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.

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