Windham Hill founder Will Ackerman, photo courtesy of Stanford Live
By Paul Freeman [December 2015 Interview]

Will Ackerman’s first company was Windham Hill Builders, a general contracting business. But it was the influential record label he lovingly built, and originally operated out of his Palo Alto garage, that made him a legendary figure. Windham Hill Records carved out its impressive niche, defying categorization.

Ackerman’s own acoustic albums, brimming with genuine warmth, sensitivity and emotion, as well as those of artists he produced for his Windham Hill label, made a profound and lasting impact on countless music lovers. The emails, letters and comments he has gotten from fans attest to that fact.

After enjoying remarkable success in the 70s and 80s, Ackerman took a hiatus from recording in the 90s. Now a resident of Vermont’s Windham County, he is again very active musically, producing albums at his Imaginary Road Studio, an idyllic creative haven. It’s a great room that boasts what Ackerman deems to be the world’s finest recording piano, the ultimate microphones and pre-amps. There he is once again bringing unheralded musical talents into the spotlight.

He has released new compilations of artists he is introducing to the world, much like the popular Windham Hill samplers. The first edition, “The Gathering: A New Generation of Artists,” (West River Records) went to number one and won a ZMR format Album of the Year Award.

In establishing Windham Hill, what was your concept, your goal?

There was no concept and there was no goal. In those days, I was doing it more for myself than anybody else. As a matter of fact, I felt like I was hiding out from the rest of humanity, when I was playing. But there’s an archway over by the old Stanford Union and I used to go sit and play, just a lovely, reverberative space. And I did that often enough that people began coming around to see if I was there and to listen. It went from maybe six people to 20 to 40 to 100. And then I had people sort of hanging their heads around the corner, trying to get a listen.

I was also doing music for some of the theatre productions at Stanford, student productions. And I finally said, “Well, look, if you give me five bucks, I’ll go into a studio and record something,” which I did. I remember, when I was told by the record-pressing plant that 300 copies was the minimum order, I nearly punted the whole thing and gave the five bucks back to everybody. I decided to go ahead with it, although I fully expected to have 150 LPs in my closet for the rest of my life.

So the ambitions, initially, couldn’t have been more modest. There was a very weird circumstance that took place, where, shortly after I’d pressed this, I was walking up University Avenue in Palo Alto and I ran into my former next-door neighbor, a guy named Michael Kilmartin. When you were growing up, Michael was the kid you wanted to be. He was captain of the football team. He was really handsome. He had a band that played at school. So you always wanted to be Michael. And I remember, when I was 12, up till that point, I’d been playing a tennis racquet, sort of strumming that in imitation of The Beatles or whoever. And Michael had just bought a Gibson Starburst electric guitar and taught me the first chords that anybody had ever taught me - Am and G, I remember.

And weirdly, here’s the guy who first ever put a guitar in my hand and I’m walking up University Avenue, and walking down University Avenue is Michael Kilmartin. And I said “Michael, I haven’t seen you in a million years. I’ve just done this little guitar record and let me give you a couple of copies.” And we went back to bookstore that had them and I gave him a some copies. And he took them and said, “God, it’s amazing you did this.” And then he called me a little bit later and said, “Can I have 10 records? I think I might be able to help you with something.” And I gave him the 10 copies and I called him later and I said, “What did you do with those?” And he said, “Let me do a little research. I’ll be right back to you.” And I’m like, “What research? What is he talking about?”

Long story short, Michael had become the radio promotion guy for Fantasy Records, who, at the time, had the biggest act in the world in Creedence Clearwater Revival. So suddenly the guy who put a guitar in my hand, that taught me my first chords, is arguably the most powerful radio promotion guy in the world. So he shipped these records out to some stations. And he told me, “Well, eight of the stations are playing it and five are listing it as heavy airplay. This is a hit already.” So that’s how immediate and stratospheric this thing went, out of absolutely no ambition at all.

And having found all this really powerful airplay in major markets, and having found five or six distributors around the country, it seemed sensible to go on taking advantage of that. So I recorded another record. And my cousin, Alex De Grassi, I got him to record, too. And then it just blossomed and mushroomed from there. Signing George Winston was huge. I think ultimately that ended up being somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million records.

It came from really nowhere and I think probably its innocence was part of what made it work. We weren’t trying to imitate anybody. Who would have thought that you could have sold solo guitar or solo piano records, when disco was the king of the airwaves? But it was sincere. And I think people heard that.

So it was the $5 donations that made it all possible?

