I started piano lessons at the age of seven. That would be a lot more impressive had I been practicing steadily since then, which of course sadly I have not. My grandmother bought our family a spinet piano in the early 1960s. Years later I came across the old installment loan papers in the bench, revealing that Grandma had paid the princely sum of $1300 for the piano at a time when the average annual family income was all of $6,691. Ever since, I have felt the slow but steady amortization of a guilty conscience goading me to make good on her investment.
My mother worked two jobs to afford me, among many advantages I scarcely appreciated at the time, lessons in theory and technique at the preparatory school of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. I suppose they should have seen trouble coming when my audition piece was an improvised boogie woogie, but a few years later my professor politely asked me not to return for repeated failure to practice the classics. More’s the pity. As a consequence I never got to be really good, though I tell myself I might have been. I have since suffered the curse of people who played just enough piano as children to realize how enjoyable it could be. We are doomed to buy grand pianos for the rest of our lives, promising ourselves that “one day” we’ll get back to it—which brings me to my present life in London and this web page with the unlikely title, “Music.”
In November 2018, at the London Music showroom in Soho, I purchased Yahama’s new digital grand piano and crammed it into the snug of our Victorian cottage, banishing the telley to the spare bedroom upstairs. The geniuses at Yahama have encoded the exact sound of a Yamaha and a Bosendorfer concert grand piano (you can choose between the two) onto a digital chip and installed it in a grand piano case. They have used the same keyboard found in all Yahama acoustic grands, with a hand-crafted wooden action and weighted wooden keys. Apart from the sound and the feel, an irresistable feature of this gorgeous instrument is that you can digitally record what you play onto a USB flash drive installed beneath the keyboard, which explains how I made the recordings you see below.
Now, to practice . . .
Babes in Toyland
This was my mother’s favorite song and the one she constantly begged me to play. To my great regret I never bothered to learn it until years after her death. So, Mom, if you’re listening, here it is at last and better late than never, I hope. Thanks for the piano lessons, your love and kindness and concern, and a great much else besides. Recorded in London in November 2019.
You’ve Got A Friend in Me
My son Kip was five and my daughter Caroline was nearly four when the movie Toy Story came out, featuring this iconic Randy Newman tune. One of the great gifts of fatherhood was the permission it gave me to be silly and relive with my children my own childhood. I certainly hope they know they will always have a friend in me. Recorded in London in November 2019.
Theme from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood
This song played at the start of every episode of the famous TV series that aired in the US from 1968 to 2001. In testament to the worldwide popularity of Mr. Rogers and his message, when I played my interpretation of this iconic tune in my London living room in November 2019, a 22-year old British woman who is probably too young to have ever watched the program when it aired recogized the music and recalled the name of the show instantly.
This is my interpretation of the signature tune composed and made famous by one of my earliest musical idols, Fats Waller. Recorded in London in October 2019.
Our Love is Here to Stay
The immortal tune was the last one written by George Gershwin before his death in 1937. The version I have here improvised was recorded in one take on January 8, 2019, on the new Yamaha CLP695GP digital grand that seems to have swallowed whole the parlor of our London Victorian cottage.
As Time Goes By
The song, written in 1931 by Herman Hupfield, was made famous by the pianist played by Dooley Wilson in the film, Casablanca, and immortalized by Ingrid Bergman’s line, “Play it again, Sam.” It has been a staple of my cocktail repertoire since I was about fourteen years old. I learned it from a family friend who, like so many others back then, learned it after the film came out in theaters. Casablanca was reportedly John F. Kennedy’s favourite movie. According to Wikipedia, As Time Goes By is second on the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 songs in American Cinema, exceeded only by Over the Rainbow. Recorded at home in London in November 2019.
This song, written in 1954 by Erroll Garner, was one of several jazz standards I learned in the early seventies. Most of the others I have forgotten, and this one I have forgotten and relearned several times over the years. It was one of two standards I could still play reasonably well by heart when I met my wife Jill, in December 2015. Friends had invited us that year to their home for a New Year’s Eve party. When I sat down to their grand piano, one of the guests half-jokingly shouted the famous line, “Play Misty for me,” and I did just that. Lucky for me, I remembered it well enough to fumble it out and stop before anyone asked me to play anything else. Recorded at home in London in November 2019.