Wednesday, January 7, 2015

George's New Piano

A music story, apropos of yesterday's posting:

In my early 20's, I used to sit in in a black bar in Jamaica Queens, down near the airport, called the Skylark Lounge. I had made an effort to meet and play with as many of the musicians who'd played with saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk as I could, and his drummer, Walter "Baby Sweets" Perkins, worked here, and sometimes his pianist, Rahn Burton, too. It was a hard-swinging, high-spirited roadhouse (with good soul food, to boot!), but the downside was the awful electric piano. An off-brand model at least 20 years old with cigar burns on several of its cheap plastic keys, it sounded like a children's toy, and frustrated house pianist George Grannum's best efforts.

One day, I stopped by and found George setting up a new instrument, a state-of-the-art synthesizer. Capable of simulating string sections and wind chimes, it had obviously cost him an arm and a leg. It was entirely too fancy for the task of jazzy/bluesy piano playing in a gin mill, and, sure enough, right in the middle of "Embraceable You", George hit a wrong button and the room was filled with a cacophony of space laser sound effects. No one found it amusing. It was a disaster.

Soon afterward, I left town to play a tour, so it was a few months before I returned to the Skylark. Walking in the door, I was stunned by what I heard. George had apparently tamed his high-tech beast, and was happily playing away, having found a way to make it sound exactly like his old piano.

When the band took a break, I shook George's hand, and congratulated him for mastering his sophisticated new instrument. Yeah, he replied, weightily, it'd taken a whole lot of work, but he'd finally gotten it to sound just the way he wanted it.

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