Though I often complain of my childhood piano teacher’s methods—opening the door to the 88 keys of the piano (beginning with yet more on the organ) through the portals of Trudy Treble and Bobby Bass ushering me in on the printed page—I really have to take a moment to thank Mrs. Lutz. I redecorated the house of music in ways she couldn’t have imagined, opened the windows and found new doors to invite others in and new ways to make them feel at home— and even had to re-do the shaky foundation of black dots on paper without any singing or dancing. But in spite of it all, that first lesson 65 years ago set me out on my life’s work and the fact that I still spent an hour or three a day still working my way through the intricate neighborhoods, complete with hills that require the full measure of my effort to ascend and winding streets that demand my full attention if I’m not to get lost, is something worthy both of astonishment and gratitude.
It wasn’t until I turned 60 that I finally consented to call myself a musician and the last two days playing at Flower Piano and Friday at the Jewish Home confirmed that audacity. After playing for over an hour yesterday with my new friend Javier on clarinet, continually asking if anyone else wanted a turn or whether I should stop and the growing audience of some 50 people unanimously encouraging us to continue, it was clear that we were connecting with the people in a way that only true musicians can. The range of our music— from ragtime to opera arias, bossa nova to Latin jazz to swing, Strauss to Sousa to Saint-Saens to Sullivan (Gilbert’s partner), jazz ballads next to Mozart’s sonata’s and even a free improvisation on Old McDonald for a shy little girl who told me her favorite song— we toured the crowd through world after world of sonic pleasure on a beautiful Fall day. As we were playing The Swan from The Carnival of the Animals, a flock of Canada geese swooped down to the grass to join the audience.
When we finally stopped, a young woman came and played—by memory— the challenging third Prelude and Fugue of Bach in its impossible key and continued with a tour-de-force Chopin Sonata that I had never heard. In both cases, her considerable technique speeding past me like a Maserati zipping by an old jalopy. But no need to compare and despair, they both have their place on the highway. It’s not a race, after all, and my growing ability to feel the full vibration of each note and sent it out to a listening audience like unrolling a red carpet to remembrance is my contribution from all these years of playing. I’ll take it.
On the other keyboard, the one on which I type this, I feel a bit more at home, but with the same hope of connecting to a listening audience and occasionally reminding them of things they either knew and had forgotten or didn’t even realize they knew and had forgotten. The past two days, I sent back to my oh-so-slow new publisher the final edited version of my Jazz, Joy and Justice book written in the Fall and was happy to see that it is precisely the type of book every author longs for—one that he or she is delighted to read. The rest of my time writing was spent answering e-mails, trying to arrange some four or five upcoming courses in Spain and Turkey, writing a syllabus for a Jazz History Course I’ll teach at a local university in the Spring, taking my first test since my driver’s test some fifteen years ago proving I completed the online Mandatory Child Abuse Reporter class so I could sub at various schools— and being so pleased with myself that I scored 90%! And so depressed about the state of child-raising as seen through the statistics.
So thanks to my Dad for buying that Hammond organ and Baldwin piano, those gifts that have kept on giving. To my first teacher Mrs. Lutz for introducing me to Bach, Beethoven and Jerome Kern. To my Mom for insisting I take some typing lessons before going to high school. To all my English teachers who gave me the tools of the writing trade (though interesting that none of them saw any promise that deserved the kind of mentoring I described a few posts ago. So I’ve just kept going with my own conviction unconfirmed or blessed by the elder).
Last night, I heard Brad Mehldau’s solo piano concert, a contrast to Hiromi’s, though both have complete command of their instrument and both played the Beatle’s Blackbird. Per my agreement with the neighbors, I can’t play piano until 10 am, but am eager to try out some of the ideas I heard in his unique style of interpretation. And then, I’ll probably write about it sometime.
My life on two keyboards.