We’ve had a piano in almost every apartment we rented and home we owned since Peg and I were married. When we lived at 915½ South K Street, there was an upright piano that came with the apartment. Peg remembers: In the summer when the windows were open, Don was playing and someone yelled up at us from the street. Don went to the window to talk to him and he said “Are you in a band? You ought to be a professional.” Don thanked him for his comments but stated he just plays for our enjoyment.
My mother and father had a small antique store next to their motel in Parkland. My mother bought a Square Grand Piano that Liberace had once been interested in purchasing. She had it moved to her home on North D Street in Tacoma. The next move was to our home on North Fife Street. Later it made the move with us to North Huson and then two years later four houses up the hill to another home with more room and an even better view. We sold our Square Grand Piano to our friends Lannie and Robin a number of years ago because it was massive, too large for our living room. You should have seen Lannie and Don trying to get it up the ramp and into the back of a truck. Lannie told stories of how difficult it had been to get it to the landing in their home (they still have it). It had been with us in three different homes. Then we went shopping for another piano. We stopped in at Prosser’s on Sixth Avenue. I played a studio piano, a spinet, and a baby grand. Once I played the baby grand it was all over. We both knew it.
Yes, the Square Grand took up a lot of room, but I know the baby grand takes up even more. We have glassware, photographs, a wooden drawing hand, and a metal model of a 1955 Chrysler Imperial two-door hardtop (don’t ask) on top of the piano as well as stacks of music books plus more books nearby.
I sit at the piano on a chair my grandfather built alongside a miniature version of the same chair he built for me. (It was probably a portable model sample of the chair he could make for sale.)
As I age, my fingers have developed a mind of their own and so when forced to play in front of anyone I explain that each song is a rendition in jazz. In a good week, I sit down and play three or four times a week. I like Country Western, ballads, old songs of the sixties, torch songs and Broadway Show tunes. The piano can be heard throughout the house. Most songs I play are dedicated to my wife, unbeknown to her. I like finding songs that I’ve never heard before. I end up playing my version of someone else’s songs. I did this with my friend Art Mineo as well. He would write a tune, I would add the lyrics, and play my version. When Art would play the songs with the lyrics, they came out Italian. When I played them, they came out Country.
I like playing songs as I think they should be played. Sometimes my ears perk up when I actually hear the song on its own, like during the film “Marshall.” There’s a scene in a nightclub and an entertainer is singing “Trouble in Mind” by Richard M. Jones. I had never heard the song before, but had played it first nearly sixty years ago. I still have the same songbook.
Recently Peg and I were going out for the afternoon. She was finishing up a few things, so I sat down at the piano and played while I waited for her. When she was ready to go, she asked, “What song is that?” I responded, “Blue Room.” Peg said, “I’ve never heard it before.” I replied, “You probably have, but I changed the tempo a little bit and played it with a little more feeling. It almost makes ME cry.” When I told her that I had never heard the song played before, she asked if I was going to check it out on Youtube. I did, after we came back home.
Youtube is a treasure trove of versions and artists. I listened and watched a number of “Blue Room” recordings. The closest I came to my phrasing and tempo was Perry Como singing “We’ll have a Blue Room” to Cyd Charisse from the 1948 film “Words and Music.” It was okay, but . . . didn’t make my top ten.
I like Ella Fitzgerald’s upbeat version of “Blue Room,” but it was still lacking . . . as if anything Ella sang was lacking anything! – youtu.be/MDdJsbu2AII
Other voices I would love to hear singing “Blue Room” are: Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Julie Gold, Mary Gauthier, and K.D. Lang. I could listen all day long to those singers.
Richard Rogers wrote the song originally for the Broadway musical “The Girl Friend” in 1926. It’s probably my least favorite version.
I think my favorite version of “Blue Room” was done for the series “Mad Men” with Perry Como doing a much different version from the one he did in 1948. The tone is there, the love is there as well as the romance – youtu.be/JRZnsksvf7k
The surprising entry in my search was Chet Baker on trumpet with “Blue Room.” Chet Baker is not someone most people these days have heard of. He was called the “Prince of Cool.” He was known for his innovations with cool jazz. He died in 1988 at a hotel, when he attempted going from a hotel balcony to the balcony where he was staying.
Actually, I like the piano solo and accompaniment in the Chet Baker “Blue Room.” Chet Baker’s trumpet dominates, but shares and makes the tune even sweeter by doing so. I do find it amusing that the creator of the song came in last in my search, but without Richard Rogers, there would be no blue room and that would leave me both sad . . . and blue. The walls of our living room are sponged painted in blue. The ceiling is sky blue with clouds. Our daughter Andi and son Del painted the walls and the ceiling in our own “Blue Room.” The song, the piano, the walls and ceiling go together like a perfect puzzle of melody, love, and joy.