Heather Pierson is a pianist, multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, and performer whose inspiring live performances and growing catalog of releases delve into Americana, blues, New Orleans jazz, vocal chants, instrumental piano, and poignant folk. Best known for her virtuosity at the piano and her bell-tone vocals, her songs and musicianship embody joy, honesty, and a desire to share from the heart. In twenty years on her own record label, Vessel Recordings, she has released twelve CDs of original music including her latest, Lines and Spaces, her most ambitious and most personal release to date. It features the familiar and impeccable sounds of the Acoustic Trio (Davy Sturtevant and Shawn Nadeau), joined by performances by Craig Bryan on drums, Mike Sakash on clarinet and tenor sax, George Wiese on trombone, as well as a full choir of Norway Community Sing friends on back-up vocals.
Born to a Scottish émigré mother and Navy veteran machinist father in Joplin, Missouri, Heather started out life in the single-traffic-light town of Galena, Kansas. Music was constantly spilling out of the speakers of her parents’ stereo – a diverse playlist that included such artists as The Allman Brothers, Kansas, Cream, The Beatles, KISS, Cat Stevens, Mario Lanza, Jose Feliciano and Anne Murray. This diversity served to open Heather’s young mind to the rich and varied language of music and to lay the foundation for her future endeavors and experimentations.
There was also another source of music and inspiration in Heather’s childhood home – her father’s old Selmer clarinet. There were many nights when Heather would find herself sitting Indian-style on the floor in front of her father as he played along, note for note, with his cherished Pete Fountain and Woody Herman records. Though he certainly could have, he never played professionally. His was a love of the music itself, for its own sake, a deep, undying love that he passed down to his only child.
After Heather relocated with her parents to rural Maine at the age of five, her father dug out his old John Thompson piano books and began teaching her how to read music, how to hold her fingers just so on the piano. “I’ll never forget it,” she recalls. “The very first time I played the piano – a real piano – I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do, every moment that I had the chance to do it.”
After many years of classical piano lessons, Heather began her performing career while still in high school, bringing her training and skills to bear on the art and craft of improvisation. With two bands concurrently – prog rockers Garajh Mahal and the country-leaning North Atlantic Band – Heather’s music career began with the same diversity and seeming dichotomy that is to this day a trademark of her life. This diversity continued into her early adulthood, performing as a keyboardist, vocalist, and percussionist for Shambhala (who once shared the stage with Paul Winter), joining and then later directing a choir called the Circle Voice Singers, being one third of an a cappella trio called Lightsisters, and all the while, she regularly sat in with local rock, blues, and country bands, and worked as a sideman for other local singer/songwriters. This period also saw the release of several CDs of various forms of Heather’s original New Age music – 1999’s Onward & Upward (solo instrumental piano dedicated in memory of her father); 2000’s a cappella showcase Honor The Light; 2001’s vocal chant collection We All Have A Song; and 2003’s keyboard/percussion/wordless vocal collaboration with fellow Shambhala member Alfred Lund, called Between Lives.
The following six years of Heather’s life found her notably absent from most of what she had been doing. While she played solo piano at a resort hotel near her new home in North Conway, NH, and took on the role of music director at a local UU church, these years saw much of her creativity lying dormant within the confines of an abusive relationship, and she struggled with depression, particularly following the death of her mother. These years were tumultuous, yet they taught her many important life lessons – and they provided much fodder for reflection, and for her songwriting.
In 2010, Heather reclaimed her life and released her first record in seven years: Make It Mine, mastered by Grammy award winning mastering engineer Bob Ludwig. ‘I’m gonna take this life and make it mine,’ she wrote and sang, and there’s been no stopping her since. She quickly followed up with several more solo records: her second instrumental piano recording, The Open Road in 2012, dedicated to her childhood piano teacher; the epic song journey The Hard Work of Living in 2013, which includes her New England Songwriting Contest winning song ‘A Hard Man To Please’; and the jazz-soaked Motherless Child in 2014.
Heather finally burst upon the national scene in 2015 with her acoustic trio, teaming up with two musicians that she met in the early days of 2010 when her life was starting over. The Heather Pierson Acoustic Trio features Shawn Nadeau on upright bass and Davy Sturtevant on, as Heather often puts it from stage, "everything else" - guitar, mandolin, dobro, fiddle, cornet. Davy Sturtevant is a sideman extraordinaire and an accomplished singer/songwriter of his own, wielding both an arsenal of stringed and brass instruments and a gorgeous tenor voice. With wit and flair, Davy performs in a way that moves listeners to tap their toes, nod their heads, and raise knowing eyebrows. Shawn Nadeau is a self-taught phenom who brings an unassuming rock-solid foundation and a keen awareness to every moment of every song, informed by over two decades of wildly varying musical performances, from punk rock to reggae to jazz. In their able hands, these three veteran musicians have catapulted Heather's live performances of her deep well of original music with intricate instrumental arrangements and stirring three-part vocal harmonies. The trio’s debut EP, Still She Will Fly, was released in May 2015, and its title track was the #2 single on the Folk radio charts for the year in 2015, and three other songs were also in the Top 100 singles on Folk radio in 2015. The trio’s full-length debut, Singin’, was released in June 2017, and debuted at #1 on the Folk radio charts.
Nowadays, in addition to her touring schedule with HPAT, Heather also leads her own jazz trio, with Shawn Nadeau on bass and Craig Bryan on drums, performing her equal-parts-New-Orleans-Oscar-Brubeck jazz piano leanings for audiences all over the Northeast. The jazz trio performs a rich variety of Heather's originals, jazz and blues standards, and unique reworkings of familiar American music. The three are best known for their annual Charlie Brown Christmas tour, wherein they present their interpretations of the work of the late great jazz pianist and composer Vince Guaraldi.
In 2017, Heather launched her Musical Meditations project, a growing online library of improvised piano music for meditation and mindfulness. Every week, listeners can find at least two or three new pieces available on her website, available for free download or for a donation.
In 2018, she and singer/songwriter Bernice Martin released a songbook and companion CD, Heart Songs & Circle Songs, which has found its way into the repertoire of church and hospice choirs all over the world. The songbook contains 37 songs by both women, including selections from Heather’s catalog of releases and the 20 new songs from the companion CD. Work on Volume 2 of this project is underway and planned for release in 2020.
In recent years, Heather has devoted herself to a daily meditation practice, including participating in an annual silent meditation retreat. Naturally, these practices have informed her musical life. In honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day 2020, Heather released Be Here Now, a collection of ten of her original meditation chants, freely on her website, in the spirit of dana.
Throughout her colorful career, her eclectic skill set continues to propel her onto concert hall stages and into barrooms, coffeehouses, resort hotels, living rooms, and churches. Her nearly non-stop performance schedule speaks of her tireless work ethic and endless devotion to her crafts. Defying genre and classification and yet fully embracing all musical styles, Heather is an artist who speaks the language of music in as many dialects as her abilities will allow. Her life’s work, she says, is to share her love of music and her gratitude for life with others – one song, one heart, and one mind at a time.