Monday, December 23, 2013

Notre Dame Didn't Get In This Time

Nebraska didn't make the field, either. (Both the Fighting Irish and the Cornhuskers came home 8-4 here in 2013...not good enough for an at-large team to make the 24-team field.)  

In fact, just nine of the teams that made a would-be version of the 2012 NCAA Division 1-A football playoff made it to this year's version. (We'll meet them later.)

And this year's field includes four clubs that are making 1-A playoff three that hadn't made this version of a playoff since it featured a 16-squad field. 

This time around, fourteen at-large spots became available. And it was all because (1) the Western Athletic Conference celebrated its 50th birthday by giving up on offering its schools a football championship and (2) a rift between the Big East's men's basketball-oriented schools and the conference's football-oriented members caused that league to drop football. (The men's-hoops-first institutions were allowed to keep the Big East name. Never mind that half the schools in the now ten-member league aren't even located in the Atlantic states, but right here in the Midwest.) 

The other members that were in the 2012-13 version of the Big East got together with some other schools to form a new league, the American Athletic Conference.  

Well...let's do it. Let's reveal the field for this year's version of a shoulda-coulda-woulda NCAA D-1-A playoff, with teams listed in order of seeding:

1. Florida State (13-0; ACC champ)/ 2. Auburn (12-1; SEC champ)/ 3. Michigan State (12-1; Big Ten champ)/ 4. Northern Illinois (12-1; MAC at-large)/ 5. Ohio State (12-1; Big Ten at-large)/ 6. Alabama (11-1; SEC at-large)/ 7. Baylor (11-1; Big 12 champ)/ 8. Central Florida (11-1; AAC champ)

9. Fresno State (11-1; Mountain West champ)/ 10. Stanford (11-2; Pac-12 champ)/ 11. Missouri (11-2; SEC at-large)/ 12. Louisville (11-1; AAC at-large)/ 13. Oklahoma (10-2; Big 12 at-large)/ 14. Arizona State (10-2; Pac-12 at-large)/ 15. South Carolina (10-2; SEC at-large)/ 16. Oklahoma State (10-2; Big 12 at-large)

17. Clemson (10-2; ACC at-large)/ 18. Oregon (10-2; Pac-12 at-large)/ 19. Ball State (10-2; MAC at-large)/ 20. Rice (10-3; Conference USA champ)/ 21. Duke (10-3; ACC at-large)/ 22. Bowling Green State (10-3; MAC champ)/ 23. UCLA (9-3; Pac-12 at-large)/ 24. Louisiana-Lafayette (8-4; Sun Belt champ)

Baylor and its old Southwest Conference foe, Rice, are in these Division 1-A playoffs for the first time ever. The Bears and Owls join fellow 2013 playoff newcomers Duke (the Blue Devils got pummeled by the Seminoles in the ACC title game, 45-7) and Louisiana-Lafayette (the Ragin' Cajuns ended Arkansas State's two-year reign at the head of the Sun Belt Conference, earning the automatic bid by beating the Red Wolves in mid-season, 23-7- getting the tiebreaker despite the two clubs sporting identical 5-2 league marks).  

The Bruins needed help from Fresno State in order to make the field and become the only one of eight at-large hopefuls with nine wins apiece in 2013 to extend the season. The Bulldogs came through, crushing Utah State in the first-ever Mountain West title test. 

Result: The Bulldogs' first 1-A playoff appearance since 1989, when Miami (FL) took it to Fresno State in the first round, 24-10.  

Three years later, the Hurricanes eliminated Bowling Green State in the first round, 15-6. (While the 'Canes went on to win it all in those 1992 playoffs, the Falcons never again made this version of the 1-A playoffs...that is, until this season's.)  

And UCLA is making its first playoff appearance since 1993, when the Bruins lost in the second round to eventual runner-up Notre Dame, 24-9.  (Eight years afterwards, these 1-A playoffs went from a 16-team field to the present 24-team one.) 

The 24-team field was in place the last time Ball State was a playoff entry...and that was in 2008, when the then sixth-seeded Cardinals (they skipped the first round) staged a miracle rally to bounce Oregon, 35-28, only to lose to Florida in the quarterfinals, 35-14. 

And as for the nine teams that are holdovers from 2012...they're Florida State, Northern Illinois, Alabama, Stanford, Louisville, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Clemson, and Oregon. (The Sooners won it all in 1985, 1986, and 1987- the only three-peat. The Seminoles came through in 1995, 1998, and 2000. And the Ducks took the 2011 playoffs, preceding the Fighting Irish as playoff kingpins.)  

