Jon Dahlander’s backstory as a composer of piano solos is as unlikely as it is redeeming. How it ever happened in the first place is one thing; how it continues to evolve because of life circumstances is quite another.

In the end, Jon’s music is still about one thing: channeling and expressing various emotions through the piano. He draws upon various influences that include 60s and 70s pop, rock, jazz, French classical music and hints of gypsy folk.

His songs are accessible without being too simple and engaging without being pretentious.

His fourth CD, Songs for Smiler McGee, comes following a 17-year break between his last full-length CD. In between, Jon and his wife Heidi experienced the joy, challenges, triumphs and ultimately pain of raising—and losing—a medically fragile child. Jared, who was born with a rare genetic syndrome, died just days before his 14th birthday. The songs on “Smiler McGee” (one of many nicknames for Jared) are, for the most, songs created as a form of catharsis that reflect the ups and downs of Jon’s family’s journey.

Jon’s first three CDs (Piano Landscapes v.1-v.3) were recorded in the 1990s for Dallas-based indie label Carpe Diem Records (Rhett Miller, Pop Poppins, Course of Empire, Café Noir). While not breaking any sales records, Jon’s music found an audience in both Texas and Oklahoma. Two weeks after releasing v.3, Jon’s wife gave birth to Jared, whose numerous health issues caused multiple hospitalizations and surgeries immediately.

In 2007, during a time when Jon had all but given up the idea of writing songs or ever recording again, his music was added to Pandora’s (the Internet Music Genome) roster and, like a snowball rolling downhill, slowly gathered momentum. His songs have now been streamed more than 100 million times and he is considered a mainstream artist by Next Big Sound, a tracking service created by Pandora.

Jon’s love for playing the piano started when he would sneak into piano practice rooms following band rehearsals (Jon played trombone) in high school and college to create songs without words. Later, working at his first job as a TV news photographer in Ardmore, Oklahoma, he convinced the management at the local YWCA that they should leave a door unlocked after hours so he could come in and practice on their piano at night.

In the next two new cities where he lived (Tulsa and Oklahoma City), he made it his mission to seek out pianos where he could practice as much as he wanted, mostly in music departments on college campuses. He finally bought his first piano for $100, found in a dusty back room of an antique shop, then spent months cleaning it up and getting it back to playing condition. He eventually sought out one of his piano idols, William Allaudin Mathieu (Windham Hill, Narada), who agreed to give Jon his first piano lessons since the 4th grade by speakerphone from California.

A regional record company in Dallas heard about his music from one of Jon’s high school friends and offered him a record contract but Jon wasn’t crazy about their initial plans to market the music. He instead linked up with Carpe Diem Records through a mutual college friend. The Piano Landscapes series mainly includes original compositions but also has a version of Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (Psalm) and Jon’s recording of Erik Satie’s First Gymnopedie.

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