Saturday, July 24, 2010

Just Ignore the Man at the Piano

Yesterday, a friend of mine, visiting from out of state, asked me to take her to LACMA. Since we’re both mild jazz lovers, we decided to stay for that evening’s Jazz at LACMA performance featuring Grant Geissman and the Cool Man Cool Band. Sitting under the BP Grand Entrance Pavilion, I enjoyed the quartet’s contemporary sounds and the opportunity to people watch. All sorts of people were sprawled out on the lawn and under the canopy, eating picnic dinners and chatting with their neighbors. A number of attendees were obviously musicians themselves, having the “look” of aged baby-boomer performers getting into the music. I even spotted a few students intently scribbling in their spiral-bound notebooks, words that were probably unintelligible this morning.

Being there took me back to my college days, helping inflate the attendance at classmates’ gigs so they’d be asked to return. That was probably 90% of my lifetime exposure to live jazz. Being a classically-trained pianist whose improvisation skills would’ve made Bach cry, I always appreciated jazz piano players at their work. So it greatly annoys me when the audience, regardless of the venue, rarely (if ever) claps for the piano solos.

Of course, there’s a clear explanation for this. The piano isn’t particularly loud. In your average jazz band, the acoustic grand isn’t miked appropriately or amplified like the other instruments, so only an attentive listener will notice the difference between rhythm section backup and a virtuosic solo. In addition, the most impressionable attendees don’t even consider the piano as very important, preferring to cheer on the brass, woodwinds, percussion, guitar, and even the violin when it graces us with its lofty presence. The only member who gets a worse deal than the piano player is the double bassist, but he rarely tries to show off anyway.

I didn’t spend the whole concert reminiscing. It was a little too cold outside for that. I enjoyed the audience for what it was, a group of locals excited to be able to hear the music they love. I just hope one day, they’ll notice the invisible man at the piano.

By the way, his name is Emilio Palame.

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