Well, to get these 2013 playoffs off the ground, I'm going to do it with Lance Haffner Games' 3-in-1 Football computer game, and all the contests will be computer vs. computer. Soon as all the games get played, I'll come back to this blog and post all the results.

In the meantime, may you have a Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Kwanzaa...and thanks for reading "Boston's Blog!"

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Ago Today

It changed America's spirit.

It changed politics.

It changed history.  

It helped turn television into America's leading source for news and information.

And, made for a somber Thanksgiving and a somber Christmas.

On what turned out to be a sunny day in Dallas, TX, one of three bullets fired from the Texas Book Depository ended a history-making presidency one thousand days after that tenure began.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the youngest ever elected to the most talked-about political job there is (he was 43 years and almost six months old when elected on 11-2-1960), the first Roman Catholic person to get the job, and, as things turned out...the last standing US senator to win a presidential election in this country during the 20th Century.

And the fourth (and most recent chief executive) gunned down by an assassin.

I'd turned eight years of age eleven days earlier. And I was one of the millions of Americans who cried when it happened. 

Yep, I was born during the Dwight Eisenhower years...but I barely remember living through Ike's second term. Compared to memories of Eisenhower's last four years as commander in chief, I've got more memories of JFK's abbreviated term of office.

And those memories include his inaugural speech, his handling of the Cuban missile crisis, a nuclear test-ban treaty signed during the JFK years, America finally getting its space program rolling (okay, flying), the creation of the Peace Corps, and Kennedy's stand on civil rights. 

It took Joseph's and Rose's second son a good while to get hip to the message that advancing freedom all over the world (a message the 35th President brought out in his inaugural address) also means advancing freedom right here in these fifty states.

But after 250,000 assembled in front of the Lincoln Memorial on 8-28-1963, that did it.

And those Southern Democrats Kennedy spent most of 1960 trying to woo in order to take the White House back from the Republicans were just going to have to get hip, too.

Almost a week ago, someone from the Associated Press turned in an article talking about the speech JFK gave in response to the 1963 March on Washington. (The AP article made it to this past Monday's Omaha World-Herald, and that's where I saw the report.) 

One thing the article's author put in really struck me. It was the observation that, in lots of American homes during the bulk of the 1960s, you'd find pictures of three prominent people: Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King Jr., and...John F. Kennedy. 

Three symbols of hope.

Three symbols who ended up brutally murdered.

And these three symbols were killed before any of them could reach the age of fifty.     

When Kennedy took a bullet from Lee Harvey Oswald, it began the demise of America's famous "can-do" spirit. 

Don't think so? 

Think about all the talk about health-care reform...and about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. Think about all the talk surrounding whether immigration reform should take place here in the United States. Think about what's being said as to whether effective gun-control laws can ever get passed here. And now we talk about whether we should see to it that all of our country's children get a decent education...rather than how. 

One thing's for sure: Oswald's act (no, I'm not into conspiracy theories...especially about just how Bobby's and Ted's and Joseph the Younger's brother died) led to the 1965 proposal of the Constitution's 25th amendment that finally got ratified on 2-10-1967.

When Lyndon Johnson moved up to the presidency this afternoon in 1963, the nation went without a vice president...until LBJ's 1964 runningmate, Hubert Humphrey, became America's second-in-command on 1-20-1965.

Never again would America's government run sans a vice president.    

I've been going on YouTube to check out how ABC, CBS, and NBC (as well as WFAA-TV, the ABC station in the Metroplex) covered the events of 11-22-1963. 

Words such as "disbelief," "anger," "sadness," and "indignation" were reported to have come out of so many people's mouths that day.

Some of the mouths belonged to key government officials.

Speaking of key government officials...some of today's government officials would absolutely love to see the next US senator to have won the White House (that's right, the man in there now, Barack Obama) removed from the White House.

And at least one big-name hate-radio ( radio) host would love to see Obama (a US senator from Illinois from 2005 to 2008) gunned down. 

Really we HAVE to go through this again, with another history-making chief executive?  

Haven't we learned anything from the events that took place fifty years ago today?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Icing on the Cake

This was actually the next-to-last "Play Me, I'm Yours" piano I had a chance to check out. (I stopped by on my way to Village Pointe on 9-6-2013, because I'd heard stories about said piano getting vandalized.)

The stories about vandalism putting this piano out of commission weren't true.

And, as a result, I went ahead and, as originally scheduled, made this next-to-last "PMIY" piano the absolute last one where I'd spend a significant amount of time.

I'm talking about the 1920s R.S. Howard upright installed at Florence Park.

