WHAT'S IN A NAME?
I was playing piano in a bar on a slow night back in the 80's when a man told me this story -- I don't think he even realized the implications that were built into it. I've thought a lot about his anecdote over the years.
The man said that, back in the late 1950's when he was about 30, he worked in Ohio and was sent on a business trip to New York. He checked into the Waldorf Astoria Hotel around 5:30 pm. He had an important business presentation to make first thing in the morning, so his plan was to order room service and spend the evening getting ready.
When he got to his room he could hear someone playing piano across the courtyard. The weather was nice, the window was open. He shut the window and tried to put the piano out of his mind as he focused on tomorrow's big meeting.
Room service brought dinner and the hours went by. He kept hearing the irritating piano in the background, but he tuned it out.
11 pm came, he got ready for bed. Piano still playing... he tried to sleep. Finally at midnight he phoned the front desk: "I've been trying to be patient, but someone's been playing piano ever since I checked in, and now it's midnight and I need to sleep -- can you PLEASE ask them to stop?"
"Oh, I am so sorry, sir, I understand completely -- but you see... that is Mr. Cole Porter playing: he lives in our hotel and he plays to ease his pain. Do you REALLY want us to call him up and ask him to stop?"
"Oh no," the man said, "I had no idea! Please don't disturb him -- good night," and the man hung up and stayed up till after 2 treasuring every note till Cole Porter finally gave up for the night.
And the music hadn't changed -- just the label. How does that phrase go? 'Don't sell the steak, sell the sizzle'
A STORY ABOUT A SONG
15 or 20 years ago I was driving hundreds of miles from home, twirling the radio dial, when I heard this story (I wish I had pulled off the road and written down the details, because I haven't been able to track it down since -- but I do believe it's true).
A composer, an old man from the movie studio heydays of Hollywood, was reminiscing about when he and a lyricist had pitched a song they had just finished for a movie musical that was in production. It was the 1940's and they had a meeting with their boss, the head of the studio, who was a complete autocrat.
The song was literally only hours old, so the composer played it on piano while the lyricist sang the melody & lyrics. Their boss was the first person in the world to hear the new song.
"I HATE it! Come back in a week with something GOOD!" They left the office.
The lyricist was really discouraged. They both knew the song was truly good, and if their boss can't see that, then what hope is there? "Don't worry," the composer said, "I know what we'll do."
During the next week they didn't write a different song -- instead, the composer spent the week putting together a recording of their song, with full orchestrations and professional vocals.
When they met with their boss a week later, they played the recording.
"Now THAT'S a good song! I KNEW you could do it!"
They never told their boss it was the same song. The song went in the movie, everybody was happy and made money.
Feb. 3, 2011
We're currently in the singer-songwriter era. It wasn't always that way: how many hits did Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra write? The point then was: get the best singers and get the best writers. But as performers got more control in the recording business, they realized that there was money (and fame) to be had if they would write their own songs and keep the writers' royalties for themselves. If performers decide which songs they record, it's understandable they would choose their own.
Writers who just write are at a disadvantage. In my opinion I am in this category. I know I don't sing well. I have honesty and enthusiasm in my singing, and the knowledge that has come with playing piano for 55 years (since I was 6) and playing for a living almost all of my adult life -- but I also know what all of us know from living in this world: truly compelling and pleasing singing voices are very rare. I only ask that they try singing a few of my songs. Soon I hope.
AT THE PIANO
I love the piano. It's been my friend since I was 6. It's a stubborn friend -- it takes a lot of work to get a piano to open up and interact with you, but wow it is so worth it. I've been playing 55 years so far, and I hope I'll get 25 more years at it (more?) because it is a journey that just keeps on going to new understandings that, if you are like me, you will find wondrously surprising and pleasing. 11/29/10
JUST THE FACTS, NOTHING BUT THE
If you want facts, here are some:
Peter Bullene Robinson, born July 2, 1949; grew up in Shawnee Mission, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City.
Started playing piano at age 6, studied 'classical' with private teacher till age 13; rebelled, insisted on switching teachers, found jazz piano and theory teacher John Elliot; continued private studies with John Elliot through high school.
Went east to Princeton University for college, graduated 1972 with degree in English; 'starving' musician in rural Connecticut for a year+ after college, then in the fall of '73 accepted a job working on the staff of Senator Bob Dole in Washington; worked for Dole 11 months, resigned in fall of '74 to return to music.
Returned to Kansas City, played music 4 1/2 years, including 3 years playing piano and co-leading bands in the Muehlebach Hotel in downtown KC.
In the fall of 1979 met a Kansas congressman, Larry Winn, Jr., who offered a staff job back in Washington; moved back to DC and worked for Cong. Winn for 2 1/4 years; missed music and resigned from Winn's staff in January 1982.
Played piano in DC full-time since then; venues have included The Fairfax Hotel, The Georgetown Inn, The (New) Old Ebbitt Grill, all 3 of DC areas Ritz-Carlton hotels, and The Jefferson where he currently plays 5 nights/week (he also performed at The Jefferson in 1983-84, and recorded his first album, "Live In Washington," there 1/84).
Other self-produced album projects:
"Originally" in 1988, 17-song cycle, all instrumental, 9 musicians.
"Songs of the Season" in 1993, a holiday jazz improv./mixed genre album, 7 musicians.
"Dancin'" in 1994, trad. jazz improv., 6 musicians.
"The Kansas Song" was recorded in 1996 and was broadcast on NPR's "All Things Considered" as part of a profile on Bob Dole.
Also in 1996 "Scottish Mute" (a concertino for cello and piano/bass/drums jazz trio) was performed in DC's Kennedy Center as part of the National Symphony Orchestra's chamber music concert series.
In 2007 Peter was invited by the Smithsonian American Art Museum to create a concert as part of their Steinway Series: on June 10, 2007, 4 musicians and 5 singers joined Peter in presenting in concert "The Best Songs You've Never Heard," comprised of 14 songs, words and music by Peter Robinson.
9 songs from the Smithsonian 2007 concert, along with 10 other original songs, are presented on the CD "Some of the Best Songs You've Never Heard" which was released by Bullene Music in December 2010.