Well, I got enough money to go ahead and press the first 300 copies and maybe then some. But it was all very shoestring.

How old were you, when you were adopted?

Very young. I was adopted by the Ackerman family. Robert Ackerman was in the English department at Stanford and, on occasion, against his better judgment, was forced into the administrative role, being head of the English department. And my mother Mary committed suicide, when I was 12. The song, “The Impending Death of the Virgin Spirit” was written about the emotions around that. But I went to Stanford Elementary and Terman Junior High School, then was shipped out to Massachusetts, after my Mom’s death, to go to prep school, which is when I really got to know Vermont and specifically Windham County, which is where I live now.

Where you always fascinated by music? At what point did that begin playing a major role?

Yeah, I think I was a lunatic about music from the very beginning. I’m not sure exactly how old I was, maybe fifth grade or something like that, my Dad bought me a turquoise transistor radio, a little tiny thing, already knowing that music was important to me. And I was listening mostly to pop/rock at the time. At night, when I was supposed to be asleep, I would be under the covers with my transistor radio, listening. And there was also a phone that I could drag into my room. And I would actually call and make requests. At the time, Jim Lange was at KGO-Radio. Jim Lange went on to host “The Dating Game.” But he was a real radio jock for many, many years. And I would call him up and make requests.

Of course, I had this little, squeaky, kid’s voice. And he started calling me “Tiger.” So I’d call up and he’d say, “Hey, Tiger’s on the phone again! What do you want to hear tonight, Tiger?” And I’d tell him what it was. And that was great. My Dad would always catch me doing this and finally he said, “Who are you calling? What’s going on here?” And I said, “I’m just calling in requests.” “Who do you call?” “This Jim Lange guy on KGO.” And he said, “Well, let’s go up and meet Jim Lange.” So my Dad actually faxed him and gets permission from Jim to come up and we go to the station and you go in there and there are all of those records. And Jim hands me out all these promo singles and stuff. I don’t know if that had some real effect on me, in terms of, “Wow, records! And some of them are free!” There was just something really amazing about that.

So there was that. And then there’s the whole story about The Kingston Trio. The Kingston Trio was Dave Guard, who was at Stanford University, and Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds, who were at Menlo College. And they used to rehearse in the old Stanford student union. And I would go there afternoons and early evenings sometimes, on my bicycle, and listen to them.

It’s really formative stuff, hugely important to me. I was given a box seat at a concert that they were doing, headlining, as a fundraiser for the man who would become the mayor of San Francisco, John Shelley. And there was an unknown act opening the show, named Barbra Streisand - actually unknown. The name was like a quarter of an inch high on the poster. But that’s what a rabid fan I was.

Years later, I hadn’t listened to The Kingston Trio a lot for many, many years, and a friend of mine sent me two CDs - the first Kingston Trio record and “Live at The Hungry i” in this package. And I listened to “Live at The Hungry i” and I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing, because everything that Dave Guard did to announce songs, I had incorporated into my stage patter. I don’t mean the words, but the tone of voice, the timing of the jokes, the type of jokes. As a kid, you’re not thinking, “Oh, I’m going to imitate him,” but I had internalized it so much that I realize that my entire stage presence was derived entirely from my listening to and loving Dave Guard.

Dave passed away from cancer, but before he did, I wrote him and I said, “Dave, I founded Windham Hill” - this was when people were writing letters. And Dave wrote back and said he was a huge fan of Windham Hill. So I said, “Well, you may not remember me, but I’m the kid that used to come and hear you guys all the time.” And he wrote back and said, “Mr. Windham Hill is that kid?!” And I said, “Yeah, that’s me.” And he said, “God, I’m a huge fan!” I said, “I’m a huge fan of what you did.” So we had this mutual admiration society going on.

And I wrote him and said, “Dave, I figured out that I totally, totally ripped you off. My whole life, I ripped you off, terribly.” And he wrote back and said, “Oh, no, I’m sure that isn’t true.” I sent him a cassette of a show I’d done and he wrote back and said, “Yeah, you completely ripped me off.” [laughs]. It was so cool. He passed away not long after that, but I was so, so happy that I got to tell Dave how much he’d meant to me. And he amused that he could hear, too, that I was channeling him. As a kid, you think, “This is what you’re supposed to do on stage. Okay, now I’m on stage, this is what I’m supposed to do.”

So music was hugely important to me as a young person, incredibly inspirational. I never really had any ambitions to go into music. And, as I said, the whole thing was so modest, how Windham Hill got off the ground, but it got off the ground very successfully. And I had a wonderful, wonderful time with it. So here we are. Forty years later..

