddenly having this seminal moment where I said, "Bingo, that's it." I didn't go from "I wanna be a fireman" to "I wanna be a composer." It was kind of just the way that I got attention. So when I was in grade school, I'd play the piano in the class or whatever and I got attention. It's kind of how... And I was really, believe it or not, I was kind of shy when I was younger. So it's kind of how I stepped up to the plate. Now there were always the guys that were on the baseball team and the football team. And I was an athlete, actually. My dad was a coach and my family were quite athletic, but I wasn't known for that. I was known as a musician. And so I never quite got the attention that all the jocks did, you know. I do remember in seventh grade, I went to my first what we call boy girl party. And the girls were all kind of hanging out and all the guys were over there talking about the football game. And I went over to the piano that was at this girl's house and I just started playing, like you do, you know?

 

- Yeah.

 

- All the girls came over to the piano.

 

- Of course.

 

- Well, you know, I mean, let's be honest. This is why we do what we do to some degree. At least anyway. That was what taught me that women like sensitive guys that play piano much more than the jocks on the football team. And I'm sticking with that theory.

 

- I think the jock is safe. You know, 'cause I remember the first time Tina, my wife, when she met me, she says, "You have a heart transplant, you're a musician, what's your FICO score?" 'Cause she worked on Wall Street so she was more concerned about reality than, you know, 'cause we tend to dream up things that never were before, as Sir Robert Kennedy says.

 

- Well, what I like about you, Paul, if don't mind me complaining a bit about what I notice about you, is that you seem to be able to take that dream and lasso it to earth a little bit, and just enough that the dream doesn't go floating off. So I have a feeling that has to do with Tina a little bit.

 

- Yeah. Well, and you know her, she... For those listening, Kurt speaks Bosnian and Croatian.

 

- Yes, so all the languages of the former country of Yugoslavia. So Croatian, Serbian, don't speak Slovenian very much, but your wife, of course, is Slovenian.

 

- Yeah. So they've had some conversations and they know some words. And so it's fun to have that connection, because you lived over there for two years doing a ministry.

 

- Yep, it was back in 1980... What was that, Paul? 1987 to '89, back when it was... No, sorry, '77 to '79. It was back when it was a communist country. And, you know, I lived in Serbia for a while, lived in Croatia for a while, traveled around Bosnia, went to Slovenia a lot, back and forth between Austria, and I really love that country. So anytime I meet somebody, like when I met your wife for the first time, we immediately had a simpatico because, you know, that kind of connection. I don't know if Melania Trump would feel the same way, but your wife was great.

 

- Well, when we met Melania, she went and started speaking Slovenian, so they were really thrilled, and, like-

 

- And then you just chatted with Donald a little bit on the side.

 

- Well, he grabbed me with his big hands and pulled me in and gave me this big hug.

 

- Wow.

 

- I could smell the hairspray and he just looks at me and he goes, "Look at us. Look at us with these two beautiful Slovenians."

 

- Well, there you go.

 

- So I said, "Okay, that's great." But that experience of living in those countries and then later in Yugoslavia when they became countries and then Milosevic tried to, you know, the war and everything in Kosovo, that deeply affected you because you, out of that, created what I think your fans and the world know you for best, which is "Prayer of the Children."

 