It was Sunday, 9-8-2013, and I was fired up about coming back to a place where, two days earlier, I fired up "Bringing in the Sheaves" before driving out to the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area's busiest shopping center. 

This time, I'd walked into...a birthday party.

And several children had beaten me to this uniquely-painted piano (with two of those children actually producing sounds from the 88s).

I didn't mind at all.  

In fact, I was excited to see Kishawn and McKenna show what they could do on an instrument transformed by Alicia Reyes-McNamara and her crew of youngsters.

I just took out my camera and started snapping pictures, then reached for my camcorder to come up with some video...all the while trying to blend in. 

Eventually, I ended up meeting the whole gang: David, Kelley, Becca, LaToya (some of the adults), Halsey, Harmony, Anna, birthday boy David Jr., and of course, McKenna and Kishawn (among the kids). 

One of the older members of the party wanted to know if I played...and eventually, I ended up doing "Happy Birthday."  

How'd it go?

Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

So Nice, I Had to Do It Twice

Well, there it was...Saturday, 9-7-2013. 

The day started out with me playing at the Ambassador Omaha, a nursing home at 72nd and Seward (not far from Crossroads Mall).

After getting done playing there at just after 11:00 AM and going home after that to grab a bite to eat, I headed back out to Village Pointe to play some more at the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area's busiest shopping center...and hopefully, to meet up with the artist who painted the center's "Play Me, I'm Yours" piano, Lisa Schlotfeld.

I met Lisa when the local arm of Luke Jerram's claim to fame kicked off on 8-23-2013...and I'd been itching ever since to make it up to her for not being able to try out that colorfully-painted Marshall & Wendell upright (from the 1910s) at the 8-25-2013 reception the Omaha Creative Institute and the crew from "PMIY" threw at The Pointe.

Got to the shopping center at 1:28 PM...28 minutes later than I'd hoped. (It was all because I'd started out late in the first place, ran into a traffic jam on West Maple Road, and then, when I finally arrived at Village Pointe, I had trouble finding a parking space. But I found one nevertheless.)

Once I made it to Village Pointe's Center Court, two little boys- Raymond and Rowe (could be Roe or Ro instead)- were showing what they could do on this century-old piano.

Not long after that, I got a chance to follow Rowe and Raymond...and the first thing I did when I got to the piano was take its music rack off.

And I launched into a song William Gray wrote in 1898, "She's More to Be Pitied Than Censured," one of the many treacly, sentimental ballads the 1890s were known for.

That is...I launched into the tune when a family walked over to the piano and heard the music and saw who was coaxing said music out of the 88s.

And so, I cut "Pitied/Censured" short and invited siblings Rebecca,
and Andrew
to play.

Had a ball watching the foursome tickle the keys. 

I liked how Andrew was cutting up; in addition, I loved Rebecca's version of "Fur Elise," which she followed up with something old-timey. Rebecca also showed Josh how to play "The Knuckle Song" and, earlier than that, showed Raymond how to do "Heart and Soul." 

Eventually, I ended up trading places and going back to ol' Marshall & Wendell to play "Pitied/Censured" in its entirety. Some other songs ensued- including some rags I'd written during the 1999-2005 period (like "Split Brains," "Ragtime Meadowlark," and "I Wanna Shout")- when a man who actually did make it to the VP reception (and tore it inside out, with the proof on YouTube!) came back to play those keys.
That's right...none other than Jim "The Music Man" Snyder.  

And we ended up spending the next hour or so trading musical sets. (And the crowd ate it up...especially the elder Jim's music!)

Jim Snyder's music included "Move It on Over," "Loving You," and even two Bob Seger numbers: "Katmandu" and that all-time favorite, "Old Time Rock and Roll."

I got the message.

When I got back to ol' Marshall & Wendell, I dusted off a 1956 R&B hit by the El Dorados, "At My Front Door." Then, I followed it up with Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally." I also answered "Loving You" with two of its fellow Elvis Presley tunes: "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear" and the one that put him on the map to begin with, "Heartbreak Hotel." 

The whole thing attracted the attention of quite a few passersby...including a woman named Beth, who's a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. (The Village Pointe exhibition got Beth to the point where she came away interested in making Lincoln the 37th State's next street-piano city!)

By then, The Jim and Jim Show came to an end...and it spun off into the Jim Plus Somebody Else Show.

With me the only Jim left, I still was hoping Lisa Schlotfeld could still make it to the shopping center so that she could once again hear her contribution in action. 

And just in case Lisa couldn't make the trip back to The Pointe, I knew I had to record myself and get it on YouTube (so that Lisa and others could see it).