Who were some of the other players who inspired you, as you moved beyond folk and British Invasion, into more complex forms of acoustic music?

I think probably the most important musician/composer for me, in my entire musical realm, would be Erik Satie, the French composer probably best know for his work in the 1880s - the Gymnopédies, the Gnossiennes, Sarabandes, Ogives. He was personal friends with Debussy and Ravel and Poulenc. And Debussy and Ravel were doing these lush, romantic, orchestrated pieces. Erik Satie, by contrast, was writing these Zen-like, achingly simple pieces, not simple harmonically, but simple melodically and in terms of the space between the notes. When I first heard Satie, it was absolutely revelatory, that music should be so Zen-like. I kept that with me for my whole life. I’ve never been one to decorate a great deal. It’s always been fairly simple, direct, not a lot of layers. So I think Satie was the most important musical figure in my life.

Getting to Stanford University in my freshman year, I was somehow or another turned on to the guitarist John Fahey and, to some degree, Peter Lang, and, of course, Leo Kottke. This was all on the Takoma Records label, which John Fahey had founded with guy named Ed Denson. And I think there was something there, too, where I got it somewhere in the back of my head that a guitarist started a record label. But most important to me of all those people on Takoma was Robbie Bosho, who I actually took some lessons from and who influenced me to a great degree. Robbie’s ambition was to try to create a classical discipline for steel string guitar, which had always been seen as a folk instrument. John Fahey and Peter Lang were certainly staying within the folk and blues traditional. And Kottke was speeding it up and being more dynamic, but still it was sort of folk-derivative, whereas Robbie Basho was writing ragas and writing these sort of classical-sounding pieces, contemporary classical pieces. That was the guy on guitar who was most important to me, because I kind of got what he was trying to do. It’s like “No, this isn’t just a folk instrument. This can be a lot more.” And it was a stated ambition on his part. And I think he lived it. And that was terribly important to me, too.

You mentioned not being really focused on a music career, when you entered Stanford, what were you aiming towards? What were you studying?

I was just wasting everybody’s time. My Dad taught at Stanford, so it was free in those days. So, Stanford’s a good university, it’s free, sure you go to Stanford University. I took the usual curriculum. I was gravitating towards English and History. But it was a really disruptive time to be a student. There was the Vietnam War, there was the assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. It was hard to stay focused. And I’m not sure I would have stayed focused anyway.

I guess it was sort of an unwritten law that I would somehow or another end up in academia. When my father remarried, he married a woman who had been head of the English department at Radcliffe and Smith and I think was also at Vassar. Another academician. I think it was just assumed that I would become an academician. My definition in high school had a bit to do with music, but it was more about poetry and writing. And the effect of Ken Kesey on the writing department at Stanford was considerable. And there were a lot of visiting writers who had real prestige, who I got to talk with. And I think that was very influential on me. I don’t think I ever had enough discipline to be a great writer. I was fairly facile with language, which was probably inherited from my parents. But I don’t think I ever had the discipline to become a real writer. I can put together 18 really good pages, I think, but to do an actual book, I don’t think I’d ever be capable of it. And being around the theatre productions at Stanford and beginning to write music for those theatre productions, it did give me a bit of an audience. And that felt good to me. But why I was there? I was really just taking up space and time, till I could figure out what I wanted to do.

I got within spitting distance of graduating from Stanford, in the spring of my senior year, although I still had some credits I’d have to make up. And I had always been able to write anything. You give me a paper, I’ll write you a good paper. I was good at it, even if I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. But in the spring of my senior year, I literally couldn’t squeeze another word out. It was really a verbal paralysis. This had always been so easy for me. But I dried up. I couldn’t write anything, not a word. And without having really objectified the experience, I think it was telling me that I should do something else, that this isn’t where you want to go - you don’t want to graduate. You don’t want to get on that track. You do not want to follow in the footsteps of your parents. And there’s got to be something else.