- Yeah, ironically. I mean, I constantly think, "How interesting." Here I am, an instrumentalist composer that writes mostly instrumentals and I'm known for a song that is an acapella vocal song. It's kind of miraculous to me, you know. I tend not to use the word miracle too much, but I find that that song kind of has a, for people that don't know, it's a song that I wrote kind of out of frustration over the war that you're referring to, the civil war. Luckily, Slovenia kind of got out early, but especially Croatia and Serbia and Bosnia really got into a terrible war. And I was there when it was Yugoslavia so I loved the whole country, and now they wanted me to choose a team and I really couldn't do it. So I sat down one time, like we do, Paul, when we have feelings and we want to express it. I just sat down and started playing. I had this machine. I had just bought this vocal machine. It's a vocorder, for those of you in the business. It takes your voice, it's using midi and splits it into parts. And I was just kind of messing around with this machine and I just kind of sat down and started playing and messing around with this vocorder. So I went, ♪ Da, da, da, da, da ♪ I did a little Celtic-y kind of riff. And then on the TV in the other room was CNN that time and it was talking about what was going on in the war. And I just kinda came up with the idea, that, ♪ Can you hear ♪ ♪ Can you feel ♪ All these emotions, these senses, can you feel, can you hear, can you touch? And that kind of became the hook of the tune. And I just, you know, it didn't write itself. It wasn't something like that. I worked hard, but it wrote itself pretty quickly. And the words aren't, you know, it's not Shakespeare. The melody isn't Beethoven, but somehow everything together, it just strikes a chord and kind of blows me away. It's still like a really popular choir song. I meet people all the time and they say, "What's your name?" "Kurt Bestor." "Oh, I don't know who you are. And what have you written?" I say, "Well, I've done this movie," or this or that. "I wrote a song called 'Prayer of the Children.'" "Oh, 'Prayer of the Children.' My choir sang that in high school." And I was for a while on my website making, like, pins. Like when you go on vacation, I put pins wherever the song was sung. And it became too much. I couldn't keep up. But it's sung in all these countries in so many different languages. It just kind of blows me away. And I really, I'm glad. If I die tomorrow, I'll be glad that that's the song I'm known for.

 

- Well, it definitely is one of the most powerful pieces of music to come off this planet and to come from Salt Lake. But, you know, I remember the first time I heard "Holocene" by Bon Iver, who is also from Wisconsin. You're from Wisconsin. And I thought, "I wonder if he's been over at Kurt Bestor's house messing with that instrument."

 

- With that machine.

 

- Because you did this 20 years before, and he's taken that sound and that's propelled him. Now he's playing, you know, and everybody... And he's even on Taylor Swift's new record. But you're the guy that created that.

 

- I can't take credit for it. I mean, I think there have been people that have heard it, but Todd Rundgren was actually doing it about the same time I was.

 

- Okay.

 

- But here nor there, I just kinda liked the feeling that I was getting playing with this, my voice and this machine. It kind of felt like kind of a hip Gregorian chant, you know, and I still prefer to play it that way. It gets sung lots of different ways. I even have a solo piano vocal version that I do. But when I sing it and I really want to get into it, I do the original version with my machine, and, yeah, it's cool.

 

- It's profound, yeah. Everybody, if you're listening, go ask Alexa to play "Prayer of the Children" by Kurt Bestor, unless you're loyal to Siri. It's okay to have two. So when it comes to music, so. But you, you know, one of the things you've done all these years kind of behind the scenes is you've arranged a lot of music for the Tabernacle Choir. It used to be the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Now it's the Tabernacle Choir. You've done a lot of arranging. Did they ever do "Prayer of the Children"?

 

- They did a version of "Prayer of the Children" that I arranged for them. They did it once. I haven't heard them do a lot since that time. They did a version, yeah.

 

- Okay.

 

- And I actually, they asked me to arrange a song from "Lord of the Rings." And then it went from "Lord of the Rings" into "Prayer of the Children."

 

- Wow, yeah.

 

- And it was cool. To be honest though, just between you and me, having 400 voices singing, at the time, they were not... I love the way they sound now, they're a much more kind of controlled group. They've had a real switch since. Early on, it was a lot of vibratos and old ladies with, you know, that sound. And I wasn't really too thrilled with it, the way it sounded. I was more excited like when the King's Singers did it and when other groups like that have done it. I mean, look, it's the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I was honored to have them do it.

 

- You know, recently, also, a friend of mine, Jim Daneker who produced my Christmas album, you know, he's the musical director for Michael W. Smith, when we were working on that Christmas album, he goes, "Yeah, we gotta go out to Salt Lake and do this thing." And I said, "Well, who's the guy helping you guys?" "His name's Kurt Bestor." So I loved it because I was like, I come all the way to Nashville and I'm hearing Kurt Bestor's name. I love the fact that you're behind the scenes so much. I don't think people realize how involved you are in so many different projects.

 

- Now it kind of comes, honestly, it comes just trying to pay the mortgage. I mean, there are things that I'm doing that I never thought I'd do. That particular project, I was honored 'cause I was working with Amy Grant and with Michael D. Smith and they were doing a Christmas concert and they needed... Their conductor couldn't make it. He was busy with something else over in London. And so somebody recommended my name as somebody who lives in Salt Lake. And so I learned the show and I conducted the orchestra. And I never really planned on being a conductor, but conducting was something that just kind of happened with my own stuff. So I went in the studio and conducted. I used to work with a guy named Sam Cardon. And you know Sam, Paul.

