I have been a piano player my entire life, since I first started trying to plunk out tunes by ear from my mother’s Mitch Miller and Myron Floren records. I learned how to read music from a young age, through the instruments provided to us in school ensembles. There was the Flutophone in third grade (from which I learned the treble clef) and the trombone in 4th grade (bass clef). I still remember the thrill I felt when I realized that the notes learned for these instruments could also be applied to reading piano music. Mostly self-taught, I played by ear but also continually tried to figure out what I was doing by reference to written works and music theory.
In junior high I was figuring out how chords worked and learning songs off the radio, and was also introduced to more advanced piano pieces by Mr. & Mrs. Hewitt of the Norwell public school system. In high school I learned from Jimmy Murphy of Brockton MA, who taught traditional piano repertoire as well as a lot more about playing from lead sheets with chords. In college I was further privileged to be able to work with Miklos Schwalb, a world-renowned concert pianist who in his retirement years served as Artist in Residence at Northeastern University. Although I’ve not had much classroom training, I’ve read a lot about harmony & music theory and applied it to the things I was trying to accomplish as a player. I’ve continued to study and play (rather inexpertly) pieces from the classical repertoire, but my bread and butter as a working musician has always been to play and improvise over the vast repertoire of American popular songs.
For several years in the 70’s, I made a living playing the piano, in resorts, restaurants, piano bars, and hotel lounges, almost always as a solo pianist. Earning a paycheck was never so much fun as in those days. Solo piano gigs were by far my favorites, but on occasion I would also accompany singers, or sit in with bands or form impromptu jazz ensembles for events or club gigs.
Eventually I went back to school and then settled into a “day job”, relegating myself to the ranks of part timers and semi-pro players, but for decades thereafter I continued to play regular gigs at hotels and other establishments in Boston.