Here’s my rendition of one of the top ballads of all-time, Jerome Kern’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (1933):
For many people, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is remembered as a 1958 hit by the Platters. Others associate it with the classic Nat King Cole recording. For others, Benny Goodman, for others Frank Sinatra, for others, etc etc etc. Everybody and their mother had a hit recording with this tune, except for me (but I’m working on it).
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a special song for me because I associate it with my wife, Kate. She works in the field of public health, and one of her former positions was Tobacco Control Coordinator for the county health department. Needless to say, the Uslan household has a strict no smoking policy. When we relax after dinner, we use chewing tobacco only! (That was a joke.)
Here’s some more information about Kate that you might not be aware of. She is very musical. In elementary school, her music teacher told the class that boys should consider learning drums, and girls should consider the dainty instruments, like flute. So Kate of course chose drums and made it her mission to beat out all the boys to become first percussion chair in the middle school band. And she succeeded! She also became very skilled at the marimba. But as she devoted herself to public health, she went on marimba hiatus. When we got married and needed to scrounge up some dough, we sold the marimba. Now I think it would be nice if she takes it back up again. So if you have an extra marimba you want to get rid of, please contact me privately.
Today I am mourning the loss of Edmund Battersby, an important mentor in my life. He was a charming, warm and funny person who cared deeply about his students pianistically and outside of music as well. And his musical mind was truly something to behold. Lots of happy memories coming back today, I was very blessed to have had his guidance and support during those bumpy and sometimes scary years of college. He will be missed by many.
Here is the press release from Indiana University and below is a video of him playing Beethoven's Diabelli Variations. I remember seeing him play this monster of a piece at a recital at Indiana University. The Diabelli Variations are about 50 minutes of continuous music (there are 33 variations), but in the hands of a true master - you get sucked in, and every moment is compelling. 50 minutes feels like 5!
I had the honor of playing at three colleges within the past few months. Here's the scoop :
At the University of North Carolina-Pembroke I played some Fats Waller tunes as part of a concert called "Harlem Renaissance: Songs and Stories." Lots of great music-making by the students - the future is looking bright.
At the University of Mount Olive, I gave a solo concert in their beautiful old concert hall. I also enjoyed a pre-concert party at the home of a faculty member who shared with me his delicious homemade brandy. Since the University is a "dry" campus, this faculty member will have to remain anonymous!
Finally I made it down to the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega for another solo concert. The concert was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed hobnobbing with, among others, Professor Esther Morgan-Ellis. The "Prof-esther" (as I call her) is a musicologist who is an expert on American Popular Music from the early 20th Century. She is writing a book about movie theater sing-alongs that were popular in the 1900s-1920s.
Got some sun in Tucson, Arizona! There I joined forces with soprano Melinda Whittington. Melinda was in town to sing the role of Donna Anna in Arizona Opera's production of Don Giovanni. On a day off in between her performances we did a private Downton Abbey-themed program, as the PBS show was heading towards its finale.
Melinda and I have had a lot of fun the past few years giving Downton Abbey-themed programs. The show consisted of opera (including some Puccini that was performed on the show), and several songs from the 1920s that appeared on the Downton Abbey soundtrack.
For several songs, we changed the lyrics to make jokes about the show. As you can see from the photos, Melinda and I can do the serious thing, but most of the time we like to joke around.
Room full of jazz fans. They had an upright piano but attached a mirror to the top so you could see the fingers move. I played most of the concert solo but enjoyed spicing things up for several tunes with alto sax wiz Ronald Haijtmajer.
I also had time to stroll around the small town of Sassenheim and eat Indonesian food. While on my little stroll, I heard church bells playing "Home on the Range." That caught me by surprise, as I hadn't seen a single deer or antelope in Sassenheim.
That was my final gig on this trip. Hope to make it back again before too long. This amazing experience was all made possible by Marcel Bouwmeester, who is president of the Netherlands Classic Jazz Concert Club. He and his wife Coco hosted me all week long. Dank je well and tot sienz!
Today I did a house concert in Amsterdam which was around the corner from the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh museum, and Concertgebouw.
At the house concert, one lady introduced herself to me after the concert as Xaviera Hollander. She is renowned for her 1972 bestselling memoir: The Happy Hooker. I am pleased to report that in 2016, Ms. Hollander is still happy. Although at some point she made a career change. Now she runs a bed and breakfast.
This was a tiny museum in the old Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. The museum was a quirky little place with lots of great piano knick-knacks from days of yore.
The concert went great, it was a full house (although a tiny intimate house). And I should mention that on the flight from the USA to Amsterdam, I sat next to Cecil, a Canadian neurologist who was to spend a year working in an Amsterdam hospital.
We became friends and he and his wife came to this show! Also, I wore a bowtie with wooden shoes (klompen) on it. Much more comfortable than wearing actual klompen.
A house concert in Utrecht - in a beautiful home by the canals. I played "Ain't Misbehavin" as my last song and I dedicated it to my wife, Kate, lest she be concerned I would misbehave in Amsterdam's red light district unsupervised.
A lady from the audience just hopped up and sang it with me! I liked that. It meant that people were having a good time and felt comfortable to break traditional house-concert rules a little bit.
Afterwards I had delicious Dutch apple pie, homemade by one of the concert attendees. If you are curious, the original Dutch apple pie has lots of crust while its American apple pie cousin has a lot of apple-goo in the middle.
I went to Apeldoorn for a show with a pianist named Eeco Rijken Rapp. Eeco is a killer boogie woogie pianist and swings like nobody's business. There was a full house at the Brasserie de Manege, and we played a bunch of solos, 2-piano duets, and we had drums (David Herzel) and a sax (Ronald Haijtmajer).
The only video I have so far from the show is from a duet with Ronald. Its of a Bix Beiderbecke/Frank Trumbauer song called "Krazy Kat." Its pretty obscure. That's what I liked about playing with Ronald, he loves digging up songs from deep in the vault.
Welcome to my new blog! I felt like I needed a place to share all of the stories from my life as a full-time professional ragtime pianist. No better time to start than with my trip to the Netherlands.
Day 1: US Embassy in the Hague. The ambassador just resigned so I took the liberty of appointing myself ambassador for the evening.
I wore my USA flag bowtie to honor my home country. And to honor the Netherlands, I played a popular Dutch waltz called "Tulpen uit Amsterdam." First I played it the Dutch way, then the Scott Joplin way, then the Jelly Roll Morton way, and then the Fats Waller way. Looks like one of the audience members posted the Jelly Roll variation on Twitter. Check it out!