The One-Note Piano

July 2002

In May 2002 I did a tour of England with Rabih Abou Khalil. We rehearsed in London for 2 days and then played 7 nights all over England. Then I flew to Germany and played 3 solo concerts there, which I enjoyed very much. After that, I took a train from Ulm to beautiful Bolzano in the Dolomite region of northern Italy, where I played a trio concert with Michael Riessler and vocalist Elise Caron.

The concert was ouside of town on top of a mountain in an old castle called Schloss Runkelstein (this part of Italy is half German). Unfortunately, the communication between our agent and the promoter was not very good, and nobody there realized that I was playing piano as well as harmonica. At the last minute, after a very windy soundcheck, the promoter was able to get a keyboard from a friend down in Bolzano- a Fatar 88-key weighted- key controller with some kind of Roland module. After an hour, he was back with it. One small problem- he had forgotten to bring a keyboard stand. Well, things could have been worse. There were some armchairs, so I set it up across 2 of them, plugged it in and turned it on. Not very professional-looking, but what else could I do?

From the first second, I was in trouble. When I plugged everything in, I got a smattering of notes, maybe 20, all in the wrong octaves and out of sequence, and some keys would play more than one note at a time. Someone had set this keyboard up for something other than live piano playing! No place on the Fatar was there any clue as to what any of its various buttons really did, and the tiny display only showed numbers. I couldn’t find a reset button or a default setting- nothing I tried helped at all. It was midi hell and I was in it. If it had been a keyboard I was familiar with, maybe I could have figured it out, but I had no idea what I was doing. To make matters worse, there was still a mountain wind blowing. Chairs, music stands and music, and mic stands were crashing down around us, with us trying to catch them and stagehands trying to tape them down. It was a scene out of a Marx Brothers movie.

Then someone put me on a cell phone with the owner, a very nice guy who spoke English and tried communicating with me, but it only made things worse. By the end of our conversation, I had exactly one note, the lowest A on the piano. I figured I could play the first 8 bars of “One Note Samba”, in D.

After soundcheck, the owner showed up and fixed the problem. It never did sound very good (to put it kindly), but at least it had all the notes in the right order, and we played the concert.
July, 2002.

Comments are closed.