Sequim musician and music-tech educator Mike Klinger sits at his desk in his home music studio demonstrating how to use music and technology together. Sequim Gazette photo by Erin Hawkins

A jazz pianist’s journey

Mike Klinger’s fingers dance across his piano keys as he plays a beautiful song. There is no sheet music or notes in front of him. He slowly closes his eyes as he feels the music come to him and continues to glide his fingers along the keys as if it were second nature.

Klinger said he was first introduced to music at 13 years old. Little did he know, some 30-plus years later, he will have his own music-tech business, make a deal with Apple Computers teaching music-tech programs around the country and finally bring his talents to Sequim.

He started playing the piano by striking each key with one finger when he was a teen. His father originally had given him a drum set, but he said he could hear and play melodies on the piano.

“I hated the drums, they were just too loud,” Klinger said. “But I could hear and play (the piano) by ear picking out melodies.”

Before he attended the University of North Texas — one of the top jazz schools in the country — he said he never received a music lesson and learned to play the piano by ear.

The first group Klinger played music for was a soul band called Little Curtis and the Blues. Klinger and his group would play music of such artists as James Brown at teen dances every weekend in Vancouver.

“The band was incredible,” he said. “It was packed every time we played there.”

The first song he wrote was called, “Please Keep Me,” for his wife Linda when he met her in 1968. He said he eventually recorded the song and it became the No. 1 song on the local radio in Portland, Ore., for three weeks — marking the the beginning of Klinger’s career as a composer, musician and music-tech pioneer.

Humble beginnings

When Klinger graduated high school and attended his first music theory class in college in Vancouver, he said he failed the class.

He later attended Mt. Hood Community College after being introduced to the music director and earned an Associate of Arts in Music and played in the band there.

When he heard the jazz band at University of North Texas play at a music competition while he was a student at Mt. Hood Community College, he said he had to attend that school.

“They came out and played and they affected me so drastically,” he said. He told his wife, “I have to go to that school and learn how to write like that and play like that; that’s what I want to do.”

He attended the school from 1972-1976 where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music and studied music composition and theory.

“I had a lot of catching up to do,” Klinger said.

To put himself through school, Klinger said he played six nights each week playing country western music from 9 p.m.-2 a.m.

When he graduated from college, he went back to Mt. Hood Community College and became a music professor. When the college ran out of money for music programs, Klinger said he was the last person hired and the first to go.

Big breaks

Klinger said in the meantime, he wanted to start his own business by creating a music-tech workshop that teachers could use to educate their students.

“1983 was huge because that was the year you were able to hook up a keyboard on the computer,” Klinger said. “Whatever you play you could see on the screen and that just blew my mind.”

He decided to form his own business called the Synthesis MIDI — Musical Instrument Digital Interface, the connection that needs to happen between an instrument and a computer — Workshop.

He then decided to reach out to Apple Inc. to explain to the company how they could apply their products to using his approach to music technology.

“I wrote 18 letters to Apple Computers stating how wonderful their computers would be to use with music,” he said.

He said he never heard back from the company until one Christmas Eve when he received a call from Apple stating they would give him one hour to present his ideas at a conference in Portland, Ore.

Klinger said after his presentation, Apple asked him to teach his music-tech approach to music teachers both at Apple stores in Washington and school districts across the country using their computers.

One of those teachers Klinger taught was Vern Fosket, a music teacher for Sequim High School.

“My business was launched doing that,” Klinger said.

He said later he built and founded the Mike Klinger Music Technology Retreat Center in the middle of the woods in Carson, where teachers could come to him and learn about his workshop rather than him traveling to them.

The retreat had 15 Apple computers and computer labs that sat on 3 acres near the Columbia River.

“There’s a saying that, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” Klinger said. “Well, 5,000 teachers came and studied.”

He build the retreat in 2001 and closed it at the end of 2016 before he moved to Sequim.

Sequim life

Klinger is now semi-retired as a well-known jazz pianist, composer, music-tech pioneer and educator. He plays the piano and writes songs for local music groups such as Stardust Big Band and is trying to form a quartet of musicians to play jazz in and around Sequim.

He and his wife Linda moved to Sequim in January of this year to be closer to his grandchildren. Since then, he has volunteered to help local music teachers such as Fosket’s jazz band at Sequim High School and plays the piano once a month at Sherwood Assisted Living.

Klinger also has a trio band called the Klinger B3 Organ Band that plays at various locations around Sequim with a regular venue at Wind Rose Cellars.

He will play with the Klinger B3 Organ Band at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, with the Stardust Big Band from 6-8 p.m. at Music in the Park on Tuesday, Aug. 29, at Carrie Blake Park and from 6-10 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31 at 7 Cedars Casino.

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