Arthur, you have such a unique story that has brought you to the center of the Latin music world and around the world. How did your education in Detroit put you on the path you are now following?
My Irish parents love music, even if they don’t play instruments themselves. When I was 6, the family Christmas present for the 7 Hanlon children was a piano. For me, it was the arrival of something enchanted, alive, and otherworldly in the house, and I couldn’t stay away for even one day. Plus my dad’s best friend was an amazing pianist who performed professionally all over Detroit. He was my musical mentor. He was making a stint at the Machus Red Fox club / restaurant when Jimmy Hoffa “disappeared”. He didn’t read a musical note but played surprisingly well. He taught me at a very young age that while notes are important, having the ability to use your ears, improvise and play what you feel are equally crucial skills. I guess I was a hybrid from a young age, mixing a classical musical education with a street sensibility.
What were your musical influences growing up in Detroit? When were you first exposed to Latin music?
Like many children, my ear was tethered to the radio. Detroit radio, when I was young, was a magical musical mix: from Motown heritage to Bob Seger, to a huge classical music scene. I absorbed it all, but Motown definitely had a huge influence on me as a kid. I started playing concerts when I was a teenager with much older guys from the Motown studio who stayed in Detroit after Barry Gordy moved to LA. They really taught me to think, improvise, write songs and find grooves.
When I think about it and didn’t realize it at the time, my first exposure to a “Latin vibe” was Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”. The Latin piano intro tumbao blew me away as a kid, I sat for hours one day learning it note by note from the album. Then by chance really, I moved into a completely Latin “barrio” near where I was studying at Manhattan School of Music in New York. Latin music was everywhere and so playing Latin concerts seemed like a logical progression from the blues and Motown in Detroit. My stay in New York completely changed the direction of my entire career.
We understand that New York was the place where you truly fell in love with Latin music. Tell us about your experience during your early years in Manhattan?
For me the energy of the city, and especially the musical energy, was (is!) Intoxicating! I lived at 122nd and Broadway while I was doing an MA in classical piano at the Manhattan School of Music; a neighborhood full of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Colombians and Cubans. As a young pianist / composer it was impossible NOT to hear those Latin rhythms emanating from the streets.
I would literally be all day practicing Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, then I would go out at night to jazz clubs and Latin clubs to experience Latin jazz, salsa, merengue, bachata. I finally started playing Latin concerts. Willie Colon, Gran Combo De Puerto Rico, Grupo Niche de Colombia were my musical heroes. According to my mom, I became Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, playing classical music by day and Latin music by night!
Tell us about Piano and Mujer. How did the idea for the project come about?
While the official title Piano and Mujer was born last June in the midst of a pandemic, I fell in love with the concept when I was 17, when I started playing professionally in Detroit. Bars, hotels, parties, anything where I could earn a few dollars playing music. Always if the customers did not have the means to hire our whole group, the agency would tell them “okay, we will send Arthur and his piano with the singer”. Literally hundreds of times! So it’s a format that I really like. When the pandemic hit, I said to myself “now is the perfect time to turn the concept I have always dreamed of into reality”.
What makes the piano and the female voice so well together?
For me, there is nothing more honest and pure than the piano and the female voice. Like wine and cheese, the two are wonderful separately, but their combination creates a magical musical synthesis.
How does it feel to be supported by a world famous company like Yamaha?
It’s an AMAZING honor! Yamaha Artist Services is a company full of pianists, so it’s always great to hang out with them and talk shop. I did a virtual press conference from their New York City Artist showroom 2 months ago for more than 100 media and Yamaha installed 3 concert pianos for the occasion. Definitely an amazing time.
Do you have a particular connection with the Yamaha brand?
Talk about an organic collaboration! The piano my dad bought as a Christmas present for the kids when I was 6 was a Yamaha! As for the endorsement agreement, in the production of Piano and Mujer, some songs are super rhythmic with Latin tumbaos, and others are very intimate. I really wanted that signature Yamaha acoustic sound for the album and the HBO special: bright and bold with a lot of depth, resonance and big bass, but at the same time a very warm and poetic sound. We reached out to Yamaha to strike up a conversation and after seeing the stage we continued to talk. In December I played a beautiful Yamaha red grand piano for a Christmas special I did. In March / April, a blue Yamaha for TV appearances for the release of Piano and Mujer. Now we are in a formal partnership and I am super happy.
What else do you have in store for us for next year?
We make a Piano and Mujer touring the US in Q1 2022. I am currently in pre-production for a new album with Sony and I will also be broadcasting a live Christmas concert with Facebook in December 2021. Fortunately, I am very busy.