 

- Right.

 

- A lot of your listeners who are composers might know him. And he hated to conduct. So whenever we'd do a project together, I always got to conduct it. He would just go produce in the booth. And I like it. It's kind of fun. It feels like ballet, you know? You're conducting and the group is following you. So then that led me to conduct the Utah Symphony and some of my stuff, which led me to... I've conducted a couple of ballets, one of mine and one not of mine. I like classical. I did a "Coco" thing with Ballet West. And I'm glad that I have that quiver in, you know, I have that arrow in my quiver because if I didn't know how to do that, I wouldn't have been called by Michael W. Smith's management. So I think that's kind of a lesson to anybody is don't say no very often, try to say... I mean, unless there's something that's really you don't wanna do. But try, if someone "Hey, you wanna write this thing?" and you go, "Oh my gosh, but I kind of want to," just say yes and then figure it out.

 

- Yeah, that's right. That's right.

 

- The adrenaline will make the effort probably good, you know? You just, I mean, don't do... I mean, I'm not gonna, if somebody asked me to play quarterback for the Titans, I'm not gonna do it, but .

 

- But if it comes to moving around like a ballerina, you're there.

 

- Yeah, so there you go.

 

- What's great about this is you're telling us that you've constantly been studying. Obviously you've got your background learning and all that stuff, theory and all that stuff, but you've told yourself, and this is a great lesson for everybody, "Let's keep learning." And then if somebody says, "Can you do this?" You're like, "Yes, I can." And you study and you learn how to do that so when it comes time to show up and clock in, you're ready.

 

- Well, that's the thing. I did go to school, I did study, but I've learned more on the street. And my first gig ever professionally, I was a junior in high school, and I got a call to play trumpet with the "Donny and Marie Show." They said, "Can you get out of school?" So I skipped school, made 40 bucks an hour to play trumpet on the "Donny and Marie Show." And I mean, it was an unbelievable experience, besides making some money. I don't mind skipping calculus for that. And that led to the next thing, it led to the next thing, led to the next thing. And I mean, there's so many examples of that, of just daring to try something, maybe something that was a little bit of a stretch, and then that led to... Well, look, my first Christmas album led to a lot of stuff. And now I'm doing, like you said, I'm doing this show. This is my 33rd year this year, so, I mean, I'm still doing it.

 

- Amazing.

 

- The COVID be damned.

 

- That's right. With COVID, how is that? What's the situation in Utah right now, because are we doing a virtual Bestor? Are we doing a-

 

- Well, now, here's what, luckily, I'll get quick to the story. Some CARES money came down from the government to Utah. Utah legislature said, "Let's give some to the arts." And the Eccles Theater people said, "Let's take some of this money and let's do 'A Kurt Bestor Christmas' because it would be a shame not to have it after 32 years." So they said, "Kurt, would you do a show? We'll give you some money to pay your musicians, stage crews." These people haven't worked for like six or seven months. "But here's the deal, you gotta perform in the Eccles Theater." Which is great, but instead of 2,500 people, we're gonna cap it at 400 a night, spread all over. So it's gonna be pretty, you know, it's gonna be weird, but I think it's gonna be one of the best shows. And I had four nights. We dropped the ticket price down to 25 bucks a head, no matter where you sit.

 

- Okay, wow.

 

- And that's because people are hurting financially. So that was part of the deal. And now I'm hiring these singers like Lexi Walker and some of these people that your listeners might know who can't do Christmas concerts because of COVID.

 

- Right.

 

- I'm hiring them to be in my show as special guests. And we're now up to five nights, I think we'll probably cap it at five, but I'm really, really looking forward to it. As you know, this whole COVID thing has been weird. We're writing music, we're making music, I know you're recording stuff, but connection, that connection with someone sitting five rows out with you, it can't be replicated on a Zoom. I mean, it just, it can't. You know, you've done it. We performed on the Zoom thing and whatever.

 

- Yeah.

 

- But that human connection is really, I mean, it's hurting. I feel it in my soul. So I did one outdoor gig in September with a small, distanced group, masks and everything, and it was so replenishing for my soul. It was unbelievable. Well, I got emotional in a concert in places where just seeing the audience come in is amazing. So really looking forward to the December shows.

