"If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music." ~ Gustav Mahler
SAMUEL WHITESELL grew up in a family of musicians and particularly enjoyed listening to his father play ragtime and jazz arrangements on the piano. By the age of six, Samuel enthusiastically started taking piano lessons. In grade school, he also studied recorder and trumpet and learned four-part shape-note singing. At the age of 11, he was fortunate to be accepted as a student of the world-renowned Russian pianist and teacher, Eugenia Tsarov.
When Samuel was 13, he and his brother and two other close musical friends were taken under the wing of two local music teachers who had a professional contra dance band. Under these teachers’ direction they learned to play traditional New England, Celtic, and French Canadian dance music. The following year, as high school freshmen, Samuel and this same group became interested in performing jazz. They started their own group called Out Of The Blue, and performed during their high school and college years. They transcribed arrangements of classic jazz tunes from recordings, created arrangements of their own, and penned some originals. Out of the Blue was much in demand at coffee houses, parties, and receptions in the area.
While in high school, Samuel was invited by upper classmen to play keyboard in the rock band The Vague, which performed original music and also covered works by Santana, Pink Floyd, Neil Young, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers, Phish, and Radiohead, among others. The Vague produced an album of original music entitled “The Day Walt Flipped His Lid”.
At age 17, Samuel was accepted on scholarship to the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York at Potsdam. There he continued classical piano study under the direction of Eugenia Tsarov. Tsarov’s spiritually-based approach to music is concerned much with color and inner expression, served by an organically conceived technique. Samuel also took a jazz studies minor with director of jazz studies, trombonist Bret Zvacek, and studied jazz piano with Montreal-based pianists John Roney and Josh Rager.
While in college, Samuel performed with the Crane School of Music’s select jazz ensemble and other talented local jazz groups throughout northern New York. In his junior year, Samuel participated in a workshop by jazz Hammond Organ master Tony Monaco. For the next few years Samuel performed with musical groups on the Korg CX3 tonewheel organ synthesizer. In his junior and senior years, Samuel took a concentration in piano pedagogy and taught both classical and jazz to a variety of piano students in the local community. In the summer before his senior year, Samuel found great inspiration in a piano pedagogy workshop at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA with "Teacher's Teacher" Faina Bryanskaya, Ph.D. In 2005 Samuel received his Bachelor of Music in Music Performance, graduating with academic and performance honors.
For three semesters after graduation Samuel worked as a freelance accompanist at the Crane School of Music, playing the piano for students’ lessons, master classes, performance exams, and recitals. Samuel also accompanied students at the Music Teachers National Association State Competition in Ithaca, New York, and performed in recitals in New Jersey with young saxophone virtuoso Jonathan Winteringham. During this time Samuel received additional coaching in collaborative piano with flutist and conductor Kenneth Andrews, and also gained experience performing on harpsichord with students.
2010 saw Samuel performing Broadway and patriotic music with the Orchestra of Northern New York and performing duos with jazz singer Blanche Smith. After moving to Montpelier, Vermont in September of 2010, Samuel was inspired to write more of his own music. Since 2011, Samuel has made yearly appearances performing his original music at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival with his saxophonist twin brother’s group, the Jake Whitesell Quartet. While in Montpelier, Vermont, Samuel also performed with the Burlington-based jazz sextet Pine Street Jazz and with the Adirondack Jazz Orchestra.
In January 2012, Samuel returned to his home town of Potsdam, New York, in order to complete a master’s degree in piano. Samuel completed his master's degree in piano performance with a concentration in piano pedagogy at the Crane School of Music in August 2014. As a master’s student, Samuel was awarded an assistantship accompanying students in their lessons, degree recitals, and performance exams.
From 2012-2016 Samuel maintained a private piano studio and worked as a freelance musician in the Potsdam, New York area, accompanying students on piano at the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam and functioning as rehearsal pianist for and performing with a variety of music ensembles in northern New York state.
From 2013-2016, Samuel was pianist at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Potsdam and from 2012-2016 was substitute organist at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Potsdam, New York, and substitute keyboardist for the St. Lawrence Univeristy Gospel Service in Canton, New York. From 2014-2016 Samuel was accompanist for the University Choir at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, performing programs ranging from neo-Renaissance (Kirke Mechem) to Britten, and from jazz standards to songs of peace and love from 1960s and 1970s. In 2015-2016 Samuel was rehearsal and stage pianist for A Rabbit’s Foote Company, an original theater piece by Jessica James paying tribute to the first all-black travelling minstel show.
Since July 2016, Samuel has made his home in Burlington, Vermont, maintaining private piano studios in both Burlington and in Potsdam, New York, and working as a versatile freelance musician in Vermont as well as the wider New England area.