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Chris Ashwood records his music

Chris Ashwood sits at a keyboard in his basement music studio, where he recorded some the tracks on the CD. He also gives music lessons in the studio. Photo by Randy Hanson1 / 2
"It's all original music," Chris Ashwood says of the 11 piano numbers on his appropriately titled recording. It is available for $10 at / 2

Fans of Chris Ashwood's jazz and rock piano stylings no longer have to wait for his next gig at a local pub to hear him play.

Ashwood has recorded a CD, appropriately titled "My Stuff."

"It's all original music," the 36-year-old said during a recent interview in the basement music studio at his house on South Seventh Street. "There's a bit of gospel, some jazz, a little bit of classical, and contemporary -- but it's all my stuff."

"That's how I came up with the name. I kept saying, hey, I recorded my stuff," he explained with a grin.

Ashwood has long had a local following, going back to the mid-1990s when he got his start as a pianist at La Pommeraie, a French restaurant that once occupied the building in downtown Hudson where Ellie's Sports Bar is now.

He has a style that leans toward jazz, but also considers himself a rocker.

"I try to make a big sound. It's energetic most of the time," he said of the 11 tracks on the recording. "There's a couple of mellow songs in there, but most of it is pretty poppy."

It's also an album of dedications. Each song honors people who are or have been an important part of his life.

"Beulah" is for his maternal grandmother, who babysat him when he was a child, played piano and grounded him in his Christian faith. The number opens with a hymn that his grandmother used to play and evolves into a jazz groove.

Ashwood has played the song as the postlude to the Easter morning service at his church, First Baptist of Hudson. And he's performed it in bars.

"It's instrumental. It's positive. It's fun. People want to dance to it," he said. "That's the idea of my music. I want to make it so it's for anybody."

Ashwood grew misty-eyed when he talked about another number, written for his grandmother Beverly Ashwood and friends in The Philippines. He was on a mission trip to The Philippines in 1999 when Beverly, who was fighting breast cancer, became gravely ill.

He struggled over whether he should return to the United States to say good-bye to his grandmother or continue the mission that was so meaningful to him. His grandmother encouraged him to stay. He did. And she lived to see him again.

He played "Don't Want to Go, Don't Want to Stay" at her funeral.

Other dedications are to friends and family members. The final track is a lullaby for his three-year-old son, Owen.

Ashwood's father, Paul, provides the percussion and one of his students, Joseph Kreye, plays the bass one three numbers.

Casey Hansen, now serving in Afghanistan with the 4th Marines, played the electric bass on "Jesus Came to Save," dedicated to the congregation of First Baptist.

Musical family

It's no surprise that Ashwood has musical talent given the family he grew up in.

His mother, Ruth, also is an accomplished pianist and organist, and an instrumental music teacher and band director. She teaches music at St. Patrick School and has been the musical director for a number of shows at The Phipps Center for the Arts.

His dad is former drummer in rock and roll bands, as well as an amateur song-and-dance man.

Chris Ashwood started playing piano at age 4, and by age 13 was composing his own music. He played the trumpet when he was in sixth and seventh grades.

He dropped out of band at the start of eighth grade, when the family moved to Hudson from White Bear Lake, Minn. But he joined the Hudson High School marching band, wind ensemble, concert band and jazz band in his sophomore year -- this time as a percussionist like his father.

Ashwood was born with a genetic condition called ocular albinism that makes him legally blind -- and caused difficulty in his transition to a new school system. He recalled being bullied during his first years in Hudson, and teachers not knowing how to deal with someone with his condition.

He can see, but has to bring print close to his face to read it. He also can see objects farther in the distance, but they lack the detail most people see.

The condition is caused by a lack of pigment on the retinas of his eyes. There are splotches where there is no pigment, so his eyes compensate by moving back and forth.

"My eyes kind of adjust by moving around, and my optic nerves translate what I see to make it a full picture," he explained. So even though his eyes are moving, the picture he sees is steady.

"I adjust," he said. "I went to public schools all my life and I really didn't have that much help to overcome it. My family just encouraged me to do whatever I needed to do."

Ashwood credits a weekend youth gathering called Teens Encounter Christ and art, choir and band classes at Hudson High with helping him break out of his shell.

He met his wife, Molly, in the marching band.

He and friends Jason Phillips, Jeff Geslen, Kevin Rieg and Scott Pagula started a rock band that practiced in the choir room after school.

Ashwood took music classes at several colleges (including St. Catherine's, St. Thomas and UW-Eau Claire) after high school, and ultimately earned an associate in science degree in record production from the St. Paul school now called McNally Smith College of Music.

Music man

"I guess I have two. Music man is the overall title," Ashwood replied, when asked about his occupation.

He gives lessons on piano, guitar, drums and electric bass. And he is a contracted record producer for Legacy Productions through the company's Minneapolis office.

Legacy specializes in recording church and school choirs.

The company produced Ashwood's "My Stuff" recording as a test run for its music downloading site. The recording can be downloaded for $10. Go to the website and do a search for Chris Ashwood to find it.

Ashwood said he also takes copies of the CD with him when he plays local gigs, which most recently have been at Urban Olive & Vine in downtown Hudson.

Much of the CD was recorded in Ashwood's basement studio, but the solo piano numbers were done at House of Hope Presbyterian Church on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. The church has a big piano with 96 keys, eight more than most pianos have.

A couple of the songs were recorded at First Baptist of Hudson, where he plays the electric piano with the worship band.

Ashwood and his 16-year-old bassist, Joseph Kreye, are working on a new set of songs they're getting ready for future gigs. Paul Ashwood or another drummer will join them for performances.

In addition, Ashwood is getting ready to cut a new CD that will be out in a few months.

Maybe he'll call it "My Stuff 2," he said, without letting on whether he was joking.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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