By Deems Tsutakawa For The North American Post
Like many boomers, I have spent the better part of the last five-plus decades on countless hours making a living doing my craft, which happens to be a labor of love. I, of course, will never fully retire, as playing the grand piano professionally is so very uplifting to my mind, heart, and very existence. We are thankful indeed. Although most of my steady work has actually been in the form of background music at hotels, restaurants, parties, and cocktail lounges, these venues have provided me with much needed dough, as they say in the biz. However, from time to time, I have performed on some spectacular concert stages and have met some truly great artists.
One year back, I opened two shows for Spyro Gyra at the beautiful Arlene Schnitzer Hall in Portland, Oregon. The venue is similar to the Paramount Northwest here in Seattle. Their band was actually a little snooty as they had no interest in talking to me or letting me eat their food. By contrast, the great Maynard Ferguson, trumpeter extraordinaire, was very gracious when I opened two shows for him at the old Backstage in Seattle. I also did a nice set for Dave Brubeck at a luncheon in his honor. It was with my trio of Steve Kim on bass and Wayne Rabb on drums. Both Maynard and Dave said the nicest stuff in the world to me; it was quite encouraging, to say the least.
For the grand opening of Pacific Place, my band had the distinct pleasure to open for Roberta Flack— man, she sounded great too. Besides having jammed with Kenny G in Seattle, when he was coming up, I have opened a few sets for the sax icon and he is always real cool with me. I played a solo piano set before the legendary Ernestine Anderson at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery. She was such a class act—vivacious also comes to mind.
Then there was the time I played with Colette Ikemi and her band at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. We opened for the great Hiroshima to a sold out house. I have since then seen and jammed with Hiroshima on many occasions. The coolest thing about the SF gig was that after the event, the movers and shakers of this gig, who were Asian American, asked me to run the streets with them and hang out all night. This was quite an honor as they didn’t ask the headliners or any of Colette’s band guys. Here I am, dropped out of the sky from Seattle, little old me hanging with the coolest AA dudes in the Bay Area; those are unforgettable experiences.