And I was dating a girl, Suzanne, who actually was mentioned in the title, “What the Buzzard Told Suzanne,” on my first record. She had grown up in Auburn, California, in the Sierra Foothills and the Sierras were always very important to me - that’s a whole other story. But she mentioned that her Dad was a contractor. When I was a kid, College Terrace, we were on Amherst Street. This was this little peninsula of houses that Leland Stanford had given to the town of Palo Alto. And we lived up on Amherst Street. So we were looking out at the fields. Pine Hill was actually a hill. And now it’s covered with faculty housing and the rest of it. And I always resented it, because that’s where we would catch lizards and snakes and fly kites and we came up with something called “grassboarding,” where we’d polish a piece of plywood and just surf the hill and nearly kill ourselves. It’s where we played and suddenly, there are all these houses being built. And I remember hating them and actually stealing stuff from the sites. I made an incredible treehouse, back behind Junipero Serra, stealing windows and lumber and everything. I just made this amazing place, sort of in protest to all of this.

But I do remembering going into those building sites and loving the smell of lumber. And that’s all I had going for me, when I went up to Auburn to meet with Suzanne’s father, Fred, who was actually a Batco driver. Fred said, “Oh, you don’t want to drive Batco, you want to work with wood.” I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Well, I’ve got the guy for you.” And this guy, Ozzie, was a third-generation Norwegian boat builder turned ship’s carpenter for the Norwegian Merchant Marines, for whom building 90-degree angles was child’s play. He took me under his wing and I apprenticed with him and really learned carpentry. My first company was actually Windham Hill Builders, a general contracting company, which started in the Sierra Foothills, but moved back down to Palo Alto. By 1980, when I released George Winston’s Autumn,” my business card said, “Windham Hill Builders/Records/Music BMI,” which I would safely hazard a guess was the first time anything like that had been put on a business card.

Once you did have the breakthrough with the first record, how did you go about building your own musical identity, both as an individual and as a label?

Well, as soon as I had radio airplay, the notion of concerts was not far behind. I had literally not made a dime from performing. I mean, people had sometimes left money in a hat. I didn’t even bring a hat. It never occurred to me, nor was I trying to get any money out of anybody, but people would just leave money. At the end of a night, I might have 60, 70 bucks. And I thought, “That’s pretty cool!” And that’s the only way I’d seen a penny for anything I did, never having thought of it as a business. That wasn’t where it was in my heart or mind. It was just something I loved doing.

But having gotten this tremendous airplay, the first paying gig I ever had, literally the first paying gig, was a sold-out show at the Seattle Opera House for 3,500 people. So from zero to about 180 in four seconds - it was just pure whiplash. That was KZAM Radio in Seattle that was so supportive and then King Radio in Portland, same deal, playing 2,000-seat theatres. And that happened across the country, playing the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, Scottsdale Performing Arts Center, Carnegie Hall - just crazy stuff, all around the country. So it was just meteoric.

On the label, were you conscious of wanting to welcome various genres?

With the concerts, I never really envisioned a record label. I remember a distributor saying, “So Will, what’s next at your label?” And I sort of was dumbstruck, sat there for a while and said, “Wait a minute, do you mean you’ll distribute anything I bring out now?” And he said, “Yeah, we’re distributing the label.” By the way, there was no Windham Hill Records in those days. It was just a one-off pressing. And it’s like, “I have a label?!” He said, “Yeah, you’ve got a label.” I said, “Oh, okay.” [Laughs] “Okay.”

And so I did a second record and then, there’s my cousin, Alex de Grassi, one of the greatest guitarists of the latter part of the 20th Century. He’s just really amazing. And he’s a carpenter with me on the crew. I said, “Alex, you know, you should do a record.” “Nah, I don’t want to.” “Alex, do a record.” “Okay.” And then I did a third record. And then I did a record of Erik Satie piano solos, in homage to the man who had influenced me more than anybody. A young pianist named Bill Quist, who lived up in Bolinas, California, still does, did that. And then David Qualey, who’s a German nylon string guitarist. Daniel Hecht wasn’t far behind that, another steel string guitarist.

And then George Winston’s “Autumn,” which just blew the doors off. Whatever had happened up till then was amazing and meteoric, but what happened with Winston was absolutely impossible to believe, four-star reviews in Rolling Stone and our fan base increased incredibly. The distributors, to a person, everyone one of them said, “Oh, Will, no, no, don’t bring out this piano record. You’ll wreck a really good folk label.” I said, “This isn’t a folk label.This has got nothing to do with folk.” “Yeah, but it’s solo guitar.” “It’s not folk. This is not folk! You guys have got it wrong.” And Windham Hill, I think in some respects, defined itself with the release of George Winston’s “Autumn,” because here was a piano record. People could not call it folk music anymore. What de Grassi was playing certainly wasn’t folk, nor was mine, although that influence was in there. But somehow or another, I think people just went, “Oh, okay, this is really something different. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty much unique. We don’t know what it is. I think we’ll call it “Windham Hill music.”

