Monday, October 26, 2009

New York, New York

We observe family birthdays like composing a compressed symphony. There always has to be a theme – transition and captivating finale. How we arrived at this practice is still a bit of a mystery. Christmas encroaches then vanishes without much fanfare. Weddings are somewhere on the perimeter. October is big birthday month. Both Kristine and son Jesse rule the later part of the Libra cosmos.

Kristine was approaching sixty a number that can play havoc with the mind. For good measure she started reminding me at fifty-seven that sixty was only three steps ahead. It became a cause for impromptu comedy. I actually believed one morning I’d wake up and there would be an IV machine next to my lounge chair with a note – drip on!

I thought about what could be done to make this occasion memorable while keeping in mind failure could bring a medieval flogging. Rather than decide for myself I engaged my dear partner who without consternation blurted out – “I want to celebrate my birthday in New York - my home, my favorite place.”

How could one argue with that? It had been nearly twenty-nine years since I last set foot there. When I left they were still scribbling gang messages all over subway cars and robbing pedestrians.

I mentioned to Jesse about momma’s wish. Now, the next event came as a unexpected surprise.

Moments after our exchange two tickets aboard Porter Airlines arrive in the ‘in box’. That in itself was cause for celebration. Moment’s later accomodation at the Waldorf Astoria for three nights appears. At first I thought this was one of those Nigerian chain letters – you give me ten thousand dollars and I give you ten million bottle caps. As the supreme gesture began to enliven the room - tears of joy flowed like a endless crystal stream under a sunlit morning sky. The moment was grand.

Kristine made the plans – outlined our schedule. I fully trust this about her. Lincoln Center for Herman Leonard Exhibition, MOMA, Blue Note with Roberta Gambarini and Roy Hargrove – Central Park – and shopping. As soon as she mentioned shopping I understood this to be my chance for a nostalgic run through the Soho district – my home for two years in the late sixties.

If you haven’t flown Porter Airlines then you are missing one of the joys of flying away from Toronto. The small passenger plane is a delight. Unlike Air Canada there’s food awarded that tastes like someone actually prepared it with government regulations in mind.

We arrived at Newark International with little fanfare. The day was the same shade of dim gray as our surroundings. I scan the airport thinking of ways to make this a touch more appealing – like a bit of color. How about Chinese lanterns or gangland graffiti?

We decide to catch a train into Penn Station and cab it from there. A taxi ride is over $75 - train $15. That’s a better deal than a taxi ride from Davenport and Spadina to Queen’s Park in Toronto. One is a mere mile or so the other a small continent away.

The ride through New Jersey was everything I dreamt it to be. I thought I saw Tony Soprano whacking a guy near an excavation site. I just waved hoping New York wasn’t as drab and uneventful.

As soon as the train pulled into to Penn Station I could sense the energy level rise above nuclear. The jaunt through Penn terminal out onto 34th street was exhilarating. Everything was beating at an allegro tempo. I could sense my pulse rise in anticipation.

The drive to the Waldorf was a battle for road space and visual treats. A cab ride in Manhattan is more a drill than casual outing. Traffic flows without mishap largely due to the aggressive interplay between cabs. An open space is for the taking. You either capture or sit idle.

The Waldorf Astoria.

Luxury around our house is a movie, a measured amount of calm and two dogs near comatose.

As we enter the sumptuous surroundings the smell of steaming roast beef comes soaring by the nostrils. The aroma was almost too hard to resist until we were notified the brunch in the lobby could be purchased for a mere $100 a person. At that moment I began looking for the Tootsy Roll dispenser.

The Waldorf is all history and wealth. There’s a sweet fragrance throughout - a pleasant odor one can’t fully identify. In my mind it must be a combination of flowers, antiquated wood and carpet. I kept in mind Grace Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Winston Churchill, the Kennedys, Haile Selassie and even the frightful Henry Kissinger had all stayed there.