 

- I think it's amazing how you've created that Christmas show. And, you know, you've done as much as like, I think seven or eight nights some years, but you don't necessarily tour beyond certain states 'cause you've got this locked in. It's like a residency that every artist dreams of.

 

- Well, I've gotta be honest with my manager. My manager, who will probably watch this and he'll shake his head at this point, because he would say to me, "Why don't you just do a sole piano show? I'll take you to every state in the country. Why do you have this expensive show that you can't tour because it's too expensive?"

 

- Right.

 

- I'd say, "Well, I started doing this thing in Salt Lake and people liked to see the orchestra and the singers and the big lights and everything." He said, "Hey, we can put you in a performing arts center, 300 people, you know?" And I think I need to do that. I would like to. So, you know, it isn't so much that I want to do this residency. I would love to come and perform other places. So, you know, anybody want me, I will compose for food.

 

- That's awesome. Let's talk for a minute about your different albums. Because as I started out, I was listening to "Seasons," and you probably hear some of your themes in my early music from that particular album because you tend to mimic the people you listen to. And I think it was David Lanz who said, you know, "Musicians borrow, but artists steal." And .

 

- Stravinsky said that. Stravinsky said that.

 

- Oh, Stravinsky?

 

- Well, David was taking it from him. And Stravinsky said, yeah, "A musician will steal what a true artist borrows from himself." Whatever, it's something like that.

 

- Well, it's amazing because, you know, if you go into Mozart and you go into all these, the dead guy, I call them the dead composers, they stole from other people as well. They take lines all the time. And so this idea of sampling and all this stuff, that's been going on forever. They're just trying to control it 'cause everybody wants a piece of your pie.

 

- That's correct.

 

- So one of the albums you did that I think was really monumental, and I think the whole industry in instrumental music really needs to know this album and recognize this album, and that's "Innovators" that you did with Sam Cardon. And that was pretty much to launch WordPerfect or Word-

 

- WordPerfect 5.0. They were doing an epic release of this company. The album's still around, but the company's not. WordPerfect was releasing 5.0, and the company at that time was trying to do some interesting things. So they hired us, Sam and I, to compose an album that was kind of like reminiscent of what this new release was. So we thought, "Let's do something innovative. Let's find innovative people." So "Innovators" was born. And there was Albert Schweitzer, and there was Stephen Hawking, and there was... I'm trying to remember the list. Sir Richard Burton, not the actor, but the explorer. And the whole album is a real eclectic mix of styles. Anything from classical to kind of world music to Celtic-y kind of stuff. I don't know what style you call it. And honestly, it was like little mini film scores looking for a film. But that album still is kind of a... And it was very nicely recorded. Done by Don Murray who was Dave Grusin's.

 

- Yep, yeah.

 

- We did much of it here in Utah at a studio that I used to own with Sam over at the old Osmond complex called the Jazz Ranch, Pinnacle Studios. I remember we did a lot of it down in Los Angeles using a lot of our heroes.

 

- Oh, right.

 

- And, like, I'm just trying to, I'm gonna forget a lot of people, but Harvey Mason played drums. He was a great jazz drummer. Grant Geissmann played guitar.

 

- That's right, Grant.

 

- We had, oh, there's just a lot there. James Ingram's brother sang on it. We had a budget that could justify it. And so we just took our time and did an album that I'm still, yeah, I'm still proud of 'til this day.

 

- The musician in me and a couple other guys that were your pianist at the time, we'd try to sit and figure out, okay, which one's Kurt and which one's Sam, because Sam has a lot more jazz.

 

- That's right.

 

- He's a little jazzier. And he was kind of like a songwriting partner that you guys formed Pinnacle out of. And so we would sit and try to figure it out, and then obviously the more orchestral stuff. But if you're listening, you've got to go and hear "Innovators." It heavily influenced me. I remember going to the concert at Sundance.

 

- Right, right, right. Oh, wow.

 

- You did a series of those. And I, you know, being Utah, you would spot who's who. And it was like one of those moments, one of those really historic moments, musically for the state of Utah, I believe, in what you guys created because you had a narrator telling these stories. Did you guys ever record any video of that? Or any-

 

- Actually you can go and look on YouTube right now. And we did a whole show that aired on PBS.

 

- Okay.

 

- And you can see probably eight of the songs, chopped up, song by song. We had Alfre Woodard was the narrator.

