Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dave Frishberg Day in Portland

Yesterday was Dave Frishberg Day here in Portland.  Though I only knew that because it was announced at the Frishberg concert I went to Sunday night, part of the Portland Jazz Festival.

I don’t know much about music.  But I will tell you that while I was sitting there listening (and watching) I was taken back to sitting in the seminars in Key West last month.  How lucky am I?  I’ve had the good fortune to listen to both Dave Frishberg and Calvin Trillin in two months. 

And I was struck by their similarities.  Frishberg and Trillin are about the same age, both soft spoken.  They go about their work (at least on stage) so easily, I imagine some might think they’re just sending it in at this point.

But they’re not.  They’re delivering.

Here’s a description of Frishberg I wrote years ago after a concert:

The keyboard is keeping him on a tight leash. His back is covered with a beige suit jacket. The wrinkles that form in it when he moves look skeletal, suggesting every motion he makes. He could be a model in a life drawing class, doing rapid poses for gesture drawing.

He seems to be doing everything exactly as my childhood piano teacher forbade. His shoulders are scrunched up next to his ears; in fact, all his body, except his feet and hands, hangs as if rigidly connected by a fishing line to the keyboard.

But his right foot is swinging. Sometimes it just pumps up and down, but when he really gets going, the right foot tries to run off. His left hand is playing stride piano, the octaves are yelling out at us. His right foot circles around, out from under the piano and is just about to take off when Snap! He pulls it back to the pedal.

And his hands, really almost claws, travel up and down the keyboard, sidling each way, crablike. At once they are rigid, severe, unbending, but also elastic. They defy reality. I can barely follow the sounds, there are so many at once.

Suddenly the crabs turn into ballerinas, pirouetting sweet trills on the black keys before something goes wrong. The ballerina hands transform fluently into a drawn pistol, and the trigger finger pulls off a note. Bang! The ballerina is gone for a while, but she’ll be back. The final note is played, surprisingly quiet, without flourish. His hands fall off, his shoulders relax with a shudder, and--only for a moment--his forearms are suspended quivering, parallel to the floor, before they, too, relax at his sides.


Unknown said...

I love this description of Frishberg at the piano! Especially I like his right foot making a break for it and then being hauled back in like a truant schoolboy.

Charles Shere said...

Very nice. Very nice indeed.

lshere said...

Delicious description-Dad says you should have been a music critic! Too bad more music critics don't write like that.

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