Big fun on a big Steinway at a house concert in Munich, Germany. What was a free night in my schedule on my tour with Curtis Stigers turned into a wonderful way to bring together friends for an intimate concert of solo-piano music and some great conversation. Thanks for the party!
A growing collection of stories and photos from the road
I had the opportunity to visit the Steinway & Sons factory in Hamburg yesterday while I was on tour with Curtis Stigers. A friend put me in touch with the artist relations director there and it was a short taxi ride from the hotel to the factory. I was welcomed warmly by everyone I met there.
What an amazing process to learn about! I got to see pianos in every stage of production – from the stacks of long thin strips of wood that are glued together and bent to create the frame, to the delicate work of regulating the action. I was so impressed by the coordination of all the pieces and the detail in the long process of building the piano. I guess it’s not really that different than other complicated manufacturing productions – automobiles, computers, potato chips – but since I’m so intimately connected to the final product my awareness is different. I think too the fact that it’s wood and metal working together to create something as intangible as music gives the process a different value.
I got to see the forms that bend the long layers of wood (over 20 feet long for concert grands) into the incredibly sturdy curved frame. I got to see the men carefully examining and selecting the strips of spruce for the sound board, arranging them so a slight and gradual 2mm change in grain density would enhance the resonance from the high to low strings. I got to see the harp being placed into the frame and the computerized precision drill that bored the hundreds of holes for the tuning pegs. I got to watch the worker (wearing ear plugs!) hammer the tuning pegs in one by one. I got to watch the dampers being installed and carefully adjusted. I got to see the action being regulated. And my personal favorite, I got to visit the soundproof room where a machine bangs the crap out of the keys hitting them each about 1000 times in the hour it spends in this room so any necessary adjustments to the action can be made.
It takes over a year to create a Steinway piano and more than 200 expert workers are involved in the process. In the beginning there is just a file with the serial number on it, and that file travels with the piano through the whole process. It contains a list of every single step that goes into building the piano and the name of every worker who completed and approved that step.
When I sat down at the piano for my concert at ELBJAZZ in Hamburg last night (it wasn’t a Steinway in this case, but still…) I felt a different appreciation for the beauty of this machine and I felt like somehow a team of workers wanted me to sound my best and now it was my turn in the long process to create music with this instrument.
One of the perks of being a working jazz musician is the travel. Many would complain this is one of the worst parts, which is technically also true because being away from family, dealing with airlines and dragging suitcases and equipment in and out of hotels can be tedious to say the least. But if you manage to focus on the beauty of seeing new sites and new cultures, the experience can be rewarding. Plus you get to play music, and there really isn’t anything better than that.
Every once in a while you hit on a special moment or a special place. That happened to me last weekend when I got to play in Moscow, Russia for the first time. Sandwiched in the middle of a 2 1/2 week tour of the UK, we had a single gig at the “International House of Music” (I’m sure there’s a better translation, but this one makes me smile). The gig itself was fantastic. I was performing with Curtis Stigers and the venue was a concert hall where we played for about 1200 Russians. Not bad, eh?
The moment and place I’m writing about came the evening before.
“Dig and be dug” is a phrase I use often and it’s pretty simple concept that we as jazz artists often forget about. I see it as the Golden Rule for music – do unto others as you’d have them do to you. Apply that to checking out other musicians’ playing and the concept is simple, right? Maybe.
So often going to a jazz club when you are a jazz musician doesn’t mean going to hear the music. It’s about being “on the scene.” It means going to the club, walking in without paying and standing in the back of the club with a bunch of other musicians and talking, basically ignoring what’s really going on – the music. I’ve seen it everywhere from NYC clubs I frequent like Smalls, Smoke, or even The Village Vanguard. I’ve seen it at festivals and concerts. I’ve seen paying patrons turn around and ask musicians to stop talking so they can enjoy the music! How backwards is that?
Good or bad, professional or student, it’s still live music and live music is REALLY special. It exists only for a fleeting moment and then it’s gone. It’s worth hearing.
I was playing my usual Monday night gig at Hillstone in NYC last week and one of my favorite pianists wandered in – Bill Mays. I’ve met Bill a few times and I’m a fan of his music – he consistently comes up with some of the most creative textures on the piano – but he doesn’t really know me and certainly didn’t come to the bar specifically to hear me. This place is not really a listening room at all (though the sound is great when it not too rowdy) and in spite of what or how we play, we are basically sonic wallpaper and there only for effect. But Bill and his wife took a seat right up front and were focused on what we were doing – listening, applauding. Talk about feeling flattered!
We took time out from our TRI-FI tour in Michigan this week to visit a rainy Christmas market. You know, there is nothing like a soggy Santa to really put you in the mood for the holidays! I thought this photo was just too great not to share.
Being that it is December, this weekend we got the chance to play a bunch of the music from our new TRI-FI Christmas album – which made this quick (but cold and rainy) tour that much more festive.
Seasons greetings from TRI-FI!