Monday, June 10, 2013

"Hey, Mr. Steinway - play a song for me!"

The Bill King Trio +1 "In the Still of the Night" Live from the Paintbox
You hammer away at the keyboard on so many forgettable options through a lifetime of gigs anticipating that rare moment when graced with a Steinway and asked to perform - leaving memories of unpleasant past experiences on lesser vehicles a suitable distance.
Until recently, jazz clubs have been short of decent pianos. I’ve played the one at the Rex Jazz Bar and seriously the sound disappears before leaving the stage and even when amplified its absent quality. It truly reflects the room – a fun beer hall where jamming and hanging and affordable draft is foremost in folks mind.

With both the Paintbox and Jazz Bistro in play; Brother Steinway is back for the hang. Both are exceptional pianos.
I worked the Bistro (Red Pop) Steinway opening week playing a couple solo sets for a small corporate gathering. One can never judge the dynamic range of a piano without spot on tuning. I mean, top to bottom. The piano for me is just as meaningful top end as middle and bottom - I travel the full length in my sound expeditions.

 That evening, the piano tuning was wobbly but piano fun to play. I’ve yet to hear the instrument fill the room and sing above the lit candles - much to do with finding the right balance. There is a reason concert halls beg experts tune the room.
When I showed for the gig with trio at the Paintbox I was greeted by my great pal and brilliant piano technician friend Wayne Ferguson who quickly goads me about playing a  Roland digital piano on most live gigs. Wayne hears me play live Saturdays on the Ted Woloshyn Show Newstalk 1010 and keeps saying I need a Steinway – a real piano in the studio. I remind him it’s the same room the outlaw Ford brothers inhabit the following afternoon and one could only imagine what would be buried under the lid. Did I say lid?

Steinway and these hands have a long recent history in that I’ve recorded seventeen albums of singers, varying projects, and my own excursions on the nine foot Steinway at Inception Sound Studios with engineer Michael Haas.
I love this piano. The action is like playing on a row of eighty-eight perfectly carved bricks. There’s no slacking with this monster. I practice every day two or three weeks out just for muscle strength and evenness of playing and I’m still scared of the outcome. It’s a ferocious warrior but a most generous giving, loving creature.

The Inception piano has spoiled me. On arrival I sit down and slowly press notes and check tuning then imagine the possibilities moments later. I’m finicky about the top end – to the point if tuning isn’t perfect, I’m won't visit the region and if I do, it will be a flourish - not a prime time stop over.
Wayne did me right at the Paintbox. He pulled everything into the proper zone. The action was smooth, even and easy to command. The tone dressed in resplendent colors. Sitting and observing the shiny black mirror-glossed lid and long body stretch near infinity brought a rush of anticipation.

Steinway Piano Gallery Toronto’s Alex Thomson is the force behind both pianos. The Bistro is an out- right purchase the Paintbox a loaner.
Both jazz clubs are attractive and service? Superb! There’s nothing more comforting than walking in the front door of a venue and the manager smiles – shakes your hand and tells you how pleased and excited the room is having the group. Secondly, atmosphere – stage –  a room full of listeners and exquisite menu.

Kudos – jazz lovers – do embrace!
Oh, to all my brilliant piano playing pals – jump on these rooms and make them work for you. Play what you want and let the pianos dazzle – that’s you Dave, Robi, David, Adrian, Hilario, Gord, Mark, Don and the rest!

A special thanks to my great friend Stephen Smith who never hesitates to video these rare episodes.



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