Guitars, Pianos, People, and School Memories

TBT – Freshman year in college. My dorm room was a single which had previously been a closet. It had room enough for my guitar, an LP turntable and stereo set, and a tiny desk. At the time, I felt like it was heaven, but I may have underestimated its value.


Within a few days I had discovered the music building and the dungeon below of old Steinway grand piano practice rooms. And I had figured out a way to enter an old lessor used auditorium on the “east” campus which still had a lovely concert D Steinway and the acoustics of a wooden stage and domed central hall area. Baldwin dome No wonder they had mostly discontinued it’s use in favor of a concrete blob elsewhere, because that old auditorium was truly divine acoustically and full of warmth and character. I’m told that later it was restored and now is again lovingly in use for music and drama performances.

My memories of it were mostly after dark, when I would steal back into it and find my way to the 9 foot concert D Steinway. I would practice there, and every once in a while I would encounter another music student who might wander in upon hearing my playing as he or she was walking back after their practice time in the music building, etc. One time, a lone trombone player wandered in – pulled out his instrument – and he proceeded to improvise a solo trombone part atop my playing a gentle ballad chord progression on the piano. I was truly shocked to discover how sonorous and beautiful the trombone could be as he teased it from imitation of a French horn all the way to nearly a trumpet’s range.

I’m sure I spent some time studying in my dorm room, but looking back on it, I remember the auditorium and the piano practice rooms more than most anything from my freshman year, except for some people now gone. In my memories, pianos, guitars, and people occupy nearly identical spaces of importance. And one might argue how pianos and guitars are more faithful over time – this of course includes myself in the comparison.


Remembering the Waldorf Astoria and my performance. Well, sort of

Remembering the Waldorf Astoria and my performance there… sort of.
Remembering the Waldorf Astoria and my performance there… sort of.

Remembering the Waldorf Astoria.

I recall the grandeur and beauty of the Waldorf with a fond memory or two of being there as a young teenager. Now I hear that she has been sold to investors who have the intent of converting a large part of her into condos. I can appreciate the repurposing of the building, and I wish them and her future residents all of the best. But I certainly hope they keep the restaurant and mezzanine features alive in some sort of way that will continue its traditions of fine dining, and high class lounging.

One of my memories coincides my first exposure to the power of a music union in New York back in the late 1970s. I was at the Waldorf as a tag along with my parents on a visit to the City. Old enough to be left to wander about on my own, and yet not quite an adult yet, I was at the perfect age to politely explore the Waldorf. And as always when traveling, I went on a search for the ever-present grand piano somewhere either in a balcony area, or perhaps at the bar, or perhaps in a ballroom or conference room etc.

Remembering the Waldorf Astoria and that Steinway.

On the mezzanine, sure enough, there was indeed a lovely and slightly worn black grand piano. Her lid and fall board were closed, but it was late in the evening on a weekday and there were few people about. I gently lifted the fall board to see the beloved words “Steinway” and with a tentative soft touch I confirmed that the instrument was indeed in fine tune and repair. Still, she hadn’t been completely abandoned and forgotten.

I sat down and gently made friends with the old girl, playing softly and only sweet things at first; such being my usual mode to test any public area piano mooching. — No one complained, and one gentleman even left a bar area around the corner of the mezzanine to come closer to listen… ahhh a listener.

Remembering the Waldorf Astoria not having a tip jar!

I wound up playing for about 35 minutes, but because it was late, I stayed always playing something sonorous with a soothing touch and only original compositions. Several people eventually cast themselves about in the nearby lounge seating and one old lady even offered me a tip – but alas there was no tip jar or tip glass.

Not being Union. Remembering the Waldorf Astoria’s night manager. 

Eventually, a night manager came up from the main desk below to check on me. He complimented my playing and then said something about ‘was I in the union?’ – Being a youngster from out of state I was too stupid to know what he meant, and I said, “No sir, I am a guest in the hotel.” And then his eyes flashed suddenly with genuine fear as he quickly and firmly interrupted the song with closing the fall board almost upon my fingers in his rush.

Several people, now fans, chimed in with comments of “let the kid play”, or “he’s good, let him play on”, etc. But alas, it was to no avail. He told me he was sorry, but under no circumstances could he have any entertainment that was not “union”, and that I should leave the bar area immediately.

Such was my NY debut – unscheduled – unpublicized – partly well received – partly thrown out on my ear. But ever since I’ve been able to say I played the piano at the Waldorf Astoria mezzanine bar.   And though I have joined BMI, I’m still not “in the union”.
remembering the waldorf astoria, ed verner, lyrics logic lullabies

Remembering the Waldorf Astoria

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Remembering the Waldorf Astoria and my performance. Well. sort of