Sing us a song, you're the Piano Man...

Late at night, when it's dark and cold I reach out for someone to hold When I'm blue, when I'm lonely She comes through She's the only one who can My baby grand Is all I need

I've come far, from the life I strayed in I've got scars, from those dives I played in Now I'm home and I'm weary In my bones Every dreary one night stand But my baby grand Came home with me

Ever since this gig began My baby grand's Been good to me

It’s been some time since I sat down to write my blog. It’s not that nothing has happened, au contraire, it’s just that I didn’t find the time. This is going to change now. I’m at my parents for the weekend, taking some time off in between my shows with my dear friend Tim Vantol (more about these shows soon). Today, I will tell you a little bit about my past…

I started taking piano lessons when I was six years old. I don’t think I was a very good piano student. I hardly practiced, I didn’t particularly enjoy the lessons and I always thought of a piano as kind of old-fashioned and uncool. I always wanted a grand piano, don’t get me wrong, it’s been my lifetime dream for as long as I can remember. They’re awesome, so much cooler than pianos. They’re like wooden lions, brutal, with 88 sharp teeth and I could (and still can) totally imagine myself, sitting at a grand piano at a very old age, half deaf, like Beethoven, with my head resting on the wood, feeling the vibrations, feeling the music, mercilessly hammering on the keys. 

When puberty hit, I got a keyboard, you know one of those with pre-programmed rhythms and shitty synthesiser string sounds. I loved it (man, THAT was uncool… at least in retrospect), it came with buttons and a display and midi-files and all the stuff that you really don’t need, but that children love. It ruined my left hand forever. These days, it’s not very quick and versatile… rather stiff. It came also close to ruining my taste in music, but that’s a whole different story.

When I was 16 or 17, one encounter changed everything though. One of my mates at school already had a drivers license and at times drove me home after school. One day, he listened to this guy on the car stereo. Billy Joel. The album was “Songs from the Attic” and the song was “Miami 2017 (Seen the lights go out on Broadway)”. It did something to me. My mate was cool, I kind of looked up to him and he listened to this guy that I immediately fell in love with. Powerful vocals, great band, cool lyrics and he played the piano. When I got home, I instantly ditched the keyboard and went back to the “real thing”. I bought a Billy Joel songbook and practised and practised and practised. After a while I’d acquired all the Billy Joel CDs I could get my hands on and turned into a maniac. I knew all the chords, all the songs, all the words and I started imitating Billy Joel’s licks and kind of created my own style (at least that’s what I thought, actually it was a poor imitation of Billy Joel’s style…well…).

During my time at university I did play keys in a couple of bands, piano in a rock’n’roll band called ‘The Gents’ and in a blues band called ‘Well Done’) as well as organ for a couple of people. The first solo show I ever played also featured a piano heavily. Yet, it was only last week in Meppen that I could fulfil my desire to turn myself into a proper Piano Man.

I played a show in Meppen last year with Joe Ginsberg and I got to know two lovely people, Jogi and Rieke, who invited me back to play show with Joe McCorriston this summer. At this show I got to meet a man who not only owns a piano shop (in an old freight yard, super stylish!), but who also asked me if I’d be interested to play a show at his place. I immediately agreed and after a couple of weeks and emails we had set up a date. As you know, I do occasionally play piano during my shows. I recorded ‘Orphan Keys’, which is a piano album, and I was really looking forward to this evening. The closer the date drew, the more nervous I got, though. I’m not overly nervous usually, but this was different for a number of reasons:

(1) I had never played a show only on a piano.

(2) A number of songs that I wanted to play, I had either never played on a piano or never on stage before. (3) I do have respect for grand pianos. They’re big, they’re massive and they’re unforgiving. If you fuck it up, everyone hears it, whereas stage pianos are not as sensitive. (4) I do not have a piano at home to practise.

I went there early, last Sunday, I arrived and immediately sat down at the grand piano and started something of a last minute rehearsal session. I was blown away by the sound and the feeling. You really do feel it. Maybe you think it’s stupid, but a proper concert grand piano compares to a standard piano like a Ferrari compares to a Fiat. My stage piano is probably a frail bicycle in this comparison.

What can I say? Apart from the fact that about 80 people showed up (which was fantastic!), I felt really, really great. I played two sets, 20 songs in total and had the time of my life. After the show I immediately decided we should start and piano tour for 2016. I would love that!

Don’t get me wrong, I love playing guitar, I love the power that only a guitar can bring, I love the mobility and the flexibility, I love touring with my band, I love rock music and power chords, but the piano still is a magical instrument and holds a dear place in my heart. These days, most of my musical heroes are (part-time) piano players: Bob Dylan, Nick Cave, Bruce Springsteen, hell, I even saw Brian Fallon play a couple of Gaslight Anthem songs on the piano during the Revival Tour 2013. Still, one guy started it. Thanks, Billy Joel!

Now that I am sitting here, reminiscing the past, I really think I should try and get my hands on a cheap old used grand-piano for my apartment. They say that you need to fulfil lifetime dreams, don’t they?

Stay safe, friends, be nice to your fellow humans and see you soon, somewhere down the road!

x J

Post Scriptum: “Miami 2017” is a song about a nightmare Billy Joel once had about the apocalypse hitting New York. It features the line “I saw the lights go out on Broadway / I watched the mighty skyline fall”. He played it during the Concert for New York City to help the survivors of 9/11. One of my crassest goosebumps-moments ever. Make sure you check it out. Billy Joel is so much more than Uptown Girl!

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