I knew I had a little clout, but on this particular evening, playing at a world famous hotel in downtown Memphis Tennessee, I thought the value of my position was being carried a bit too far! Don’t misunderstand… I like to feel the surge of power as much as anyone; to be revered as someone of great authority. Well, I had my moment that night… and it began to get completely annoying! Imagine me… a hotel pianist – yes, I was at a world class hotel and not just anyone could have been in my position – I had earned it through my piano skill and dependability, but to be asked if ‘I’ would allow Billy Graham to come into the lobby to pay a surprise visit to someone on their birthday that night… was carrying things a bit too far.
So there I was, playing my gig, entertaining anyone who was listening, and creating a nice, enjoyable atmosphere when a gentleman approached me with the question,
“Billy Graham wants to come into the lobby to surprise someone right over there, is that alright with you?”
“Billy Graham?” I asked while trying to maintain the tune on the piano keys, “Yeah, that’s fine. He can come in.” Quickly turning back I tried to keep my playing in tact.
Most people don’t realize how difficult it is to carry on a conversation when you are playing a song. I can carry on light conversation… when I’m not in the middle of a complicated song. Singing while playing, is different, though still not easy for a lot of musicians. With singing, the words flow and work with the beat in a rhythmic, artistic flow.
Conversation… that is a different matter. One must think about what is being said to them, and then they must think about what to reply. For a pianist, it gets complex when he or she is almost fully focused on four or five different things going on with the song being played; Then add to that – trying to play 88 keys with only 10 fingers without hitting a wrong note!
Oh, and, there is good peddling to help create a clean sound so that the 88 keys (or how many are being struck) do not all keep sounding at the same time producing a loud, obnoxious, blurring ring.
It takes skill to play good and I pride myself in giving the best when I am playing a job. Being friendly and sociable are important to me but they are secondary to what I was hired for – to create a memorable atmosphere with my playing.
I thought I had made myself clear when the gentleman insisted on asking again, “Are you sure you don’t mind if Billy Graham comes in?”
Now I had thought just moments ago, “I’d love to play a good ‘ole spiritual tune like “”Amazing Grace”” in the bar lobby of the elaborate World Famous Peabody Hotel”, but for some reason, the gentleman seemed a bit hesitant to accept my permission for the Reverend Billy Graham to enter the bar lobby, even though I assured him it was ‘okay’, howbeit I didn’t have a clue why he was asking ‘me’!
A bit annoyed at his persistent asking, seeing he remained beside me, I said, in a tone that slightly reflected my annoyance, “Of course he can come in – it’s a free country!”
The gentleman got my drift and moved away quickly, vanishing from my sight. I sat gazing toward the entrance anticipating the incoming of the respectable and renowned preacher when in comes…
… a BELLYGRAM Dancer! I had completely misunderstood the gentleman! Now it all made sense. Furnished with her own music in a big boom box, the Belly Dancer began her moves to surprise the birthday person!
Feeling just a little embarrassed at my hearing impairment… more like a lack of concentration… I hopped up from the piano – “Time to take a break!” I thought, and then I vanished for the next few minutes!
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