Thursday, June 17, 2010

Who's afraid of... Thelonious Monk??

I blame Schroeder. Sitting hunched over his cartoon piano, he rocked the tune "Linus and Lucy," which began in me a lifelong fascination with playing and listening to the piano. If I recall correctly, he was the first in an odd lineage of keyboard ticklers who have pulled me in an aesthetic tractor beam.

The list looks something like this: Schroeder. Rick Wakeman. Bill Thomas. Herbie Hancock. Thelonious Monk. Chris Merritt. Marco Benevento.

Some people dig guitar solos and I am no exception, letting Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan wash over. Cliff Burton style bass solos? Absolutely. Neil Pert with a drum set spinning around him? Supercool. But it's always been the piano that has most captivated me and made me wish I could play it.

Wakeman owned the keys for the band Yes in their era of psychodelic album covers, Roundabout, and beyond and was the cat that opened the door to solos and jamming in the rock context. Bill Thomas caught my attention when I returned to Easton High from Hagerstown, first in a music history class, then AP Music theory, then helping out as a teacher's aide my senior year. When he sat down at the piano to give us examples, he took no small amount of breaks hearing, "Hey Mr. Thomas, can you play 'Linus and Lucy' again?" He generally rolled his eyes, hunched his shoulders and appeased us (me), breaking out the notes that make you want to do the Snoopy dance.

Herbie Hancock's "Rockit" put him on the popular teenage conscious map when we were in middle school, but it wasn't until I heard his stuff prior to getting synthesized that he pulled me in. I like Miles and Mingus as much as any jazz cats, but Hancock and Monk and hearing the keyboards roll through improvisation and form somehow sends me in ways that horns, sax or bass doesn't always achieve.

In the last couple years, we've stumbled across (or been encouraged to check out) a number of bands. But it's been the live performances of Chris Merritt and, this past Tuesday, Marco Benevento, that have elevated themselves and me above the fray.

Which brings me somehow here. I often challenge myself with physical/mental goals. Can I run a marathon? Can I finish the JFK 50-miler? Can we paddle from Easton to Oxford or around Wye Island? Can I swim from Oxford to Bellevue? Can I skateboard for 50 or 100 miles? Our pal Landy Cook, en route to completing the 4+ mile Chesapeake Bay swim heard a lady say that she tried to do something that got her both excited and scared every year. I like that idea. But I don't think it always has to be a physical challenge.

I am not musically inclined. I'm also not internationally known or known to rock the microphone, but I digress. For me, I think that one of those exciting and scary challenges, one that I've wanted to get my hands on and into for some time is to learn to play the piano.

I don't hold delusions of grandeur or set high hopes for myself. I don't want to sit in with a band or play Carnegie Hall (or NightCat for that matter). I will start with a goal. Learn to do something I've wanted to be able to do since watching the Charlie Brown Christmas special as a kid. Learn to play "Linus and Lucy."

But just the same, I think I'll go with the Bill Murray as Bob Wiley philosophy: baby steps ;)


Anonymous said...

I took piano for exactly two months in the 4th grade, before my music teacher labeled me a miscreant (I had to rush home and look it up!) and told me to stop showing up for lessons. She was the same person who told me to stop showing up for choir practice after the better part of a year -- but not before she let me sing a solo at an old folks home in (404 FILE NOT FOUND). Let the record show that when she called me a miscreant the second time (and in front of the entire choir), I knew what it meant.

When you *do* finally master 'Linus and Lucy' - and I have no doubt that you will, please share the YouTube goodness with your readers.

Michael Valliant said...

In retrospect, I might take being called a miscreant by a 4th grade music teacher a supreme compliment :)