Everybody tries to pigeonhole things, but really, ultimately, even without my trying to do it, it ended being, “Oh, we just have to call it “Windham Hill.” I admit that I did see that happening and I designed and ran a full-page ad in Billboard, which had the words “Folk,” crossed out, “Classical” crossed out, “Jazz,” “Pop,” all crossed out. And at the bottom, it just said “Windham Hill” and had the logo. That’s all that was in the ad. I think it was a great, damn design, if you want to know the truth [laughs]. But it really, really got attention from the industry at that point. For people who knew what it was, they got it. And for people who didn’t, they wanted to know what it was. Once again, I don’t think that I envisioned the impact that that would have on the industry, but that’s really sort of the experience of Windham Hill in general, in that I don’t so much objectify as to simple instinctually do what I feel is right.

Anybody who gives me credit for vision, it seems like the wrong word, because I don’t think there was a vision. What I think there was, was a lot of instincts that took me in a direction that was really very unique. So it’s a little hard to take credit for it, in some respects, because it wasn’t intellectualized. But I don’t really work in an intellectualized world. I am guided by feeling and, if something moves me, if something really touches my heart and it feels honest, then, more or less, it could be on Windham Hill.

We tried to move into vocal work, but were sort of thrown back into our box of instrumental work. Ultimately, I did create High Street Records for the new singer-songwriters, kind of the New Folk movement. But it’s clear that the world wanted Windham Hill to be about instrumental music.

And somewhere along the line, the term “New Age” comes in. Is that something you were comfortable with?

No, never was. As a matter of fact, I think maybe “New Age” was crossed out in that ad. Most New Age had been sort of monotone, droning simplicity. I guess a couple of records that were important in that genre, I think have real merit. I mean, Paul Horn’s “Inside” - there were some things that were really lovely. I didn't want to be subsumed into a larger world, because we had managed to carve out a world that was unique unto ourselves. And the notion of sacrificing that by being subsumed, having the one-cell, the amoeba swallowing up another cell, was not something I wanted. And I think there was a lot of connotation about that music in New Age itself that I wasn’t really comfortable with.

Having had all this great success, what prompted you to step away from recording in the 90s?

Windham Hill, for better or for worse, became corporate. I don’t know how many employees we had, but it was big. And the fun went out of it for me. It wasn’t that I stopped enjoying music or working with musicians. But I really just wasn’t happy being in a corporation. The company could have gone on without me. Anne Robinson [the label’s co-founder and Ackerman’s former wife] was amazing. She was the practical side of the company. I was allowed to be emotion-driven, music-driven. And Anne’s incredible intelligence and skills were what allowed that to happen.

When I left, Anne did stay with it for a while and stayed more in the corporate world, but for me, the fun had gone out of it. There was no ill will. I still was very proud of Windham Hill in every respect. It was a typical Ackerman deal, where - I’m not happy, it’s time to go. It’s just reading the emotions again. And I think it was the right thing. When I sold Windham Hill to BMG, I had a two-year non-compete, during which time I couldn’t produce anybody. And I started a Spoken Word label called Gang of Seven. It was really, really fun, working with people like Spalding Gray and Wally Shawn and Barry Morrow, who wrote “Rain Man.” And Tom Bodett - all these really, really wonderful people who were storytellers. So that was great fun.

But pretty much on the date that the non-compete had concluded, I knew that I really, really wanted to get into making music again. I created Imaginary Road Records, as a company, with what was then Polygram and later sold to Universal. And now Im producing maybe a dozen artists a year, all people that are making music for their own record labels. There really, arguably, aren’t any record labels anymore. So it’s almost the only game in town. Todd Boston, is one of the guys that I’ve produced.

We had the Windham Hill samplers in the day of Windham Hill, which was one track from everybody that did a record that year or whatever. And they were tremendously successful. Every one of them went gold or platinum in those days. And I’ve recently begun releasing something called “The Gathering” CDs, which are cognate to a Windham Hill sampler. This is an album that has, perhaps, 20 artists on it, all people I’ve produced in the last year-and-a-half or something like that.

There’s a radio format called ZMR, which is what we work in. And that record, the first volume, went to number one on the ZMR charts, the highest rating of any record in the history of those charts and won a ZMR Album of the Year Award. So we’re off to a good start. The second volume came out and also went to number one. And we’re about to release the third and actually have the fourth on the books, as well. So I’m literally more active, in terms of production, than I’ve ever been in my life. And I’m enjoying more than I ever have. And I think I’m better at it than I ever have been.

