On my birthday in 2005, I walked into a vintage keyboard shop in my neighbourhood and eyeballed a Wurlitzer electric piano. Portable and lightweight with a built-in speaker and removable legs, the Wurlitzer seemed like a sensible choice for a birthday folly. The next day I returned with my bank account drained, but the Wurlitzer had been sold. In its place was a 1973 Fender Rhodes stage piano — a different indulgence entirely. Not electric and made of wood instead of plastic, the Rhodes had 73 felted hammers that struck metal tines connected to an electro-magnetic pickup, like an electric guitar. Twice as heavy, she came home on a dolly — and up the stairs mostly on the shoulders of the guy who sold her to me.
I plugged in an amp, got seated, pressed the keys, and out rang a bell-like chime — then a scratchy growl. She was barking, purring, then creamy and cosmic, percussive, then airy and rippling again. Her timbre was alive and moody; her touch, touchy — a buttery, melancholy damper, then punctuating like a celeste, or wide and electric bass-like, or nudging brightly toward a glockenspiel. “Never let go of the fiery sadness called desire,” wrote Matsuo Basho. I leapt into her billowing tide and disappeared.
It wasn’t long before my Rhodes and I were cabbing it all over New York to compete with the hum of an East Village bar room ice machine or be dwarfed on the hallowed stage of a velvet-seated theater. We crammed into my bedroom with a jazz drum kit and three-quarter bass, then journeyed upstate to record in a pitch-roofed chapel. She came up and down stairs and over April puddles and holiday snow banks, acquired new legs, pedals, flanges and latches and got her tines tuned bright, then mellow, then wah-wah, by a specialist who made house-calls. “I’m gonna make her extra funky for you,” he assured.
It’s been eleven years since my ’73 Fender Rhodes first came up the stairs. The shop where I bought her has long since disappeared as part of New York’s perpetual reincarnation. This week, for my birthday, I release my third album of music written on her and for her, called Lifedrawing. And it’s for you, too — you can find it here.
PS: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the action on this piano.” (Ray Charles, The Blues Brothers)
Esoterica: Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Led Zeppelin, Herbie Hancock, The Doors, Billy Preston’s solo on The Beatle’s Get Back, Vince Guaraldi’s Peanuts themes for Peppermint Patty and Joe Cool, Michael McDonald’s I Keep Forgettin’, Elton John’s Daniel, Bob James’ Angela theme from Taxi and Billy Joel’s Just The Way You Are have all been besotted by the gifts of the Fender Rhodes. “Who are we, together?” I ask mine, knowing she had a life before us. A year younger than me, my Rhodes’ leather covering peels from her corners and her volume knob is smooth from previous outbursts. From the foot of the bed, she elucidates the meaning of her presence: “Accept the gift.” (Robert Genn, The Dreamway)
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“The creative mind plays with objects it loves.” (Carl Jung)
Love it !
So multi-talented!! Between the brush, the pen and the lifting you must have developed muscles you did not know you had! Congratulations on your new release!
” ” ” ” “DITTO ” ” ” ”
Can’t wait for a quiet moment and hear your album and ascend the musical spheres!
*Congratulations* on your new album. I’ve been a fan of your music, your voice and sound. I’m also reading this on my birthday :) Happy (recent) birthday to you.
Congratulations on your 3rd album Sara!
Another great Canadian musician regularly performs on her Rhodes. Her debut album ‘Brown’ is still one of my favourites:
What a great and beautifully written story….thanks for sharing!!! Engaging and touching and inspiring. A very Happy Birthday to you…….and Congratulations on your new release. Amazingly talented human. So happy I discovered The Painter’s Keys. What a fount on thoughtfulness, creativity, joy!!!
Terrific choice for birthday gifts-to-Self. (I had to chuckle about getting them up the stairs – I have played guitar since I’m 10 and can not tell you how many times I huffed up flights of stairs saying how glad I am that I don’t play acoustic bass or piano! ;-)
Love your music, Sara. Rich and atmospheric. Will definitely give a listen to the new work.
Happy Birthday to you – and James.
I had no idea you were also a musician. Your music is beautiful. I love the haunting air that holds up the words (maybe that is the Fender?). One of my sisters is a musician and I keep encouraging her to get back into painting. Why wear one hat when one can have as many as one can carry? :)
You are a gift, Sara. How much talent in one being. Enjoy the journey as it unfolds and your audience get to enjoy it vicariously along with you.
To take the gifts of upringing and continue them so creatively is the perfect reward to parents.
I will follow the Twice Weekly Letters, with even more interest, if that is possible.
Wow – so cool!
When I read this letter yesterday I was in a rush, but on this rainy, windy day I now have time to accept your gift.
Such a pure voice – such a treat – thank you so much.
Oh Sara, such a beautifully, delicious and enjoyable letter. Having know your father and grandparents, I should never be surprised by your talents. Thank you so much for your inspirations.
Many times I have thought about my old Wurlitzer piano, which I sold years ago – and wish I hadn’t. The legs, pedal, music stand, cords, music, water bottle and towel all went into a backpack, and I carried my piano like a briefcase with a handle I had installed. Later I also had a Rhodes, but the Wurlitzer and I were such a cute couple.
Congratulations Sara on your new album!