All thoughts of the Best Western quickly vanished once our room key unhinged the door. The change of scenery certainly put us in the right frame of mind. Kristine found nirvana in the girlie room off the bathroom. I had no business there other than ‘right of passage’.

My youthful days in New York were never quite this luxurious. I lived in a two room renovated flat in the lower east side. At the time it was a delight compared to my neighbors. I would sit on the fire escape and watch the Latino couple directly across scream and slap each other around. The fights were a daily occurrence. I once called the cops after hearing the young woman plead for her life. Later the police told me the woman chided them in a profane laced dress down to butt out.

The New York in front of me showed no signs of its diminished past. The streets are cleaner than Toronto – in fact I felt as safe as I did forty years ago when I first set foot on Canadian soil.

Where did my old nemesis go? The insane guy who erected a life position top of a trash can between my apartment building and subway stop.

Everyday I’d make the journey to either a gig or rehearsal or movie and this horrific guttural sound would emanate from his perch. ‘Hey shithead, I’m going to kill you. You just wait and see.” I kept thinking about wait and see. When was this? Was there a specific date or time of day or night? After a few months of intimidation I learned of my tormentor’s posturing in a nearby bar.

The old men who watched this act instill fear in passerbies knew the man was mentally challenged but never let on. For them it was comic relief. “Hey boy, you scared of that fellow – he won’t do you any harm – that’s just him. He’s a retard,” says one of the ancient specimens glued to a pint. Then the room howled in unison. I wondered what happened to the menacing guy – did he now have season tickets for the Knicks?

The time spent at Lincoln Center honoring jazz photographer and icon Herman Leonard was definitely a high point. The faces in the many photographs are the prime faces of jazz. The splendor of the images attest to the remarkable skill Leonard achieved with a camera and a couple lights which he attributes to time spent with portrait master Yosef Karsh.

The event was not only a triumph for Leonard whose career didn’t receive much traction until he turned 69. At 90 the man is an eloquent speaker and as robust and fluid as any man thirty years younger.

The grand portraits reveal much of each jazz artist. They aren’t snaps on the fly. They are carefully considered images that bring something from the inner regions of the soul forward as well as a true understanding of light – much like the celebrated painters of old. Light illuminates!

From a social stance this was the place to be if you were a jazz photographer. John Abbott who has photographed over 250 CD covers was in attendance as well as Chuck Stewart - whose work appears in Leonard Feather’s Jazz Encyclopedia, Esquire Jazz Book, Downbeat, The New York Times, Life, Paris-Match, Carol Freidman – who in the 1990s was chief photographer and art director of Blue Note Records, sports photographer Neil Leifer famed for his captivating images of sports legends Muhammad Ali, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and derby winner Secretariat among others.

The night for Kristine was an explosive mix of social and artistic splendor. Birthdays aren’t generally this culturally enriching.

Now, for the New York trapped in memory.

I have long anticipated seeing my old neighborhoods - retracing a few of the endless walks that seem to linger until exhaustion. I could still envision the train rides from downtown to uptown across to Brooklyn - cold searing winds sweeping through each open subway door -the smell of urine – the fearsome thugs who stalked the unsuspecting.

Well, the moment I slipped on board at 51st Street heading to Bleecker Street I realized the city in decay was buried and a polished jewel has emerged in its place.

The riders were no different than the latte set at Starbucks in my neighborhood. Laptops were at full face and clothes creased to perfection. Nowhere to be found were the rambling inscriptions of urban warfare that once defaced every neutral space.

As I began my stroll along Bleecker I saw the change – I mean big change. The tenements that once housed impoverished immigrants were now commandeered by glistening youthful faces. My first impression? A person could get deported in the Soho district for being under thirty. These were gorgeous young people – handsome men and attractive women co-existing in a world of their own design. The longer the steps the more streets pass with much the same in common. Cafes, trendy shops , exquisite building makeovers – all part of a more vibrant youthful New York.