And I knew I had to do better than the day before.

That's why I turned to a tune Lisa and others heard me do at Memorial Park at the very beginning of "PMIY," Omaha style: Good ol' "Do Re Mi," from "The Sound of Music." 

Worked out much, much better than my attempt the previous day to serve up "Aida's" most famous piece...that time as if Del Wood, and not Giuseppe Verdi, wrote it.

Speaking of workout...really glad that two young pianists came along to prevent the last segment of a fine, fine afternoon from turning into the Just Jim Show.

Charles came over and turned in something jazzy.

Not long after that, it was Emily's turn...and she came up with something classical.

Well, the clock was getting to the point where it would approach 5:00 PM...and it was time to wrap it up and stick the music rack back on this century-old upright. Time to go home. 

Or was it?

By this time, a Douglas County Post-Gazette reporter named Emily Heinzen strolled by and offered me the chance to get in that particular newspaper.

I got in...and knocked off my version of one of the first R&B hits to find favor with both Black and White audiences, Lloyd Price's 1952 landmark, "Lawdy Miss Claudy."

All in all, despite my not getting the chance to hook back up with Lisa, it was still a great, great outing.

Turned out to be one of the many, many reasons I'll never, ever forget Luke Jerram's most famous contribution coming to the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Get to the Pointe!

Village Pointe, that is.

Ever since Lisa Schlotfeld, the artist who painted the Village Pointe Shopping Center's Marshall & Wendell 1910s upright, invited me during the 8-23-2013 Memorial Park get-together that kicked off the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue "Play Me, I'm Yours" art exhibit to come out to the Omaha Metro's busiest shopping center to play for a reception two days later (only to find out I couldn't come to the reception due to a prior engagement), I'd been pointing to the first opportunity to come out to the Pointe. 

The engagement that kept me away from that earlier opportunity to play the Village Pointe piano: That month's meeting of the Great Plains Ragtime Society, the folks who put on the annual Ragtime to Riches Festival.

What's more, the GPRS meeting on 8-25-2013 happened at the Pink Poodle Steakhouse, a restaurant in nearby Crescent, IA. (This landmark restaurant features, among other things, three player pianos.)

So, after twelve long days, I arrived at VP's Center Court (173rd and Davenport Sts.) at 10:28 AM on Friday, 9-6-2013...and I met up with Steven Raphael. 

This time, though, Steven and I didn't have the shopping center to ourselves.

We had a pretty good crowd during the three-hour period I managed to spend at Omaha's most popular shopping center. Lots of young moms and little children passed through Center Court and listened to Steven and me...but Steven went back home around 11:45 AM.  

All the while preparing for the opportunity to give ol' Marshall & Wendell a go, I kept thinking about one of the most often-quoted phrases to come out of the last twenty years: "It takes a village..."

So I picked out some songs with American cities' names in the title ("The Sidewalks of New York," "Sweet Home Chicago," "Houston," "Detroit City Blues," etc.)...when I wasn't doing railroad songs ("Wabash Cannonball," "John Henry," "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad," and so on). 

By the way...the first thing I did when I got a chance to start playing was take the music rack off the piano. This not only exposes the upright's inner also brings the sound out.

And I just didn't want to hog the every chance I got, I'd ask passersby if any of them tickled the ivories.

It turned out that a little boy named Jack answered the call.

Result: One of Jack's exercises is now on 

Speaking of exercises...when people find out you can play an instrument, some want you to teach them how to play said instrument.

I get that a lot...but I'm not really much of a teacher. Still, a man named Roland (he's on Village Pointe's maintenance staff) asked about whether or not I'd be able to teach him.

It's going to be tough for Roland and I to hook up, what with both he and I holding down hectic schedules. (Oh, well...) 

Still, that C-E-F-G trick I learned early on in the local going of Luke Jerram's claim to fame is a step toward teaching someone to play the 88s. At the very least, it helps generate interest in somebody who's never played (but wanted to)...and helps those who played in the past (but gave it up) get that I've-got-chops feeling again. 

Well, as big as that first Friday here in September 2013 was, the next day was even bigger.

And I'm going to talk about it in my next post.

I'm Jim Boston...and thanks for reading this blog!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Steven and Jim Show

The next stop on my two-week-long piano crawl was Omaha's Rockbrook Village Shopping Center, the "Play Me, I'm Yours" stop that featured Paula Wallace's charming take on a Wurlitzer studio piano from the 1950s or 1960s (or maybe the 1970s). 

Paula gave the piano a Cinderella-themed look...right down to the presence of a fake mouse!

