Max DoVale studied jazz piano with Gary Fukishima from 2015 to 2017. After leaving PCM, Max moved to New Orleans to get his Bachelor of Music in Composition at Loyola University. Now, he works as a jazz pianist and music director for a theatre company. He shares about his experience working as a musician in New Orleans and how his musical background has prepared him for his current career.
PCM: What have you been up to since your time at PCM?
MD: I left PCM in 2017 because I was moving to New Orleans, Louisiana to attend college at Loyola University New Orleans. After 4 years, I received my Bachelor of Music in Composition with Jazz Piano as my primary instrument. Right now, I am a staff member at Loyola University New Orleans as a piano accompanist for jazz and musical theatre vocalists. I also teach piano and theory at Loyola’s Preparatory Arts Program and the Chase Conservatory of Music, located in Uptown New Orleans. Besides these jobs, I regularly have gigs around the city playing at restaurants and clubs for a variety of events. Just this week, I am playing alt/pop music with a singer at a local barbeque venue, Bourrèe, and I’m playing trad jazz with a vocalist and guitarist at the AllWays Lounge. Besides performing and teaching, I also spend a lot of my time composing and arranging music. The most exciting endeavor I have currently, though, is that I am about to start as the Music Director for Jefferson Performing Arts Society’s (JPAS) production of the musical, Sweet Potato Queens.
PCM: You studied with Gary Fukushima for two years. What was your music education like before that and what made you want to study Jazz Piano?
MD: I studied with Gary during my junior and senior years of high school. Before studying with Gary, I had been playing piano for about 4 years, the first two of which I took classical lessons. When I entered high school, I auditioned for the school’s jazz band because I thought it’d be fun. I ended up really enjoying it my first two years and decided I wanted to find a teacher that could show me the specifics of playing piano in a jazz style. So I went to PCM and found Gary!
PCM: What is the most valuable thing you learned at PCM?
MD: I not only learned a lot about the technicalities of jazz piano, but I learned a lot about how to teach and how to approach music in different ways. Having started to teach students myself, I thought I would have to learn how to teach; However, I found a lot of it came naturally. I realized I picked up a lot from Gary just by spending a lot of time with him in our lessons. The way I tell students how to approach learning new songs or how to fix wrist technique is the same way that Gary had taught me. This method of teaching doesn’t only transfer in lessons with students though; It positively affects the way I interact with fellow musicians and exchange ideas. It was Gary’s approach to learning jazz music that I carried with me to New Orleans, and it has made all of my experiences extremely positive since then.
PCM: What inspired you to pursue music in New Orleans?
MD: Entering my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to pursue music in college, preferably jazz studies. I applied to schools that were in cities that I thought would have a good jazz “scene”, so that I could find work as a pianist. Loyola University New Orleans gave me a good scholarship and when I flew out to audition and tour the school, I fell in love with the city and the campus. I also knew I would be able to find a lot of music work in New Orleans if I studied and moved there.
PCM: Can you talk about Sweet Potato Queens, the musical you are working on, and how you’ve found the experience as Music Director so far?
MD: It has been such an exciting experience for me. I’m 23, and I think everyone else in the whole production is older than me. Yet, I am in charge of teaching the cast all of their music, and then directing exactly how they perform it for the show. It’s a big task, and sometimes I feel unsure if I am up for it. But then I remember all the experience I have teaching music, accompanying singers, and working in theatre and I am filled with confidence in my ability to make the show sound great. So far the cast is super energetic, kind, and they bring a contagious energy that makes going into rehearsal very fun. Their harmonies sound pretty good for being one week into production, so I have high hopes for the show when we premiere in September!
PCM: What are some of your goals for the future?
MD: My goal coming out of college was to be able to support myself financially by just taking on music work (teaching, accompanying, gigs, commissions, etc.). It seems that, for the most part, I’ve been able to do that! I feel like for the next few years it’s going to be similar to that: taking on all kinds of music work and just seeing what I enjoy the most/find the most fulfilling. I am currently writing a musical and would love to see it come to life and have it premiered a few years from now. Further in the future I’d love to score for films one day, and I definitely want to be an EGOT winner. You have to dream big! But I am young right now and just enjoying wherever life takes me.