Upright Blues

Upright Blues – improvising on practice pianos

Imagine this with me: it’s summertime. We’re on the campus of a university with a large music school.

Let’s Play Upright

Baldwin upright piano

In each of several buildings, there are dozens of practice rooms. In each of them stands an upright piano. Now, these pianos have been overheated in the summer. There is nothing to control the moisture in these practice rooms either, so whatever happens to the soundboard just happens.

Perhaps a few frustrated students have struck these keyboards with extra fervor. Certainly, over the years, most of them have lost the veneer from their keys and woodwork. A few have completely lost a key or two. This is how upright pianos show their vulnerability.

Just Practicing

Ludwig upright piano

There are uprights by famous brands and by unknown makers. No two pianos seem to match. Even the ones that look similar have a sound character that is unique.

Part of the magic of these pianos is their brokenness. In a way that’s almost human, their character and beauty come through right where one might think they most need to be “fixed”.

Upright Piano Love

Broken upright piano

I’m not sure why — maybe it’s something in the air of the campus — but these uprights seem to call out for the blues. As much as my brain might want to go somewhere else, my fingers keep drifting to various blues stylings as I improvise on each of them.

As I continue to ponder and to play, I realize that this is quite natural: of course, these uprights play the blues. There is no music so true. Rich with both melancholy and playfulness, the blues tell the story of these upright pianos and the people who have practiced on them.

There are seven more improvisations on this album. But I must warn you that these piano improvs are raw and unedited. Listen at your own risk.

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