My walk down Bleecker sealed the past for me. The Bitter End was still in play. I stood for a moment and thought about the steamy air thick evening I lounged in front of the door sneaking a view and listen to a dreamy looking Joni Mitchell sing in that angelic voice. Joan Baez did this for me years prior but Joni was something refreshing and alluring. There were the nights Neil Diamond packed them in – the comics – the folk singers – the soul thumping Electric Flag – the jam sessions. I then I set my sights on the Café Wha – my first gig in the city.

I’d been thrown to the curb by the band I had arrived with as they quietly exited back to California. New York scared them shitless! I remember standing under an awning with a cool rain lighting the neon streets and the four of us thinking – what’s next? Under the same protective skin was a guy who played drums with a band called Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys. He was affable and gracious enough to direct us to the Café Wha in search of employment. This we did the following day.

We copped an afternoon audition and just as fast the band vanished. No word, no warning. I’m left stranded with my portable organ and truck full of jazz sides and clothes. Those items remained for a week or so at some guy’s residence courtesy a local street hustler.

I was now homeless with no compass.

I slept in a telephone both. I slept beneath the Four Winds Café now the Blue Note. I hung next door with Jesse the wino from Louisville, Kentucky who’d arrive each summer drunk and serve life according to Jesse’s limited rules then return home for rehab. Jesse loved the women and hated the tourist.

The basketball court at 3rdStreet and Avenue of the Americas still casts a spell over the area. The greats from Harlem and players from NY University and lesser known would test each other in combat late afternoons. Early on – guys like me would take a few blows from the domain managers and play a few hours of three on three.

One early morning while I was rising from my overnight sleep nightmare I was awoken with a takedown a few doors from the Café Wha. A gentleman began a quick sprint down McDougall with a few cameras in chase when suddenly police emerge from all sides and wrestle to the ground. The guy then begins screaming for them to get the hell off. Suddenly, a crew of ten or fifteen men catch up and yell at the cops – “that’s James Coburn – James Coburn you just threw to the ground. We’re making a movie here.” The police retreat and Coburn coolly brushes down his garment and offers a hand. They were doing just that – filming outside the Café Wha in a VW hippie bus and down the street- The film – The President’s Analyst.

As I was reminiscing a young woman approaches with a clipboard. “Would you sign my petition and donate to a worthy cause,” she begs. I hear her out. “Do you believe in equal rights for gays and do you believe in same sex marriage?” I tell her I’m from Toronto and we’re doing quite fine in those areas. Then she reminds me of the persecution going on in America against gays. I tell her to keep up the battle and that she will eventually prevail. Then I remind myself outside of this cultural oasis lies Rush Limbaugh’s America.

The rest of my walk does nothing to rekindle the aromas and edginess of my past. Everything smells lovely even the fuel. Where’s the two inch thick pizza cooking through an open window, the grimy dude with the oily cloth wiping car windows, the broken glass, the badly painted hooker, where’s Travis Bickle?

I never expected to relive the past in high definition so I’ll let history remain stowed away in grainy black and white. As for Kristine, she likes her New York just the way it is – inviting, exciting and youthful and above all – an hour’s flight away! Happy birthday babe!

Monday, October 12, 2009

I Am Fire Dog

I’ve been reminded my birth took place during the Year of the Dog – 1946 and in some way that minor event underscores my love for this sometimes misrepresented devoted companion. I realize body structure and habits separate those two small free loaders sprinting between the bedroom and front door from me. Yet, I find it hard to relate to them as animals. I prefer most trustworthy friends. It just makes more sense. Besides, I have this compulsion to engage every passing dog in conversation as if they have a clue what’s on my mind.

My affection for dogs stems from my first encounter with the Disney melodrama the ‘Lady is a Tramp.’ My tiny brain could easily relate to things small and close to the ground – that’s where I spent much of the day. Now, what wide-eyed nine-year old wouldn’t fall for a love story between a Cocker Spaniel and Scottish Terrier?

