You might say that John Sawoski is impulsive. After four years at Stanford studying with renowned piano professor Adolph Baller, he decided to go to law school. The reason? “Cole Porter went to law school,” he says. “I wanted to be a composer, so I figured I might as well do that.”
Then, after five weeks at UCLA, Sawoski changed his mind. He and some other law students had just watched a movie together, and “there was a theme from the movie that was pretty catchy,” he recalls. “I went to play it on the piano, and all the students were like, ‘Wait—if you can play piano like that, what are you doing in law school?’” That was the end of his legal career.
Sawoski stayed at UCLA but switched his focus to songwriting, film scoring and record production. Today, he’s a professional composer, keyboardist and producer with a substantial list of achievements. He has played for a presidential inaugural (2001) and for several musicals, including Les Misérables, the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. He has composed, arranged and recorded film and TV scores, and has even appeared on TV (Will & Grace, Veronica’s Closet, Frasier) and the big screen (The Wedding Singer, L.A. Confidential, Man on the Moon). At one point last year, he was working as musical director for the critically acclaimed West Coast premiere of the musical Funny, You Don’t Look Like a Grandmother at the Santa Monica Playhouse while leading a singing group made up of three “Christines” from Broadway’s Phantom of the Opera and recording a demo for a new musical—all within the same month.
Sawoski met his future wife, Perviz, in 1996 while playing in the orchestra for a show she was directing. Three years later, they married. They live in Beverly Hills with their 18-month-old daughter, Sophia, whom Sawoski describes as “our biggest project at the moment.” But fatherhood hasn’t slowed him down much. He still runs the company he co-founded in 1999, Swan Orchestral Systems, which sells software and systems that make one or two keyboardists sound like a full orchestra. And this spring, he was preparing to play piano in a workshop production of a major new musical—an operatic adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo.