Imagine you are gifted with a piano keyboard at birth. You have 88 keys awaiting you to explore, master, to express the full length, width, height and depth of a human incarnation. Why do you play so few? Why stay just in the middle of the keyboard, why hit each key with the same unvarying touch, why learn just one tune and play it over and over again the same predictable way? Who taught you to only play the white keys (if you get my drift), to only play the notes someone else wrote down ages ago, to keep the same unchanging tempo and the same bland 4/4 rhythm? 88 keys and their unbounded capacity to express the full dimension of human intelligence and feeling and you’re using so few of them.
This on my mind after attending SF Jazz’s 10th Season opening concert with the extraordinary jazz pianist Hiromi playing solo piano. Now that was a lesson in using the whole keyboard. She growled down in the low notes, tiptoed up to the high notes, swooped down and lifted up from top to bottom and bottom to top, rested on some branches in the middle before taking flight again or flying down to the ground. The range of tender touch to whole body explosive pounding, from gentle caresses to strong deep tissue massage, the range of languid summer day tempos to vital, dynamic and virtuosic rapidity, swiftness and breathtaking speed, the complete involvement of her dancing body and expressive face— all of this and more strummed all the strings inside the listening audience’s body, reminding us what lives inside of us waiting to be awakened while we slumber through some bland middle in our own life’s keyboard.
The tunes themselves ranged from the Beatle’s Blackbird, an early morning quiet blanketing the hushed hall to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, an all-stops out thunder-and-lightning storm with fireworks at the same time. She played the most expressive 12-bar blues I’ve heard with nods to Errol Garner, Bud Powell, Art Tatum, Cecil Taylor and Thelonious Monk without being derivative or merely clever and some original compositions that continued to probe the corners of our capacity to think, to feel, to move. Her level of control, imagination, virtuosic technique and overall mastery of this difficult instrument made you wonder if she could rightly be considered to be in the same species as Marjorie Taylor Greene and her ilk.
I left the concert with the feeling that I expect of the best concerts— I just got my butt thoroughly kicked and my complacency to just settle for what I currently know and can do shaken rudely awake with a shout “Get to work!!! It’s late!!!!!”— combined with the loving affirmation—“You can do and have done some of this. Just remember to vary your touch, reach up high and get down low, get your two hands conversing more freely beyond the cliched left hand chords/ right hand melody, stop just wiggling your fingers and get your whole body dancing and your face more transparent to the feelings evoked.”
As with the piano, so with our lives. Let’s get to work. It’s late.