Friday, August 31, 2012

"Killer on the Keys"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

When it comes to pianists, only one -- goodness gracious! -- is a great ball of fire.

I refer, of course, to Jerry Lee Zezima.

With apologies to The Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis, who may indeed kill me if he ever finds out, I earned the name when I performed a flawless glissando in the last of the five piano lessons I took recently at Steinway & Sons in Melville, N.Y.

The crash course, “Learn to Play the EZ Way,” was developed and taught by Vince Warren, a talented musician (he also plays guitar, dulcimer and other stringed instruments) who works for Steinway.

As it said in a brochure for the class, “If your goal is to play Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at Carnegie Hall, this class will not get you there. However, if you would like to play popular music, jazz standards, etc., with very little commitment on your part, then this class is for you. No musical experience necessary!”

I’ve always known that the best way to get to Carnegie Hall is, of course, by taxi. You also have to practice. And be able to spell “Rachmaninoff.”

It was the part about very little commitment and no musical experience that sold me. After all, I had never played the piano, have never owned one and couldn’t even bang out “Chopsticks” or the Piano Concerto No. 3.

Still, I’ve always wanted to shoot the keys like Victor Borge, Chico Marx and, above all, Jerry Lee Lewis. So I signed up because the piano, despite being difficult to play in a marching band, is my favorite instrument.

“It’s mine, too,” Vince said at the beginning of the first lesson. “And it’s the most well-thought-out instrument. Notes you can learn to play quickly on the piano would take you months to learn on the trumpet.”

That was good news to me and my two classmates, Marguerite and Joe, a very nice married couple who drew inspiration from the fact that Vince never took formal piano lessons as a kid. Because of his teaching method, we wouldn’t have to take them as adults.

Like me, Joe had never played the piano, but he turned out to have a good ear for music. Or, as I told him, “two good ears.” Marguerite had played before on an old family piano. I was at a disadvantage because (a) I have a bad ear for music and (b) I didn’t have access to a piano to practice on.

“Don’t worry,” said Vince. “I’ll have you playing in no time.”

He wasn’t kidding. By the end of the first lesson (and helped by key guides, or “cheaters,” which line up with the piano keys), I was playing “Ode to Joy,” which unfortunately went for naught because Joy wasn’t in the class.

“Like you, Beethoven didn’t have a piano,” Vince told me. “There’s hope.”

I didn’t think so because Vince said that the key to music is math, which was my worst subject in school, if you don’t count all the others.

Amazingly, I got an A (the key of A) in Vince’s class, which costs $89.95 (email:

Using a songbook titled “Favorite Songs With 3 Chords,” we also played “Amazing Grace” (she wasn’t in the class, either) and “Londonderry Air” (which sounds like the backside of an Englishman but is actually “Danny Boy”).

The third of the five weekly sessions was a one-on-one with Vince, who told me I was doing well despite not having a piano to practice on.

Marguerite, Joe and I learned rhythmic values, rolled chords and, in the final class, glissandos, which are finger glides down the keys from one pitch to another.

When I performed mine, Vince exulted, “Jerry Lee is in the house!”

I may not be another Killer, but there was a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on.

Copyright 2012 by Jerry Zezima


Suzette Standring said...

Jerry Lee Zezima - now that has a natural ring! Coincidentally, I bought an inexpensive piano on Craigslist and started taking lessons, too. That was ten months ago. What a lovely floor decoration that Spinet is!

Jerry Zezima said...

Suzette, that puts you one up on Beethoven.

Dave Astor said...

Jerry, another funny and absorbing column! And, as a Marx Brothers fan, I appreciated the reference to Chico! I have a piano in my house (my now-adult daughter formerly used it). It is now a very classy-looking bookshelf. Vonnegut's "Player Piano" is not on it.

Cathy Turney said...

I can hear your next story, "Live, from the Steinway Showroom ... It's Jerry Lee Zezima!" I'll look for it on You Tube!

JustRex said...

Now you just need a polyester tuxedo and you can take a night job at the local watering hole.

"Hey there... Nice to see you. I'll be here all night.. Here's a little song about turnips...."

Jerry Zezima said...

Dave, I don't know how well Vonnegut could play, but I'm sure he couldn't shoot the keys like Chico Marx. Still, he was an author of note. You are, too. Thanks for the comment.

Jerry Zezima said...

Cathy, I'm sure a performance from me would crash YouTube. But thank you for the idea.

Jerry Zezima said...

Darev2005, my playing alone would drive people to drink, let alone a polyester tux, so performing at a watering hole would be appropriate. Cheers!

Foxyroxy said...

Sounds like music to my ears !!!!!!

sdbelland said...

I HAD a piano in the house while I was growing up and I still didn't learn, so nachos, I mean kudos to you!

Jerry Zezima said...

Thank you, Foxy. It's not beautiful music, but it's not horrible, either. I surprised even myself.

Jerry Zezima said...

Thanks for the kudos, Sdbelland. If I'd had access to a piano, I might not have played so well during my lessons because, of course, I'm not normal. Also, I never grew up. By the way, I love nachos.