It was 1950, probably May, when I peered out the window to get my first glance at my new piano teacher. She had pale skin, blue eyes and red hair. So, of course, twenty-four years later, I married a woman who looked like her. Thank you, Sigmund you-know-who. But I digress.
I was an immediately hotshot at the piano. Big fish, small pond. Middle class Midwestern neighborhood. Lots of kudos, relatives et alia swooning at the piano. But after three years, I began to grow weary of it all. As luck would have it, my parents sent the piano to be refinished, and soon thereafter dad had some severe business reverses and they couldn’t pay the refinisher. The piano sat in the shop for two years, which was absolutely great from my perspective. But the day finally came when the piano, a beautiful Chickering BTW, was again ensconced in our living room. I was panic stricken. But my folks, who had very high IQs, concocted a gambit to get my flying fingers back to the piano. There pitch went roughly like this:
We worked very hard to get you this piano. It was very expensive. When we were kids, a piano like this would have been unthinkable. We have given up on you becoming the next Vladimir Horowitz. However, we have discovered a teacher in the area who teaches popular music.
All we ask is that you try a few lessons with this fellow. If you don’t enjoy it, we will sell the piano.
Well, when I heard the words ‘sell the piano’, I thought there really is a God. So, I signed on merely as a pro forma. The teacher, Dan, was a sweet older guy.
At least this faux experiment would be pleasant. But the joke was on BRYAN! I immediately took to what he taught me. In a nanosecond I was flying along, playing the hits of the day, ripping the keyboard apart with my own version of the piano playing of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Fats Domino. And the major benefit was the adulation of my peers, and more importantly, the distaff side. I was off and running.
I formed a band that initially played at school events. But this soon morphed into working at clubs, wedding, bar mitzvahs, house parties and the like. I saw the entire social spectrum, from VFW hall parties (sawdust on the floor and brawls), Polish weddings (which were an utter joy, and the women were goddesses), and high society parties for what we today would call the one per cent. It was those latter events that ignited my interest in sartorial matters.
I worked my way through college via those gigs. It was a long six-year slog to get a bachelor’s degree.
We are now in 1966. I am at my desk, cramming for one of the last exams of my checkered academic career. The phone rings and it’s my agent, a lovely woman who had supplied me with a great deal of work over several years. She said that one of her clients who was scheduled to play that night had suddenly taken ill. The club was a big client of hers and she needed me to fill in. She was desperate. For me it could not have come at a worse time. But I stuffed it and said I would be there.
I can’t remember the name of the place. It was literally a piano bar, with people sitting on stools surrounding the piano. It’s the kind of gig I would never do today. But it went quite smoothly with a minimum of stupid requests. About halfway through the evening, a fellow sits down on the stool to my left. After a few minutes he asked if I had written any melodies. I responded to the affirmative and played him something (that I can’t remember!) He loved it.
And some minutes later he asked for another one. Again, he was delighted. Near the end of the evening he asked for a third item, and happily, he again really enjoyed it. What happened next was miraculous. He introduced himself as Ron Miller, a lyricist under contract at Motown Records.
I nearly fell over in a dead heap. He told me to call him. His composer partner was leaving and he was looking for a replacement. It has been said countless times that ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ For doing a good deed for my agent, I was not only unpunished, I was rewarded with a songwriting contract at the most famous record company on the planet.
Ron and I wrote three songs that were made famous by the extraordinary Stevie Wonder. They are:
“A Place In The Sun”
“Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday”
“Someday At Christmas”
These tunes have been recorded by a multitude of artists, from Mary J. Blige to Justin Bieber.
I worked at Motown from 1966 to 1970. But like many an artist, I wanted to experience life in The Big Apple. In late 1970 I bought that one-way ticket to Gotham.
It’s been quite a ride!
At the onset, I was introduced to the marvelous Bette Midler, with whom I worked for about a year. From 1972 to 1983, I wrote music for radio and TV commercials. It was a terrific experience. I got a chance to write every style of music known to man, woman and beast.
But simmering beneath all of this was my first love, jazz piano. I was tutored by two jazz titans, tenor sax legend and composer George Coleman, a Miles Davis alumnus, and the great jazz pianist and composer, Garry Dial. Garry played with another great trumpeter, Red Rodney, who played with Charlie Parker.
How lucky can a fellow get?
I took all the knowledge gained from those priceless relationships to record three CDs and perform for two decades at the iconic Palm Restaurant in the Theater District.
I am currently engrossed with composing piano works in the jazz and classical genres. So please, never ask me “What do you do all day?”
If you do, you are officially a philistine!
It has been, and continues to be, a journey with surprising tributaries.
I have morphed from that magnificent Chickering piano to a delicious Yamaha. No, I’m not a shill for management.
As long as I have my piano and my iMac, all’s right with the world.
I probably should add cheesecake with a graham cracker crust, but that’s another discussion.