 

- That's right.

 

- So if you go and look up, for example, one of my favorite songs on the album, "The Sage of Lamberene," which was the actual theme. ♪ Da, na, na, na, na, na ♪

 

- Yeah, that was an amalgam of African Ghanese rhythms, a little bit of Bach influenced that , that thing, and then kind of a boys' choir, being like a band of boys choir. Watch, go to YouTube when we're done and check it out. You'll see a very young me conducting, a very young Sam playing the piano, and then this orchestra, boys choir, a black choir that we hired to sing. And yeah, it's all there.

 

- That's awesome.

 

- Thanks, YouTube.

 

- Yeah. Are you working on anything new?

 

- Well, actually, you know, I got you to blame for this a little bit. I'm actually, I just, I'm recording Monday, a Christmas album so I'm a little behind.

 

- Finally.

 

- I know, I know.

 

- Finally.

 

- Well, you told me last year. You said, "Hey, you know, you need to do a Christmas album." So I decided this year, especially because of COVID, that a lot of people couldn't come to the show. So, and I've got songs off my Christmas concerts that I've been recorded playing for 10 years that I've never recorded. "Still, Still, Still," "All Through the Night." I just arranged yesterday "In the Bleak Midwinter." I'll send you the sheet music, but I just finished that yesterday. So tomorrow I'm going in to do piano on a bunch of tracks.

 

- That's awesome.

 

- Yeah. So, yeah, like I said, I'm a little behind right now. I mean, it's October.

 

- No, you're not.

 

- But we can turn it around quickly.

 

- Do you own your catalog?

 

- I own all my own stuff, yeah. I made that decision kind of because record companies were going out of business. And I said, "Well, you're going out of business. Do you mind if I take my masters or can I buy the masters for pennies?" And then since, I haven't had a record label connection for like 15 years. It's been just me funding my albums which has been great because I own the masters. Not so great for the marketing and the outreach, but, you know, I limp along. But it'll be a good merch item this year, but we can't really have a merchandise table.

 

- Right, you'd have to spray it, pick it up with a rubber glove.

 

- You know what we're doing? We're doing an app where you sit there in the concert, spread out. People at home, they can go to the app. They can say, "I want this album. I want this baseball hat. I want this mug." And then you walk out of the concert and you state your name and they hand you a bag with your stuff in it, already paid for, and you just walk out.

 

- Wow. That's beautiful.

 

- See, that's more of that thinking, that marketing and networking.

 

- That's right.

 

- How much of that is your management? How much is that you?

 

- Well, I don't wanna be cocky, but I tend to be involved-

 

- You're cocky, Kurt.

 

- Well, you know, it's only 'cause I have a reputation, I guess.

 

- No, you don't.

 

- No, but it's, I'm confident with my abilities. I tend to think about marketing a lot. I tend to think about creative things. I mean, that's what creative people do. It's not just creating on a piano. It's creating, you know, what if we market it this way? What if I did a video this way? What if I... Even my social media posts, I try to be creative. I don't just take a picture of what I'm eating all the time, you know? And I think that... So the whole app thing was, it's out there. There's other guys that do it. But I told my manager, "Instead of not having merch because of COVID because people can't come up and stand in line and they can't mingle around, we can't do an intermission based on the COVID, but that doesn't mean that we can't sell some merch."

 

- Yeah.

 

- It kind of starts with me, but then I need finishers. So I need people to finish my idea.

 

- So, as we kind of wind down here, I got two questions for you. We try to, you know, one of the things I like to ask is when you're gone, when Kurt Bestor is gone-

 

- What, like, popped out for dinner?

 

- And they've chiseled "Kurt Bestor, born in Wisconsin, ends up in Zion."

 

- Oh my gosh.

 

- When they chisel that, what do you hope people remember from your... You have a beautiful family. You've got these beautiful daughters, your wife, Petrina. What do you hope they all remember about Kurt?

 

- Well, I hope, honestly, I hope that it's less about the crowds and the fans and all that kind of fake stuff. I kind of hope that it's more about the, you know, he was a nice guy. I hope that I can be known as a nice person that would do things for people or that would use my music because that's what I use to kind of help folks. And "Prayer of the Children," I'd rather be known for what it does, not the money side of it, but for the, you know, just for the hearts it touched. You know, it sounds cheesy to say that, but honestly, that's the best part of the concert for me. It's not the applause, it's the connection with other people. So I will hope that people will remember me as someone who connected deeply with, you know, heart to heart. That's what I hope. I hope it's that.