1957 rolls in and ’Old Yeller' hits the film houses - another wonderful children’s play on loyalty and sacrifice. Yeller was a big yellow Labrador retriever who’d never let harm come to his adopted family. Oh yes - that played well with dog boy!

And then there was ‘Lassie’- this ‘always on duty’ rough collie and his soul mate Timmy. Every kid in the neighborhood wanted a dog like ‘Lassie’ even if there wasn’t much ‘sleepy rural town’ crime busting to done.

Not long after the films and television shows began to stir imagination dad brings home a mix breed from the dumps of Colgate Palmolive Company – the plant he stood guard a good thirty years. The part Beagle – part undetectable Bowser was quickly given the name ‘Corky.’ I have no clue why - other than it sounded like the kind of heroic dog that would stand guard over’ Lady’ and run as a eager pack member with ‘Old Yeller’.

Corky didn’t live much longer than a month.It was discovered he was riddled with cancer much to do with the nasty substances brewing on home turf - the Colgate dumpsite. They were the type of airborne toxins that chemically removed paint from employee’s cars in the company parking lot.

The loss of Corky played like the final seen in ‘Old Yeller’ – Dog goes down kid gets wounded. Oh my – how that hurt! I barely knew the dog yet I burdened him with my boyhood grievances. He was a great listener and seemed to understand. I think.

No other dogs were accorded top billing in my life until I was introduced to another mix breed pup in Greenwich Village. It must have been 1967 and someone brought this black and white with a spot of brown pup to me looking to bribe it a home.

I’m living on the fly and have little time to spend with the little fellow but work out a compromise with my roommate who spent most days attending Hunter College.

It didn’t take Spirit long to adapt to our two room flat. Every item became a massive chew toy. Shoes, paper, television, radio, cabinets, clothes, nearly everything I held dear was shredded. One day I pulled Spirit aside -looked deep in those vacant eyes and reminded him – Corky died for his sins.

I had no idea at the time how dogs were viewed around the world. To realize there were cultures that killed dogs over antiquated religious doctrine would have shocked and still to this day baffles me. In fact, try waving down a taxi in Toronto with two small dogs. I can’t count the times I’ve been waved off or refused due to some cultural mistrust of dogs. This is Canada not some far off desert community where some kind of orthodox voodoo is practiced against dogs.

A lifetime interacting with my own species has given me plenty insight into people's motives and actions – the good and bad. Life becomes fairly predictable. Yet, there is nothing more predictable than the dog hovering nearby.

The eyes are totally void of hate, envy, greed or most devious behavior. Nothing pleases my two joy pals more than comforting family or receiving the same in return.

Both Yorkie blended terriers assume I really enjoy hitting the living room floor at 9:PM just when I'm settling in for a movie - for a good forty minutes of ‘lob the squeak toy’. I think they believe I lay awake at night dreaming of the moment when the toy lands nearby - a sticky, soiled mess of goo and I grip and let fly and the pleasure it brings me. I think what amuses me most is the speed at which four tiny feet pick up momentum and the metronomic sway of synchronized fur fluttering about during the race for the object of affection.

The toy usually returns with an empathic drop and pause. It’s at this moment all planetary movement halts. This is when the dog’s eyes refuses to camouflage that spiritual passage leading directly to its soul. The pupils stand as wide as telescopes and suck you in. Is this the cosmic Black Hole scientists refer too?

How does a dog sense a person is undergoing heartaches – sorrow, depression, loss, perceived failure or physical pain? This is where I begin to see dogs as something scared – the Good Samaritan that gives of them until the adult mercenaries arrive. The hallowed nurse that never turns a blind eye to suffering – the assuring doctor that tends to patients needs even when the odds of restoration seem impossible.

There have been plenty loving souls enter my conscience long after ‘Spirit’ was stolen along with my portable Farfisa organ from that New York flat. There was an oversized herding dog - a Puli mixed with steroids and sheep dog fur named Barney we purchased through the Bargain Hunter in the early seventies. He came with a guarantee. I don’t actually remember what he didn’t do that made him so desirable or assured.