At any rate, if you're an American and your formal education took place between the 1950s and 1970s, chances are one of the schools you went to had a Wurlitzer studio piano...or one by competitors like Baldwin or Everett.

I didn't get to see Paula this time (although I met her at the "PMIY" kickoff at Memorial Park on 8-23-2013).

In fact, the only person I saw at Rockbrook Village the Tuesday (9-3-2013) I stopped by was...none other than Steven Raphael.

When I got to the Rockbrook Village gazebo, Steven was playing and singing "Ain't Misbehavin'." 

I knew Steven was (and still very much is) an excellent pianist (as a matter of fact, he got his own public access TV show on Cox Cable Omaha not long after moving here to Nebraska from California in 1998)...but I didn't know he sang, too.

Man, I really loved what Steven did with that Fats Waller-Andy Razaf classic from 1929. 

After that, Steven became the listener and turned the piano bench over to me. 

He wanted to know if I'd gotten any requests since the local "Play Me" kickoff...and I told him about a little boy named Joel, who saw me at Memorial Park after the art exhibit officially got under way. 

Joel's favorite song is "Baby Elephant Walk," from the 1962 movie "Hatari!" And I'd never even tried the song until "Play Me, I'm Yours" came to the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area...but now, because of Joel, I'm getting more comfortable with the Henry Mancini composition. (Speaking of Henry Mancini...after giving Steven "Baby Elephant Walk," I tried "Moon River..." from another movie, 1961's "Breakfast at Tiffany's.")

The conversation Steve and I had eventually came down to memory. 

And he wanted to know how I'd been able to remember people's names, what with me meeting so many during the local "PMIY."  

Steven found out that I try to repeat the person's name after I meet him or her; then I try to match the name with the person's face. 

Then he said something rather profound after I (sheepishly) told him that they tell me I've got a photographic memory: "Everybody's got a photographic memory in something." 

He's right.    

And what Steven Raphael said ranks right up there with one of my dad's favorite messages: "It's always the end of the world...for somebody."  

It comes down to what each of us tends to focus on.   

Steven and I had a ball as the next phase in our get-together shifted over to trading tunes with each other...and I ended up recording two of his numbers ("St. Louis Blues" and "New York, New York," the latter being the theme to the 1977 film of that name).

Then he turned around and caught me doing two more songs ["Ma (He's Making Eyes at Me)" and "In the Good Old Summertime"]

Anyway, the four numbers are now up on  

We kept it up until the clock struck 11:54 AM, when Steve and I went our separate ways (he to go back home not far from Rockbrook Village, I to go back home in the Dundee part of town). 

But I took a little detour...back to the Midtown Crossing Shopping Center.

And when I got back to that fun 1920s Werner upright, I did what I said I'd do: 

I fired up "The Crazy Otto."  

Speaking of fired up...wait 'til you read my next post. (It's about what happened at Omaha's most popular shopping center...another of the ten "non-rogue" street-piano sites in the area.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013: M-A-G-I-C!

At first, it didn't look as if the second day of the ninth month of 2013 would have any magic to it.

And a snag ensued in the middle of the day.

But still, I'll never forget Labor Day 2013 as long as I get to draw breath. 

Just before 10:00 AM this past Monday, I arrived at Omaha's Tree of Life Sculpture (24th and L Sts.), site of a 1920s Richardson upright piano, decorated for the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area's leg of this year's "Play Me, I'm Yours" tour by Bill Hoover, who used a Haiku alphabet theme.

After parking in front of Southside Barbers (4526 S. 24th St., 68107), I started to walk up 24th Street when...a woman named Maria told me: "Hey! Come here! I want to talk to you!"

When somebody I don't know talks to me like that when I'm walking someplace, that's a red flag for me. 

Maria sat underneath one of the trees spaced along 24th Street in the south part of the Big O. When I sat down next to her, Maria announced that she was a Christian woman...and that she knew what people like me are like.


She also informed me that she was drunk. (That after asking me to spend some time with her...and wanting to know what I was doing in South Omaha.) 

I told her: "I heard there's a piano a block away...and I just wanted to check it out."  

I had the feeling Maria was going to lecture me. I mean, I'd been there before with so many other people who'd been drinking and/or using some other drugs besides alcohol. (You know, it takes, for example, just One Stiff Drink before you've all at once got all the wisdom in the world.)

I wasn't going to have any more of that. I grew up with that kind of thing.

And so, when Maria pulled out a cigarette and began to light it up, I made my way toward the Tree of Life quickly as I could.

