When Liz met me at Omaha's Memorial Park on Saturday evening last week, she marveled at how the people who'd been coming to the park as part of the "Play Me, I'm Yours" street-piano celebration had- up to that point- been respecting the 100-or-so-year-old H.P. Nelson upright at Memorial Park and not subjecting it to vandalism.
I wonder if Liz had a chance to come to Stinson Park at Aksarben Village and had taken a look at its Kranich & Bach "Mirrapiano."
Well, this past Tuesday, when I got back to Memorial Park that morning, I had the south stairs (site of the H.P. Nelson Upright Concert Grand) to myself and tried out "The Dark End of the Street." (Maybe you heard this 1967 hit for R&B singer James Carr done in the 1991 theatrical movie "The Commitments," about the band of that name.)
A few songs later, I saw Angie (that's right, the same Angie who, three days earlier, ended up teaching her daughter Lexi how to play "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater" on that same upright piano).
At first, I didn't recognize her...but that changed in a second. It was that, this time, Angie was in her jogging clothes. In fact, Angie told me that she loves to go jogging through Memorial Park, and it's something she does every day.
Some more songs after that...and I looked back, and found an audience had formed at the top of the steps.
The audience consisted of two students from nearby Brownell-Talbot High School: Mia and her buddy Jessica, both of them doing their homework to the music in the park.
I got up from the piano and walked up the stairs to meet Jessica and Mia; then I found out that both of them had had encounters with the 88s in the past. (Mia had taken lessons...but had forgotten what she'd learned.)
So...I thought of what George told me three days earlier: "Get someone to actually touch a piano key!"
I invited Mia to actually touch four piano keys- middle C and the E, F, and G next to it.
Next thing Mia, Jessica, and I knew, Mia recognized that she herself had done the intro to "When the Saints Go Marching In."
And then Jessica came up to bat...and turned in a bit of an Adele smash, "Someone Like You."
Loved it! (Matter of fact, Jessica's piece will be heading for YouTube. I hope.)
The next person I met up with on that Tuesday, 8-27-2013, was...none other than Jim "The Music Man" Snyder, who's already got some jams on YouTube (including that knockout performance he gave in that very same park five days earlier, during the "PMIY" kickoff).
Man, Jim and I shot the breeze, traded tunes with each other, and in the meantime came two young mothers with two children. (You'll see all five of them together on the same video...soon as I get it up!)
One of the moms has a son named Jeff, who's interested in taking up the ivories...and man, little Jeff just couldn't wait to get his hands on the H.P. Nelson keys.
I needed to get the first names of the remaining members of that foursome listening to Jim Snyder crank up Hank Williams' 1947 winner "Move It on Over."
Anyway, after I shot footage of Jim S. and of the moms, the little boy, and the little girl in there, the 71-year-old saloon pianist shot footage of me. (I want to turn that into www.youtube.com as well.)
By the way...the first thing I did when I got to Memorial Park that day was take the music rack off the old piano.
Well...it worked for Jo Ann Castle all those years (1959-1969) she did The Lawrence Welk Show! Worked for Eubie Blake, too.
I turned in "Chantilly Lace," the signature hit (1958) for J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. And I did it as- you probably guessed it- a rag.
Jeff's mom and Jim S. had a real good conversation going. (Jeff's mom also plays those keys...and would've sat down to tickle away if she hadn't been pressed for time.) And one of the things the elder Jim said really struck me: "You want to be the performer everybody loves...not the one everybody feels sorry for."
Jim Snyder regarded me as a professional.
I thought it was the other way around, with him being the pro. The REAL pro.
Jim was born in Pennsylvania, then he and his parents moved to New Jersey, where Jim's dad worked in a defense plant.
The dad loved music, too, and played a heck of a piano. He instilled his own love of black dots in little Jim...to the point where the father, during 1942-43, would hold his infant son by the legs while manipulating those keys.
Not once did he let little Jim fall to the floor.
Jim grew up to have a son himself...one who'd been singing before, dropped out of music, and is now back into it.
Jim the Music Man also pointed out that music is something you've got in you...period. And it's something we can't really get along without.
By the way, Jeff and Mom took their turn- standing up- on ol' H.P. as Jeff led the way with "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." (YouTube-bound for sure!)
Well, as was the case the previous three times I'd been to Memorial Park (the first three times I'd ever been inside that Omaha landmark in my life), this fourth time truly was a charm. And I'm fired up about heading to Council Bluffs, IA this Saturday to try out the Bayliss Park piano.
And yes...when I got done, I put the music rack back on the Memorial Park piano.