Play me, I’m Yours
Posted by keithosaunders on July 2, 2010
A few weeks ago Bkivey asked me what I think of the art installation which has brought 60 pianos to public spaces in New York City. The pianos, painted in bold colors, are surprisingly inviting — they practically scream out, “PLAY ME!”
The timing of Bkivey’s request involved a two-part coincidence. I had arrived home from a gig with a bass player friend of mine, Bim Strasberg, who had just been telling me of the art exhibit. THis was the first I’d heard of it. Bim had mixed feelings. He liked the idea of the pianos being there but wasn’t thrilled with the idea of people walking by and banging on it.
Part two of the coincidence took place a few hours later in the evening when I was taking my dog for her late-night walk. Our route takes us by Gantry Park, which is a waterfront park on the Queens side of the East River overlooking the east side of Manhattan. As we were walking by the park I noticed one of the pianos in the plaza.
It was an old Spinet, barely in tune with a thin tone. It was missing a hammer on the D an octave above middle C. You can imagine what the outside elements , especially being next to a body of water, does to a piano. It had a plastic tarp to protect it from the elements but the tarp had been thrown, or blown onto the ground.
This was right up my alley! Nobody can play an out of tune, rickety old piano like me. You have to be able to deal with these warhorses if you are going to be a jazz pianist in New York. I have just described the condition of 70% of the pianos in jazz clubs.
And wouldn’t you know it but I couldn’t resist sitting down and playing a few tunes. How often was I going to be able to play music with the Manhattan skyline as my backdrop? It was a warm, balmy night and even though it was already one in the morning there were still a few people out and about. One couple was dancing and another sat a few feet behind me making out.
Before I knew it a half hour had passed and I decided to stop. I sat down a few feet from the piano and watched as others passed by and took her for a spin. In the day time the Gantry Park piano is hardly ever vacant. People are drawn to it like investment bankers to a Yankee game. There is something cathartic about the instrument being available for all, to play or to listen to. Sure it receives its fair share of abuse, but that cacophony of the pounding blends in just fine with the urban landscape. It’s OK….in moderation.