The Band Room

Volume 121, No. 4April, 2021

Bill Crow


Dan McElrath is a registered piano technician with Alaska Piano Services. He posted this story on Facebook:

I received a call in early 2014 from Chick Corea’s usual piano technician. It appeared Chick and Bela Fleck were coming for an Alaskan Tour of Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau. Chick wanted me to travel to each venue to inspect and prepare each piano for his upcoming shows. As it turned out Anchorage was the only town with his preferred Yamaha concert grand at the performance venue, although I was able to find one at the University of Alaska Fairbanks which we got moved to the performance hall for him.

The concerts in Fairbanks and Anchorage were mostly uneventful, except for the amazing music these two musical icons were producing. However, once we landed in Juneau, things changed a little. I got off the plane in the Capital City and headed straight to the auditorium at the Juneau Douglas High School. An older Steinway D concert grand piano resides there. Now keep in mind that I had spent an entire day voicing, regulating and prepping this piano for this concert about a month earlier, and I had serviced this piano numerous times for concerts and events over the years. I knew this piano well and, while I knew Chick preferred a Yamaha whenever available, I really thought he would be happy with this Steinway.

Chick and Bela arrived just 30 minutes before the doors were to open for the concert, to do their sound check. There were about 8 to 12 stage techs milling around including myself standing back in the shadows. Chick sat down at the piano and began to play. After playing a couple chords and arpeggios Chick abruptly stopped. My heart skipped a beat. He looked around and said, “Is the piano tuner still in the house?” I reluctantly stepped out of the shadows and said, “Yes, Chick, I’m right here.” In a very animated tone, Chick said, “I need you to take this thing down as low as this establishment will let you! Can you do that?” I said, “Yes, I can.”

What Chick was asking me to do was make a wholesale change to the “tone” of the piano, which he found very offensive. Now I had been a concert piano technician for about ten years, and I felt quite comfortable with the tone on the piano. And it sounded very much like the other pianos he had played, if not a bit mellower. At this point I had about 20 minutes before the house doors would open, which was not nearly enough time to do what he was asking of me. I began to sweat as I reached for my tool bag and opened it.

Just then a guy hopped up on stage and put his arm on Chick’s shoulder and asked him what was wrong. He was Chick’s sound technician. Chick very dramatically played a few chords and told the tech he couldn’t play this piano in its current condition. The tech said very calmly, “Chick, the piano sounds great out here in the auditorium.”

Chick paused for a moment with a look of puzzlement on his face. He made a “humph” sort of sound and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a small remote and began pushing buttons on it. Chick had forgotten to change the setting on his implanted hearing aids (which I had no idea he even wore). He played a few chords and said confidently, “Oh, this sounds much better! So sorry, Dan.”

I heard a few chuckles around the stage. I looked at Chick as he smiled at me. “Chick,” I said, “You almost had me ruin a perfectly good Steinway grand!” He chuckled, looked at Bela and started playing some obscure beautiful song I had never heard before, and from the look on Bela’s face he had never heard of it either. Rest in peace, Chick. There will never be another you!

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Tom Samuels posted this on Facebook. It’s from a column written by Tim Marks for the January 6, 1934 issue of the Brooklyn Times Union:

TRAPPED DRUMMER ALMOST BITES DOG: If the percussion section of Isham Jones Orchestra seemed to miss a beat or two during a recent broadcast of “The Big Show,” don’t think badly of the drummer, please. Gertrude Niesen’s bulldog, Big Boy, was the cause of it all. Gertrude brought the diminutive brindle bull pup to the studio that evening and tied him up to the leg of a chair. He remained there, apparently quite contented, and not a bit interested in the hurry and bustle preparatory to putting “The Big Show” on the air, until the orchestra launched into the opening fanfare. At the first blast, Big Boy gave a tug at his tether, yanked himself loose, bounded across the studio and up onto the snare drum to play “catch” with the flying drum sticks. He tumbled off the snare drum onto the kettle drum and, from there, bounced off onto the floor. Gertrude, with a flying tackle, scooped him up and whisked him through the door just in time to catch her cue to start singing.