 

- That's beautiful. And then of all your music, if you're in a time machine, the DeLorean, whatever, you're going ahead 100, 200 years, which piece of music in your repertoire do you think?

 

- Well, I did a whole album of Norwegian death metal. No, I'm just kidding.

 

- That sounds good.

 

- Hey, you never know. How much does it pay?

 

- I'm sure there's a label somewhere in a low class bar in Norway that will do that.

 

- Oh, boy. Well, actually, I, you know, we talked about "Prayer of the Children." At this point in my life, I still have lots of years composing so it might be something totally different. But at this point in my life, because that song has kept its innocence and it's kept its original intent, and it's been used for the purpose that you hope it's used for, I'm probably most proud of that than almost anything that I've done. You know, there are other things that I musically, like, as a composer, that I'm more proud of as a composer. But as just a pure musician, you know, that song, let me, what can I say? That song has a life of its own by now.

 

- Which song, which one do you think is your finest work? The one that you want people to hear? I mean, I know that's hard to choose 'cause songs are like, I call them artificial children because you give birth to these things and you're very attached to them. So one day you feel like this and this and this. And I get asked that all the time and I hate the question, but I'm asking you because-

 

- I don't mind. I don't mind the question. It's just very difficult. For me, it's really hard because I have... So I have one project I did, that I did with the Utah Symphony. It's called "Timpanogos: A Prayer for Mountain Grace." And then there was another song, another piece of music called "Utah: 5 Sacred Lessons." I commissioned two female poets. One was Terry Tempest Williams, a very well-known writer, and then the other was a lady of Susan Elizabeth Howe. They wrote librettos for me and then I wrote the music for the Utah Symphony around that. The music, for me, it takes many or many listens to really get what's going on, but to hear... One of them, the choir sings the words and the other one is a narrator. And she narrates, I wrote the music around the narration, and the narration has its own kind of melody. So I wrote, it was really a cool thing to be able to do, kind of a little Rubik's Cube, but I'm really, really proud of that. Very few people have heard it. It's only been played live three times. But it's called "Timpanogos: A Prayer for Mountain Grace." Take a listen at Spotify and I think you'll get an idea of what I mean by that. But the next project that I'm working on, Paul, sorry, I'm getting close to knocking off here, but I'm working on a thing right now that I think I'm gonna be really proud of if I could do it right. I wrote a children's story called "Harmon E. and the Missing Key." It's all about a town that has no music and this little kid named Harmon E., don't know what E stands for, but cute little thing. Anyway, he discovers, he goes in a cave and discovers these things. He doesn't know what they are. They turn out to be instruments. And so his job, this little nymph tells him, is to go around and find people to play the instruments. So it's like "Peter and the Wolf" or "Tubby the Tuba" or some of those narrator and orchestra things. It took me a long time to write this libretto, but I'm now writing music for it and hopefully I'll get it premiered next year.

 

- That's incredible.

 

- And it's something that I can see a book being done with an accompanying music, and I'll have to send you the libretto and let you read it ahead of time.

 

- I'd love that.

 

- And I'm really proud of that. My little daughter helped me write some of it, which is incredible.

 

- That's awesome. How old is she now?

 

- She's 11 years old now.

 

- Wow.

 

- And she and mom were upstairs making banana bread. I don't know if you have Smell-O-Vision, but, man, I'm headed up.

 

- That's awesome. Well, Kurt, thank you very much. Obviously people can go to your website, kurtbestor.com.

 

- That's me.

 

- And ask Alexa about Kurt Bestor, talk to Siri, whichever one you're faithful to, and you'll hear this amazing music that's inspired me. I appreciate your friendship, Kurt. Keep in touch.

 

- Always, man, always. My manager's moving to Nashville so keep an eye out.

 

- Oh, you gotta come out.

 

- I will, for sure. I've been down there once and that was a little appetizer, but I gotta to get out there. So take care. When COVID's over, I'll give you a big, I can't hug you, Mr. Transplant here.

 

- I'm good.

 

- But someday we'll have a good time together.

 

- Thanks, Kurt. Have a good day.

 

- Cheers, see ya.