Barney lived to shock pedestrians. Just as someone would pass he’d turn and run towards their backside and cough up a baritone sounding riff like he was channeling demons from the underworld. It was loud and ferocious. If the person nearly collapsed in fear he’d perk up and parade the other direction. This was a difficult habit to break. His other call to duty was during those intimate passion filled nights. Barney would jump to the edge of the bed and howl until every person in the neighborhood was notified. At first it was a hilarious interlude then it became an annoyance. It wasn’t until we moved to a farm in New Castle he found better things to do.

Then there was Happy, a gorgeous high strung Belgian sheepdog who spent a great portion of her life in retreat. She made her family entrance when she was six months old. There wasn’t a bad gene if her body. She was all sweetness and motherly. She became an instant pup factory. It seems every six months another pile of carbon copy Happys’ would mysteriously arrive. We couldn’t give them away fast enough.

Happy was a digger. She would bore beneath anything. The land below our front porch became a massive chamber of tunnels leading to places unknown. She saved her greatest work for me down in Georgia.

I’d been collecting Rolling Stone Magazines since day one during the mid-sixties and the boxes of collectables traveled with us wherever the miles piled up. This time we settled in a suburb outside Atlanta called Marietta. The property came with a tool shed something I had little use for other than shaving grass or winding garden hose. One steamy afternoon I happen to notice a crack in the door and spring open. There before me is a giant pile of dirt and mud mixed with demolished pages of political cartoons, Hunter Thompson and Tim Cahill articles, Aerosmith reviews and Grateful Dead photos – courtesy Rolling Stone. Underneath it all was the gazing eyes of the family neurotic. At first I thought the world had collapsed around me then I began to understand. This crazy dog wanted to mother all humanity. How could one even entertain punishing her or even try to reason.

Jason was a six week old Springer spaniel who entered life as a comic. He didn’t really tell jokes - he just brought the laughter through body movement. There would always be a worn sox caught up under a lip. The more I’d laugh Jason would wiggle and prance about. You could twist him in any position and use as a pillow. We’d travel the subways and buses together without need of a leash. He’d attend most recording sessions with me and chew on a microphone filter the entire time savoring every fiber. I’d dress him in shorts and cap and send him to roam the neighborhood. He never once complained. We were inseparable.

Happy lived to be fifteen and Jason was shot and killed by a farmer who accused him of rousting his chickens and ducks.

After that we made do with two cats the next twenty-two years. I do love cats but cats aren’t dogs. When the two felines passed away - both in or around twenty years old I set my mind on getting a dog. I never thought of getting two – but as I’m writing that’s the way things turned out.

Samson and Suzie run the house. They do all the things dogs do. They stand for hours scratching, sleep with bellies exposed - demand a doorman be on call twenty-four hours a day. They both whine and compete for the occasional bike ride with me. They sleep either on my head or nearby. They follow us room to room waiting for action. They hang around the kitchen coaxing me to pop the fridge door. They have memorized the words chicken and ham. They are on speaking terms with the crafty squirrels out back even if they are profanity laced exchanges.

As I look at these two constants I’m truly awed by their compassion and kindness towards humans – I can’t speak for most living things beyond the fence. To know it’s been some fifteen thousand years since their ancestors were first domesticated in China brings a bit of clarity. I guess I have the Chinese to thank for this and for calculating and inscribing 1946 the Year of the Dog.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Piano Speaks

Recently, I encountered an interesting discussion on the Internet concerning the quality of performance pianos in venues such as night-clubs. This has always been a contentious issue for suffering pianists. One interloper suggested replacing acoustic with electronic - inviting a maelstrom of acerbic responses nearly drowning the debate in puerile squabbling. Unlike woodwind, brass, string or percussionist- a pianist has little say in selecting a preferred instrument for concert situations. Electronic keyboards are 'Get By' solutions more suited for causal gigs or pop related work. No digital entity can assume the stature of warm-vocally resonant wood, companion felt and metal. Below are a few of my memorable hits and misses.

