Another day, another club, another drummer. Last night we played at Evans, a club in the same area as a few of the others, near the University for attractive women, although it probably isn't called that. Anyway, this is a club dominated by a giant photo of Bill Evans (you can see it like a beacon from outside). It's the especially nerdy picture of Bill from Portrait in Jazz, no disrespect meant. This time the piano was pretty brutally out of tune, which is a (somewhat) interesting problem that all pianists face at one (and lots more than one) time or another. Having to play different instruments every night, there are times when you really are struggling to enjoy the sound of your instrument. You get pianos with weird actions, tinny sound or like last night, out of tune. The first few gigs I did last month in Japan, I had some out of tune pianos as well. In these situations, you are really thrown back on your ability to find the music that is there, since you can't just relax and enjoy what you are hearing. For me, it's a little like acting--you just pretend that the piano sounds great and you let the music move you along until you aren't really noticing the limitations of the instrument. Of course, that's easier said than done. Sometimes you get so fixated on how out of tune the thing is, that you can't really concentrate on anything else. Of couse, no one else suffers (at least not as much) as you do. They don't care that the instrument isn't to your liking. They just notice the feeling of what you are playing. Last night, after a couple of tunes I got angry, so I played angry for a while, strong and all over the place, funny notes, lots of notes. And little by little, it got out of my system and I could start to enjoy hammering away. It's satisfying in a physical way, to beat up the instrument for a while. I started playing more free-ish and that also felt good. Then there is something that always works in your favor. A bad piano is always more problematic in the beginning of the night, the first set, than the second set when your expectations are lower. You come back after the break and it often doesn't sound so bad to you. Somehow the shock of not getting a good sounding instrument has passed and you can deal and find alternatives. So in the end, last night was one of my better, freer nights here.
I've seen this with other pianists. One of my favorite memories of Kenny Werner's playing was years ago at a club in New York called the Angry Squire which had a legendarily bad piano. Kenny played it like a drum, rocked out, and finally played some the transcendental playing that he is always capable of. For me it was one of the best times I ever heard him play (and 15 years ago, I used to hear him play a lot.)
Piano horror stories aside, I enjoyed playing a lot with a fine Korean drummer, Sang Min. Kenji was his usual scintillating, agile self, and Chul Hoon played well and strong, so in spite of it all, a good time was had by all. The crowd was boisterous and good spirited as usual, but I did notice a drop in the number of requests for pictures and autographs, so maybe the novelty is wearing off. (Sigh.)