When I got to the Richardson upright, I tested all its keys (and realized they were totally unaffected by the rain of the previous morning), took the music rack off, sat down, and thought of just what to start out with.

After a few seconds, I launched into Ritchie Valens' "Donna."

About three minutes later, I realized...four people were standing next to the old piano.

And they liked what I'd done with "Donna!"  

Marcos, Raimundo, Juan, and his young son Juan Jr. were the foursome who'd heard me do the flipside of "La Bamba."  

Man, I didn't want all the goodies to myself, so I asked them if any of the four also played the 88s.

I found out that Juan the Younger was taking lessons, so I traded places with him, took out my camcorder, and recorded footage of him trying out a song.

And I caught Marcos' playing on video, too...and, as soon as I get it all up on, you'll be able to hear what Marcos and Juan, hijo, did. 

I had a chance to do some more playing (Juan the Elder even caught footage of me doing "Creeque Alley," a 1967 hit for the Mamas and the Papas) when...two more people stopped by.

Their eyes lit up when they heard ol' Richardson being played.

The two sets of eyes belong to a married couple: John McIntyre and Laura Vranes...the very couple who donated said piano to the "PMIY" cause. (John's a branch manager for a bank; Laura's a school librarian.) 

Here's what happened: John's grandmother sold milk and eggs to buy that piano back in the 1940s...only to, later, give the piano to her daughter, Barb (John's mom).  

Barb went on to okay the donation of that amazing piano to the "Play Me" exhibit.

If Barb McIntyre had made it to the sculpture this past Monday, she probably would've been as tickled to death about hearing somebody tickle the piano's keys as Laura and John were.

Speaking of tickled...I threw in "Tickled to Death," the 1899 rag written by Charles Hunter (AKA Robert Hampton). That morning, I tried to go all over the map, with tunes like "Chiapanecas," the 1933 Albert Ackley hymn "He Lives," Scott Joplin's "Peacherine Rag," a 1963 hit for the Orlons called "South Street," and so much more...when a mother and her three children strolled over to the piano.

And as a result, I got a chance to meet Marisol, her sons Maximo and Mauricio (I hope I got his name right!), and her daughter Marisol Jr.

First thing I thought of when I met Marisol the Elder and her three children: "Get them to actually touch a piano key!"

No problem at all.

In fact, Maximo, Mauricio, and Marisol the Younger were eager to show what they could do on that amazing upright under the Tree of Life Sculpture. And as a matter of fact, Marisol Jr. told her mom that she (Marisol Jr.) couldn't wait to get another crack at the Richardson.  

After Marisol Sr. and her three youngsters left to go home, I went back to the piano and played some more. And all that time, I'd tried to keep from clashing with the drivers who'd had their stereos cranked up as they were traveling on 24th Street.  

And I tried to get and stay mindful of people trying to use their cell phones.

One of those cell-phone users stopped by, taking a seat underneath the nearest tree to the Tree of Life Sculpture.

I found out her name's Lynn...and that she's a nurse. 

Well, Lynn, Laura, and I had a pretty good conversation. In fact, it was a very good conversation.

And eventually, Lynn told me she wanted to hear me do "Amazing Grace." (She also offered to sing it!) 

I played "Amazing Grace" the conventional way so that Lynn could sing the song...but she ended up leaving the site in order to get ready to go to her job.

When that happened, I turned John Newton's testimonial into a rag.

It was now Monday afternoon, and I fielded another request...this time, from a woman named Emilia.

Man, I'm lucky to have retained enough of my two years (1969-71) learning Spanish in high school to be able to converse with Emilia. As a result, I was able to find out she was looking for Santana's "Black Magic Woman."

Coming into Labor Day 2013, I'd never attempted this 1971 smash in my life.

But I dug right in and gave it a shot.

And the audience- which included a John McIntyre who'd come back from running an errand to join his wife Laura Vranes- enjoyed it.

Now I've got to find out who actually wrote "Black Magic Woman." In spite of what I told the audience, Tito Puente didn't come up with that song. (Tito penned a later Santana hit, "Oye Como Va.")

Well, it was now 12:35 PM (Central time), and I was ready to pack it in. I started to put the music rack (a two-piece job!) back on that stupendous Richardson upright piano when John offered to help me fasten the rack back on the piano.

Good thing the rack went back on...for four piano students (Bridget, Kate, Abby, and Emma), their dad (Pat), and two of their grandparents (Michael and Carol) made their way to the sculpture, adding to what was still a good-sized audience. To top it all off, Abby, Emma, and Kate brought sheet music with them. 

