For some artists playing an instrument different from the norm can be a gimmick, but in the right hands it can be inspiring, as it is with Marie Haddad.
Haddad, who performs at Humphrey's Backstage Lounge on Wednesday, Feb. 27, released her debut album "A Lonely Road" in 2006, scoring a San Diego Music Awards nomination in the process.
Today, her music contains echoes of the likes of Leonard Cohen and Kate Bush, but early on her influences were far less respected.
"My parents used to watch the Lawrence Welk show every week," Haddad said. "The piano player had a mirror above his keys. As a 4-year-old, I was fascinated watching his fingers in it and begged my parents to get one for me."
Her parents soon bought her a toy piano but by her fifth birthday had upgraded her to a real upright model. While she loved the instrument, her first recital that year went less than smoothly.
"It was disastrous," she said. "I blanked on my song."
Seeing all the adults staring at her and not knowing what to do, she decided to improvise.
"I tried to make a piano piece up on the spot," she said. "Not a good idea, but I bet it'd be hilarious to hear a recording of that."
By junior high, Haddad had gotten the hang of performing and joining her first group, New Wavers Permanent Phaze.
In the ensuing years, Haddad performed with a cover band, Third Time Charm, and R&B-based big band The San Diego Beat Organization, but it wasn't until she began recording her own album that she finally put together a trio with Down With Leo drummer Nasr Helewa and Billy Midnight bassist Jason Hee.
It's a testament to Haddad's talent that both musicans approa-ched her.
"I was playing a monthly show at the now-defunct Twiggs coffee shop at the El Cortez, just me and my keyboard," Haddad said. "Nasr asked me if I had ever thought about adding percussion to any of my songs. Then a few months later, Jason approached me in the same way asking if he might add some bass lines to some of the songs."
She considers the musical combination to be a perfect match.
"Because we were already friends, collaborating was fun and easy," she said. "They both are amazing musicians and really helped in making the songs on the album what they are."
While her originals have garnered Haddad most of the accolades, she also has a reputation for interjecting choice cover songs into her set list.
"I try to pick songs that I already love but that I can try to put my own spin on as a way of paying homage," she said. "I generally wouldn't pick a piano-based song, let's say, by Tori Amos, or someone similar, because it would be hard to make it much different from the original."
Haddad names Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" as an exception to that rule but otherwise chooses more eclectic fare like The Turtles' "Eleanor," The Cure's "Love Cats" or The Cars' "Just what I Needed."
Currently in the studio recording her sophomore release, Haddad said she is happy with life as a musician. For her, the most important thing about being a performer is the personal connection with her audience.
"Hearing from someone after a show or someone via e-mail about a song that they've connected with means so much to me," Hadad said.
Looking ahead, Haddad is confident she is setting her best foot forward.
"Most recently, a psychic came up to me at a show and gave me a personal reading between my two sets. He saw some great things in my future, among which are a new pair of boots for the rain," she said.
Haddad performs at Humphrey's Backstage Lounge, 2241 Shelter Island Drive, Shelter Island, on Wednesday Feb. 27. Showtime is 8 p.m. for audiences 21 and up.
For more information, visit www.humphreysbythebay.com.