First year of high school, I’d surreptitiously enter the gymnasium and climb the dimly lit stage and seat myself behind a baby rosewood grand piano then carefully raise the lid and place it high on the longest peg and begin humbly tapping out a few choice notes while checking the hall for spies. On second pass, I subconsciously close my eyes and encourage the hands to search and discover and discard-leaving me awash in a room reverberating with harmonious intent. I couldn’t have felt more fulfilled or joyous. I dreamt of the moment when I’d be accorded the opportunity to play in front of people. A year later it came.

My first gig was not on anything as rare and satisfying as a Steinway but a sleepy Chickering stuffed back of an American Legion Hall in Jeffersonville, Indiana. Judging from the numerous cigarette burns, the poor instrument looked as if it had been tortured into confessing crimes never committed. While lifting the piano lid, I couldn’t help but notice the keyboard scowl back at me with some thirty odd missing teeth. The remaining ivories - covered in ash and spent beer displayed a curious mix of yellow and brown stains. Nearby, a barmaid watches as I examine the neglected relict, closes in and speaks, “Roy plays that piano beautifully. Do you know Hello Dolly? What about Beer Barrel Polka?” Confused and shy, I continue examining the ill-equipped instrument when she interrupts again. “Why don’t you go ahead and start Mr. Piano Player.” This I do.

The first tune that comes to mind is a light jazz version of “Sometimes I’m Happy.” I spread my lead sheet along a fractured wood support and commence playing. As I begin hammering out the first series of chords a nightmarish synthesis of scraping metal and overlapping tones pierce the smoke-hazed beer hall like the dissonant cry of a brooding river-boat calliope - stunting my effort. “Keep on playing boy,” a voice from behind the noxious veil of smoke commands. Again I search for something musical only to be derailed by the dismembered Chickering. Defeated, I rise, close the lid and tell the barmaid I think the piano had been kinder to Roy. “Honey, you can go home,” she says, “Roy comes in about this time every night. He just loves that old piano.” So he should!

In 1976, during a month long tour of Japan with the Pointer Sisters I was introduced to concert grands - mostly imagined, rarely touched. Nine foot Yamahas and Steinways, two or three waits before each concert. One hall presented a Steinway inscribed with the phrase, ‘This Is a Beauty’, Arthur Rubinstein. Also etched on the sound-board the name Van Cliburn. All I could think of was how magnificent Chopin and Tchaikovsky must have sounded when these immortals concertized. Needless to say, those were some of my most inspired evenings. Everything I played behind 'The Sisters' was affected positively by the exceptional pianos I was accorded. Rarely have I had the same relationship with electronics.

I’ve always admired the original Fender Rhodes - the dreamlike quality of its tone. One summer night in 1982, I lost myself composing on a superb Fender Rhodes in an apartment at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in Hollywood. A comforting night- breeze sifted through the partially collapsed window blinds prompting me to search deeper for abstract harmonic sequences when a voice interrupts from the wilderness, “Shut the fuck up or I’ll kill you.” As violently as the order arrives, I was uncertain the directive was meant for me. Cautiously, I inspect the narrow pathway intervening the two buildings and spot a menacing figure - barely visible, lurking below a security light. The bald plated being sights me then screams, “You hear me…I’ll kill you if you keep it up asshole” I was too mortified to reply. Next morning I would learn the threatening skinhead was none other than the bass player of the vile punk band the Plasmatics, the antithesis of everything music meant to me.

No greater thrill could match the times I played on Glenn Gould’s grand piano in the foyer of Roy Tompson Hall. From one end of the instrument to the other the piano resonated as if the Gods had ordained it nature’s virile sound board. Notes sounded broad and confident - intervals, clear and precise. I’d spread all ten fingers and think like a composer and play as an orchestra. This was the perfect situation for making solo piano recordings.

