I started playing piano when I was four years old. My mom and dad bought an old upright piano for my 10-year-old sister to begin learning. The story goes (I was too young to remember) that the older members of the family were plinking out “Chopsticks” and that song you play with your knuckles on just the black keys — you know the one.
When the seniors finally left the keys they say that they were amazed when I climbed up on the piano bench and began playing various children’s songs that I had heard at church or wherever.
The intrigue soon faded and by the time I was six or seven it was more, “Please stop playing piano and go outside and ride a bike or something.” I didn’t start lessons until I was about 15 years old (with money I made mowing a couple of lawns).
I would practice for what seemed like hours by repeating small phrases over and over, driving my parents crazy until I was banished outside which was equally entertaining…I mean, I wasn’t a total “piano geek.”
I started lessons with the organist at First Baptist Church being my teacher. I was awarded a full music scholarship to Gordon College in Barnesville, Ga. (Sometimes referred to in Griffin as Griffin High School grades 13 and 14). Dr. Mary Jean Simmons was my teacher at Gordon.
Dera Weaver was my piano instructor at UGA, which I attended after Gordon. I have an Associates of Arts so do the math, meaning that I took a short hiatus from UGA, which so far has lasted about 25 years…and counting.
Do you have a favorite song you like to play when requested? A song you absolutely hate to play?
I have a couple of favorites: “Revolutionary Costume,” which I sing a la Edie Beale, and “Broadway — It’s Not Just For Gays Anymore,” which was the opening of the 2011 Tony Awards and was sung by Neal Patrick Harris.
I have no songs that I hate to play. Even if there is a “bad” song that someone requests to sing, I enjoy playing it because I enjoy seeing the singer have fun with it.
Is there still a place for piano bars?
There is definitely a place for the piano bar in today’s culture. In New York, there are piano bars with sing-along/open mikes all over the place, and they stay packed.
In Atlanta it seems it is a little more challenging to get the traditional piano bar off the ground. So, rather than a cultural issue, it may be more of a regional issue.
The theater fuels piano bars and, no question, New York has plenty of fuel source. Atlanta does as well…excellent fuel…we just have to figure out a way to channel it to the piano bar.
I have just started playing piano at The Fifth Ivory, which is a restaurant and more traditional piano bar, where the piano will be featured prominently throughout the week. It is different from Mixx in that Mixx only has the piano one night a week.
Mixx’s managers are also very supportive of the artistic community and I’ve played a few times for [local drag icon] Diamond Lil. Leslie Jordan and comedy duo Amy and Freddy have also performed there.
What are some of the most popular songs requested by patrons?
Song request are as diverse as the people who request them. [Recently] at Fifth Ivory it was interesting that I had a young (straight) couple that requested Frank Sinatra and a few minutes later, a middle-aged man wanted to hear “Bad Romance.”
Top photo: David Reeb (courtesy photo)