Bridget (the youngest of the four and the only one playing from memory) went first.

And the exercise she'd memorized cooked!

Kate was next up to bat...and she came up with Johann Pachelbel's "Canon in D." This rendition received plenty of attitude from Kate.

And like Bridget before her, Kate received plenty of heartfelt applause.

Abby followed with Calvin Jones' most famous composition, "Whitewater Chopsticks." (It's the same selection that, when Gering, NE native Teresa Scanlan played it at the 2011 Miss America Pageant, helped her become the first Nebraskan to don the crown.)

Abby's version was excellent. Matter of fact, hers was an out-and-out killer...and the crowd let her know that.

Emma had to run the anchor leg...and run it knowing Abby had left the piano smoking.  

Well, Emma produced her own sparks. And she did it with a jazzy selection from the Mannheim Steamroller album "Fresh Aire."


With four excellent performances under their belts, Kate, Emma, Bridget, and Abby bowed to the audience, then waved to said audience.

A great time had by all.

Now it was time to go to Bellevue's Fontenelle Forest and try out the Wurlitzer spinet painted up by Bellevue University's Eric Luchian.

No such luck.

I got to the forest at 1:00 PM...only to find that the previous day's rains turned the Wurlitzer spinet's keys into 88 inanimate objects.

That still didn't detract from what turned out to be an excellent day...and I spent a couple of hours at my new safety valve: Midtown Crossing Shopping Center, the home of that 1920s Werner upright with the honky-tonk sound.

And with a morning and afternoon both full of wonderful memories, it turned out to be a magic (okay, M-A-G-I-C) day after all.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Halfway There

On Sunday, 9-1-2013, I visited my fourth and fifth "Play Me, I'm Yours" Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area piano sites. And, fortunately for me, they were three minutes' drive time apart.

A day in which I made it to both the ConAgra Foods Plaza and the foot of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge (at Lewis and Clark Landing) had a good news/bad news feel to it.

Well, I'm just going to get the bad news over with:

I didn't get to play the Lewis and Clark Landing piano, a Schmoller & Mueller spinet from at least the late 1920s.

It rained profusely early that morning, and apparently somebody forgot to put the lid over the spinet's keys to protect them from the storm. And so, not one single key on the piano worked.

But I did get some good exercise from the Lewis and Clark experience. On top of that, it was great to see an Omaha-based piano company represented...even if Schmoller & Mueller actually sold pianos rather than building them. (The instruments that bore the S&M name were actually put together by Chicago's M. Schulz Co., if not by a Richmond, IN firm, The Starr Piano Co.)  

Another thing: Half (if not that, a great chunk) of the "Play Me" experience is the artwork...and I like what the Teen Alternative Art Camp at the Joslyn Art Museum did to enhance that S&M spinet. 

You've got to hand it to the camp: The members painted "KA-POW!" on the bottom cover of the piano at Lewis and Clark.

I made it to Lewis and Clark Landing at 4:00 PM...three minutes after I left ConAgra Plaza. And I arrived at the plaza at 1:30 PM, after fighting to get a parking space within a block of the plaza's 10th and Farnam address.

And the early-morning storm made most of the white keys on the Hallet & Davis upright (from the late 1920s) at ConAgra Plaza unplayable...but didn't affect most of the piano's black keys.

I was about to pack it in...except the very artist who painted the H&D upright, Creighton University's Bob Bosco, arrived at the plaza just before 2:00 PM.  

Bob told me that another pianist was going to come in to play that afternoon, and he liked the idea of me trading riffs with that other pianist. (And besides, a good-sized audience had started to assemble at the plaza...some of the audience members being into the thing that keeps Bob going, yoga.) 

He also came up with a great idea to get the piano playable again: Turn the piano around so that it got sunlight to help dry the keys.

So...Bob, two other people, and I moved the upright so that it no longer faced Farnam Street.

It worked.

Met quite a few people early that afternoon at ConAgra Plaza. Besides Bob (whose love for yoga showed up in the redesign of that Hallet & Davis upright), I met Ethan (he's into piano, too). 

Not long after the upright got turned around came the other featured expert Mary Kay Mueller. A few minutes later, a father-son duo who'd worked with Mary Kay before arrived...Evan and his son Pete.

Pete brought his alto sax and used it to team up with Evan, who tickled the still-trying-to-dry-out Hallet & Davis ivories. Then, after Pete took over on piano, Pete went back to sax, Evan returned to the 88s, and Mary Kay joined in to sing (with Evan doubling on backing vocals) Bill Withers' "Lean on Me."

After that, Mary Kay took a piano solo.