In the early nineties I was invited to play the Pilot Tavern’s tenth anniversary party. Word came chanteuse Holly Cole was showing, maybe even Buddy Bolden.

Vocalist Liberty Silver and I were hired to play a couple sets - me behind a supposed refurbished and resurrected Mason & Reich - a piano of equable repute.

As I enter the Pilot I witness the lovely grand posing with its spectacular sheen - top fully extended - waiting to comply. The room was buzzing with music people. I raise the keyboard lid and play a brief figure - mid-piano upward then retire out of view. Everything sounded in order.

Minutes pass before Liberty and I take the stage. I call an up tempo selection with walking bass and count the tune in. As we sprint from the downbeat my left hand abruptly hits an unexplained succession of pot-holes nearly amputating my fingers. In desperation I descend a register to find the same indiscriminate pattern.

Third time through the tune comes ‘Solo Time’. I signal the right hand, ‘Flail Away’ leaving the left hand to crash about and gather splinters. I can't express the grief, the embarrassment and torment simmering inside. "Baby, I thought you said this guy could play? He sounds like your cousin Ernie, the one missing four fingers on his favored hand."

The song abruptly ends. Liberty looks over and inquires, “Oh! Bill, that bad? Should we try something else?” We make a second attempt at a medium-tempo number to no avail. With no other alternative, I rise - clutch the microphone, apologize to the crowd and explain that the manager had lured me here offering a wonderfully refurbished baby grand for a companion. I then lead them through the crime scene.

"Here’s where B below middle C usually resides. Wait a minute where’s the missing G? Oh lookie here, E and D are mute too. Let's see what else is absent down there. A, G, and F! Well, well....I haven't tested anything surpassing C above middle C. Hmmmmmmm!Count with me; One, two, three, four, five pot-holes! It's my guess this piano was refurbished by a hit and run driver!"

Needless to say, I refuse to feed embarrassment so I stalk the tie-dyed hippie manager who rarely acknowledged musicians when the room was less than full for an explanation. Hell, the place was at capacity! The next thirty minutes he avoids me like I was walking Ebola virus. "Look, I'll be with you when I get a moment. When's your next set?" he says. Now the hurt spreads to Liberty who isn't someone to short side. Eventually, the club grudgingly paid up but never offered an apology. I wondered who invented the myth the wooden piece of landfill had been groomed to perfection once again. I can only assume the manager actually believed a can of Pledge applied to a handsome cabinet was all that was needed to carry the night. My, she was a beauty!

A good decade and a half has passed since that encounter. The years in between have been kind to keyboardist with advances in technology. I resolved the live gig issue once I bought one of the PF series Yamaha digital pianos. Never once did the piano let me down during the six years of constant play. These days it’s the Roland FP-7 that serves me well. I can haul to a gig or play in the house. Sound and touch exceed my expectations.

Much of the studio work I do these days revolves around my productions at Inception Sound Studio in Toronto. Studio One sports a refurbished nine foot Steinway that brings to mind those glorious ECM piano works with Keith Jarrett. It’s one of those rare pianos that respond to the players touch in such a way it seems to inspire an unconscious reverential hook-up between soul, mind and seasoned wood. Singers Sophie Milman, June Garber, Jessica Lalonde, Real Divas, Sophie Berkal-Sarbit, Kinga Victoria, Josephine Biundo have all benefited significantly from the crafted piece of soulfulness.

There are even more advances in technology on the horizon. Some are already here – some still in the planning stages. I’ve been reviewing a few and have played a couple. Rather than expound at the moment I think I’ll wait and see if any really send my fellow keyboard magicians into a testimonial rant.

I guess I can now admit having a solid digital at my command has been a positive benefit. The old ruptured Petrof in the basement looks good but sounds dreadful. Occasionally, I'll play a few scales or spot a couple pages of Czerny for technique but the cost of up keep far exceeds the pay-off. For now, having a piano that feels solid and sounds real and is always in tune is a delicious pleasure