Happy Collision of Ideas – Artful Piano Series

Last May presented me with an opportunity to bring great culture to Waban in the form of a piano series. It started with a meeting at City Hall for Newton Arts – the month-long citywide celebration of the arts. Maria Beatriz Arvelo proposed placing nine pianos in various villages for the month of May. I had seen this concept work in San Francisco and Boston so I quickly volunteered Waban Library as a perfect location. People love playing on the piano no matter their skill – it’s an instant joy machine! This project was so well recieved that some of the pianos are still in place.

People also love to hear fine pianists. The Boston Metro area is host to some of the finest musicians in the world so I had full support of the Waban Improvement Society to launch our own performance series. Hopefully this will become an annual event which will expand.

Music also happens to be one of my favorite subjects to videotape so I was able to capture many of the performances and do a little art of my own.  My thanks to NewTV for loaning me the equipment and broadcasting these videos.

I wanted to approach each video differently and let the music and the environment suggest a treatment. So here are the first six of a series of piano performances:

Alexei Tsiganov is a legend in the Boston area, his versatility and musicianship is the reason he is seen playing with A-list visiting artists and often found in hot Latin groups. He hosts a regular Latin session at Ryles in Cambridge.
Unfortunately it rained the day of his performance and we were forced inside. But the historic Waban Library is a gem of a community place and offers the perfect sanctuary for performances.
Alexei’s rendition of Jobim’s classic Triste, is very spirited and shows off the mastery of interplay by the bassist and pianist – listening closely to each other and prodding forward the arc of the composition. Visually I stayed with the performers because I felt we captured the energy in the camerawork, especially of the bass solo.
John Lockwood is one of Boston’s most revered bassists. Note how he makes everything sound like it was meant to happen, how he ensures the form and pulse of the music. This is critical to making the music sizzle with life and energy and it frees the other musicians to be as creative as possible. This is why the bass is considered the heart of any group. John returned for another performance with Alan Rowe and I’ll post those in the next batch.
Joy is an original composition by Alexei and it was a perfect opener for his concert. While it rained outside, he made us feel cozy inside.

Kevin Harris brought drummer Steve Langone to perform with him on a bright sunny day in Waban. Usually a pianist’s first choice for another instrument is the bass but Kevin is always challenging himself and looking for new sounds. You can tell how he really listens to what is in the air, even incorporating car horns and sirens. He often challenges his own high level of craftsmanship by imposing the unexpected in his performances – something many of the Jazz Masters do – and I think this is part of the reason he has been getting a lot of attention abroad as well as in the US.
This version of Chick Corea’s Humpty Dumpty shows off the piano beautifully painted by the Newton Art Association. The decorative theme of birds is particularly appropriate for this place and the row of birdhouses are especially eye-catching.

This piece was entirely improvised by Kevin and Steve and it is interesting to hear them take an idea and build on it in the moment.

Tim Ray is another member of the handful of A-list pianists in New England with an extensive resume. He is sought after for his versatility, extensive repertoire, and tremendous finesse often associated with Jazz Masters Tommy Flanagan, Roland Hanna, and Herbie Hancock. Globally he is well-known as Lyle Lovett’s pianist and is on over 70 recordings. His version of Pennies from Heaven, generated such nostalgic emotion that it prompted me to include references to classic film performances from Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, and Gene Kelly.

His performance of the classic Come Rain or Come Shine embodied the flavor of a rainy day and shows off his artistry in handling such a compelling melody.

Part 2 is here

Chris Pitts is an award-winning producer, and founder of a pioneer eLearning multimedia company. Dedicated to principles of knowledge-sharing, stewardship of environmental and historic assets, and strengthening communities, Chris has served on the boards of arts organizations, community groups, and the ACLU. He and his family moved to Newton in 2000, where his children enrolled in the Newton Public Schools. Living in the village of Waban, Chris played a lead role in the successful effort to save the Waban Branch Library for community use, help found and run Waban Village Day, and is Vice President of the Waban Improvement Society. Chris is currently an elected councilor and Vice President on the Waban Area Council, where he directs the Future Planning Project, a resident-led process to plan the Waban village residents would like to see in the years ahead.

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Bob Jampol

Great idea, Chris, and I enjoyed the jazzy mood pieces. I wish only that I were a better player myself.