Best known as Michael Bublé’s musical director for almost 20 years, Alan Chang has helped write and produce much of Bublé’s discography from 2003 to 2022, co-writing hits “Home” and “Haven’t Met You Yet.” Following his 40th birthday, and a shift in momentum during 2020’s lockdown, the DIY jazz artist began to switch gears and pursue his own performance career.
Starting on the piano at the age of six with a push from his mother, he became infatuated with jazz at age 13 after playing Gershwin tunes in his middle school music program. Befriending David Bertuzzi (now a great jazz pianist) as a teen, the two would challenge each other to learn various voicings and keys each week, have sleepovers and play piano for hours, and attended Stanford’s Jazz Camp together each summer. “Those were my favorite two weeks of the year,” says Chang.
Chang’s passion for jazz led to a jazz studies major from the University of Southern California, where he was spotted by a Warner Executive as he provided accompaniment at a friend’s drum recital. Asked to audition for a “new jazz singer,” he got the gig after two rounds of auditions when the first pick was too busy. “The industry threw me in and I got my doctorate in Michael Bublé, which was great,” shares Chang. “I was his musical director and pianist and very lucky to be able to co-write with him, but at the end of the day, this was his career, his vision, his esthetic. I started seeing songwriting as a commodity because Michael was selling millions of albums,” admits Chang. “It’s financially rewarding, so I forgot what really moves me, what would I write if I was going to do my own thing.” While they don’t work together anymore, Chang describes the end of the Bublé run as an “amicable divorce” and says the two are still friends.
During lockdown, Chang started collaborating with a group of songwriters, sharing songs they wrote and recorded each week, and exchanging notes and critiques. He feels there has been more musical growth. “I hope something feels a little bit different about the song, whether it's a chord progression, or the phrase has a bar of 2/4 or something,” says Chang. “Some songs on this new album have been done for two or three years. If the songs feel like me, I've arrived at a song that hits the mark.” Writing lyrics still feels “like a homework assignment at times” Chang says of his process, and he admits that he has to write on a real piano (as keyboards do not inspire him). “It’s physical for me,” he says. “I like finding voicings and changes, whether that comes with the melody, or the melody comes later.”
While he was fortunate to get in some writing sessions between the songs for Bublé, he found co-writing situations challenging. “I get how it's great for some people and some personalities, it's just not really for me,” he says. Chang says that he just wanted to make the best music and tried to encourage colleagues to submit music for Bublé’s consideration. “I could have hidden songs from Michael, but it was a ‘lift all boats’ scenario,” he added. “I could have been way more of a dick through those years.”
Falling in love with jazz as a youngster himself, Chang is ultimately proud to be part of a conduit to the American Songbook for young people who otherwise might not hear it, referencing times on tour when a child would reference loving “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” that “Michael Bublé wrote.” She'll eventually find out who wrote it, “and then delve into Cole Porter and find Miles Davis,” gushes Chang. “It felt like I was part of a good gateway drug; I was the musical marijuana and eventually people were going to find ecstasy.“
Debut solo album Check Please drops this September as a collection of jazzy pop songs featuring Pino Palladino on bass and Dave Koz on saxophone. Lead single, “Love As A Weapon,” is out now.
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