Ken Beilman Interviewed:

Louisville Medicine Interview, May 2003 Issue:
Jazz Group Returns for Gala

This year's May Gala will again feature entertainment by Dr. B and the Boppers jazz group. For the fourth consecutive year, the quartet, including JCMS member Ken Beilman, MD, or Dr. B, and Louisville musicians, Chris Fitzgerald, Craig Wagner and Jason Tiemann, will perform jazz tunes for an expected crowd of more than 500 people.

Dr. Beilman has been part of the Louisville jazz scene since the 1980s. He played piano in an acoustic quartet for his first compact disc, Squorkle, which consists of mostly standard jazz tunes. It is on display for listening at the JCMS Art Gallery. He recently completed a second audio CD that includes rock, fusion, a ballad, jazz and hip-hop tunes that he wrote, arranged, performed, recorded and mixed. Entitled, Nightfall, it was named after a tune he wrote based on the chord progression from Cole Porter's song, Night and Day. It includes music from Beilman, as pianist, and Terry O'Mahoney, as acoustic drummer. O'Mahoney teaches music at a Nova Scotia college, but spends summers in his hometown of Louisville. Dr. Beilman said he was honored by O'Mahoney's desire to play drums for the CD. O'Mahoney's contribution was added to the CD separately.

When Dr. Beilman completed the project he felt a sense of loss. "I thought I'd write a tune called Post Partum Blues," he said. "I liken it to having a baby." He plans to immediately start on a new CD to compensate for the loss. He also plans to sell copies of Nightfall at the May Gala and has committed to donating its proceeds to the JCMS Foundation.

Dr. Beilman began playing the piano when he was 6 years old, and took piano lessons for the next 10 years. His mother was a pianist and encouraged his musical abilities. He played mostly classical and popular music until the 1980s, when a lifestyle change gave him a chance to spend more time to pursue jazz lessons and perform with jazz groups at the University of Louisville. Spending more time on his music allowed him to work on improving his improvisational skills.

Improvising, or "making it up as you go" means for Dr. Beilman "playing bits and pieces of scales, making it melodious and fitting it together so it sounds natural. "A lot of it is listening, learning patterns, altering melodies and playing off the melody," he said. "Chord changes and progressions are fundamental."

About three years ago, Dr. Beilman bought a synthesizer at the suggestion of a music store salesperson. Dr. Beilman said his affinity for gadgets kept him from being intimidated by the complexity of the synthesizer. After learning how to use it, he became excited about the possibilities and prospects of writing original tunes. He started by taking existing tunes and adding other sounds to it, and eventually wrote his own tunes, with encouragement and support of friends.

When he later purchased a hard disc recorder, he was able to mix tunes and add effects to bring the instruments out. For example, he said he could enhance cymbal sounds and add spatial effects, and switch back and forth between channels during percussion interludes to give a broader stage effect.

He spent about a year working on the CD during evenings and on weekends. Dr. Beilman said he received technical support from Fitzgerald, whom he considers his musical mentor. Fitzgerald has been a teacher and performer of jazz for the past 15 years.

In addition to playing piano, Dr. Beilman also enjoys photography, and has had several photographs published on the Louisville Medicine cover and displayed in the JCMS Art Gallery. Many of his photographs were taken with an underwater camera while scuba diving. He used one of his photographs of the city of San Francisco at dusk for the cover for his recent CD.

Although he enjoys music as a hobby, Dr. Beilman said he never considered it as a career possibility because of the inherent uncertainties. Instead, he followed in his father's footsteps, and entered medical school. He didn't have time to play in a band while in medical school, but he was able to maintain his skills by playing piano in the dormitory basement. After completing a residency in internal medicine, Dr. Beilman worked as an emergency room physician for about seven years. When his father retired, he took over the practice. He has remained in solo practice since 1987.

He attributes his ability to take time off for music to his medical office manager, Teresa Alltop.

Nightfall is now available for purchase at Cox Drug Store on Preston Highway.

by Karen Hermsen

Reprinted by permission from Louisville Medicine, May 2003, a monthly publication of the Jefferson County Medical Society