All the while, two more people I met up with- Frances and a fellow former Iowa State University student of mine, Alan (could be Allan or Allen instead; I hope I'm spelling your name right)- kept encouraging me to go up there.

And all this time, I kept wishing the battery-level indicator on my camcorder hadn't turned up red. I wanted to get more footage of the ConAgra Plaza goings-on, that was for darn sure.

Still had my digital camera...but even then, I was skating on thin ice, what with two fresh AA batteries left to my name at the moment. 

Finally, I took Alan's and Frances' advice and took to ol' H&D as part of the festivities.

The piano was still in less than razzmatazz shape, so I did some slow blues at first...then, eventually, sneaked in Scott Joplin's "Peacherine Rag."  

Speaking of blues...any time I ask people if there's anything special they'd like to hear, and they end up saying "I don't know," I tell them that there really is a song called "I Don't Know." (It was a Number One R&B smash in 1952 for the man who wrote and recorded it, singer-pianist Willie Mabon.) Before Bob, Evan, Mary Kay, Pete, and Co came to the plaza, I played "I Don't Know" for a family whose members made it to the spot after I got there.

Because so many white keys were out of kilter that I couldn't do it in G, I had to go to G flat to get "I Don't Know" over. And the song was written in A flat!

But the time I spent at ConAgra Foods Plaza went by quickly; had a great time shooting the breeze with Frances and Alan/Allan/ well as listening to Mary Kay, Pete, and Evan (when not playing).

Toward the end of it all, Bob did some yoga exercises to the tune of a song Mary Kay played. 

After the big audience left, a married couple- Braxton and Bailey (he and she, respectively)- came by, and Bailey took photos of Braxton tickling the still-trying-to-dry Hallet & Davis keys.

They left, then I gave Bob Bosco's "Yoga Piano" one more chance, closing out with "Tin Roof Blues."

And I left to go to the landing...only to find I'd have to wait until the next day to get some more piano jollies (not only as a musician, but also as a listener).

Wait 'til I tell you what happened that next day at the Tree of Life Sculpture!

Another Rogue!

After I got back to Omaha and washed up and changed shirts to go back out, I found out I had some time on my hands before going to the 5:00 PM Saturday service at the church I attend.

So...I went to the Midtown Crossing Shopping Center to check out a piano I'd heard on YouTube.

Like that 1916 Bush & Gerts upright at Sweatshop Gallery, the Midtown Crossing piano isn't officially one of the "Play Me, I'm Yours" instruments.

But it's still some kind of fun to play!

Midtown Crossing's piano is a Werner upright from the second half of the 1920s, and it's found in the garden space of the shopping center. (The garden space is between Prairie Life Fitness, a restaurant known as the Black Oak Grill, and another restaurant, Crave.) 

On, a teenager named Isabella turned in snippets of two classical pieces she played on this Werner upright. And they sounded great!

Ragtime greats Del Wood and fellow Tennessean Johnny Maddox would've really enjoyed playing ol' Werner, because it's got that real "honky tonk" sound.

It's also got a palette- with real dabs of paint and a real brush next to the palette- right in the middle of the music rack. What's more, the design team led by an artist named Larry Roots replaced the wood of the music rack with Plexiglas (so that you can actually see the hammers). 

Well, I spent an hour playing this piano, starting out with "Tennessee Waltz" and "That's All Right" before going through some much older "The Entertainer" and the one that made Del famous, "Down Yonder."

All this time, I was able to get the attention of quite a few passersby...such as a security guard named Derek and a woman named Lisa, who lives in the apartment complex next to the shopping center. (Lisa played the piano until getting in an accident...otherwise, she would've done her version of "Fur Elise.")

Three little boys- one named Pedro, another named Gustavo, and the name of the third escapes me- tried the C-E-F-G trick I started showing people a week earlier.

Then after the boys left the garden space, the audience changed over to four teenage girls- Sydney, Cindy, Liz, and Prithee.

Of the four of them, only Prithee had had any prior contact with piano she ended up coming over to the Werner upright, where she played the first part of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Minuet in G." (This is the same piece 1960s songwriters Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell transformed into "A Lover's Concerto," a 1965 Number Two pop hit- and Number Four R&B hit- for a singing group called the Toys.)

Well, by 4:38 PM, I had to pack it in.

But I really DO want to get back to Midtown Crossing to play that "honky tonk" piano before they take it away.

After all, I'm itching to do "The Crazy Otto." (That's the rag that not only put Johnny on the map, but did the same for its originator, Fritz Schulz-Reichel, the original "Crazy Otto.")