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.