What do you view as being the Windham Hill label’s lasting legacy, influence, impact?

That might be better for others to day. I think what was remarkable about Windham Hill was its sheer innocence, that it was all about heart, that it was about music. It was never about the money. The money that did come only facilitated a further ability to take new chances, to turn people on to more music. It showed that, in business, innocence can work and be successful, that something that is heart-driven and not cynical can be successful, that something can be created that becomes a bastion of freedom for artists, not to be told how they’re going to record, but simply facilitating what they do. I think we filled a bit of a vacuum into which people who didn’t quite know what their definition was, musically, but knew that they weren’t going to go into a purely classical background or purely jazz background, found a home for something that was perhaps a little more self-expressive than any of those genres might offer them.

Over the years, the people who come out to shows and people who email or send letters, it’s very, very touching stuff, talking about how the music got them through a tough time in their life. I hear stories that are so powerful - the wife who would write me and say that her husband had passed away and that he had chosen to listen to my music, or another of the artists on Windham Hill, as he left this Earth. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that. Children being brought into the world, listening to Windham Hill. I would often write back and speculate that, perhaps, the children had been conceived listening to Windham Hill. But that place that the label had in people’s hearts, in their lives, in some of the deepest, emotional parts of their lives - that’s a pretty great legacy, right there. And I think that’s probably the one that matters to me more than anything else… The marriages that were to the music of Windham Hill, that people chose that in such important times in their lives, that’s pretty great.

Are you still performing often?

No, very little. It makes me nervous, because I’m not very well rehearsed. I get through it. What my fingers may lack these days, my heart, I hope does compensate for. And I don’t say this cynically, but frankly, what sounds to me as if there was a collision of two jets at 600 miles an hour is not noticed by the audience… or maybe they just think is a jazz chord. I’m not terribly well rehearsed, but I’ve got set of music that I feel connected to and I really do enjoy doing it. But it’s a little nerve-wracking, because I’m not at the top of my game, as I was years ago.

But you’re still enjoying creating music, producing.

It’s so much fun now. One of the compensatory elements of being 66 is that hopefully, you get a little bit wiser. It’s interesting to see how my ego has disappeared from the equation. I recognize that my role is to facilitate what these people are hoping for. I make it clear that any decision is their decision. I’m never going to be dictatorial. I will express, in no uncertain terms, what I think is the right decision. And I think that most people who come to work with me respect my history and come to trust me to the point where they’re not going to dismiss that out of hand. But ultimately, I am working for them. And it’s so lovely that there’s never a time now where my ego’s in the way. I can let go. I can just say, “I’ve said what I need to say.” And I don’t pretend that I’m always right. I do think history indicates that I’m very often right. But they come to me knowing that. So it’s really lovely to get to this point where I understand my role better than I ever have. There’s less tension in it. Working with Tom Eaton at the board, who’s also my co-producer now, I’ve never had more fun in my life - the partnership with Tom, the quality of what we’re doing. Tom is brilliant, I think the best engineer and I’ve seen some damn good engineers. And he’s a musician himself, a pianist. Our partnership in production is just the most enjoyable relationship I’ve ever head in my entire life. So I’ve never been happier at this than I am now.

Tom is a young guy. He’s in his forties. But he knows the Windham Hill catalog. He knows the Windham Hill catalog better than I do. He studied Windham Hill. That’s what inspired him to get into music. So he finally gets to work with Will Ackerman. Okay, big deal. And he said that he came to me to learn Will Ackerman’s system. After about a year he said, “Now I realize that there is no system. All you do, all day, is make binary decisions - yes, no, yes, no. You pick your way. And somehow, remarkably, at the end of the day, with all those binary decisions you’ve made, you come out with the music sounding like Will Ackerman produced it.”

And it was such a lovely revelation for me. Nobody ever bothered to look at my methods and to hold up that mirror. It ends up sounding like Will Ackerman was involved, because Will Ackerman’s heart was involved in every single decision. That was a beautiful little gift that Tom gave me in that moment, because I always felt like, “God, I don’t know how I get there. It’s a mystery to me, too.” It still is a mystery, but it was kind of amazing to have this man care enough to realize that, no, it was just Will’s heart that’s guiding the whole thing. I think that’s the thing that has not changed. And I think it was the reason Windham Hill worked, because it was just honest and heartfelt.

For the latest on this artist, visit www.williamackerman.com.