Saturday, April 30, 2011

To Clark Music, With Love

Very rarely is video released out of the vaults of HUNGARIA INC., but this is a special occasion. In fact, this is the ONLY one ever officially released out of the vault, and here's why:

With a heavy heart, I recently became aware that Clark Music on Erie Blvd. in Syracuse, NY, is closing it retail store.

Clark Music is very special to me, so a little back story to this video is in order.

I finally got serious about how to wrangle a piano relatively late in life, and due to the budget constraints of making the life decision to exist as a professional musician, I never was in one place long enough, or had the finances to own a "real" piano. Most of the practicing I've done in my life has been on crappy digital pianos through headphones, driving whatever room-mate, future Ex-Mother-In-Law, or significant other nuts with the toneless clomping of cheap plastic keys for hours on end.

So the the final litmus test of whatever concept I was trying to master was to test drive it on a real piano, a wholly different animal than an electronic keyboard. Real steel, wood, and bone is where the truth of mastery resides. Anything else is phony baloney.

So when I got something worked up to the point where that physical beta test could be run, and run in front of discerning ears, I would hop in the car to Clark Music for a test drive, usually after a work out at Sundown Gym... fully sweat soaked and stankified.

Mr. Murphy's staff were always very accommodating in spite of my fresh state of stankification. The knew I couldn't actually buy a piano, and yet they put up with me trying to wrassle a $75,000 Steinway into "Little Georgie" submission on a regular basis. Plus it was a great hang, with George, Mike, Frank, Rod, and the rest of the staff at Clark.... they were, and still are, such good friends. Their graciousness was boundless. When I got wiped out by Hurricane Katrina and relocated back in the 'Cuse ("Because I got no other place to GO!!!!", he wailed in his best Richard Gere to Louis Gossett Junior voice), it was the Murphy family that loaned me a piano to play on free of charge, until I could get back on my feet again, and ffind my way back to The Crescent City.

We shared a lot of laughs through the years; some tears too.

When it came time to record The Hungarians first disc, we needed a real piano. Mr. Murphy and company came through, delivering a 9 foot Steinway Concert Grand to Acqrok Studios in Utica, NY... through a blinding blizzard in February, up two flights of stairs, when we holed up at Bob Acquaviva's jernt for the recording of basic tracks. The piano was a beast, and frankly, way too much piano for me to totally control, but I did the best I could.

So what we have here on this video is yours truly, fresh out of the shower, warming up for an in-store appearance of The Shuffling Hungarians at Clark Music, in support of the release of our first recording. Its a Sunday, so I probably haven't slept off a liquid infusion of a quart of Crown Royal, screaming my lungs out for three and a half hours straight in front of our faithful drunken monkey crowd, all whilst inhaling a couple of packs of flaming Marlboros at Styleen's Rhythm Palace the night before.

I'm probably just trying to regain some semblance of semi-consciousness: desperately trying to acquaint myself with the instrument enough not to be fumble thumbing my way through the upcoming performance and awaiting the arrival the rest of the guys and gals in the band to show up as the Clark staff sets up the folding chairs.

We were all dragging ourselves out of bed to hawk the record, and in some small way, giving thanks to the years of service to the CNY community of the arts that Clark Music represents. The "dream" and ultimate realization of the concept of the Hungarians would not have been possible if not for the support of many, including the Murphy family and the Clark Music Staff.

This is me, stripped of the regular hoopla, candidly caught and clueless of the fact that there's a camera rolling... naked and unafraid. There isn't a circus, or a "character" to hide behind. And to the best of my knowledge, probably how the staff at Clark remember me; All George, and no "Little Georgie".

This is what annoys neighbors in the present day as I go through my daily practice regimen: random passers-by, and the occasional yowling pack of cats that get to hear the music wafting through my open window on any given day as they stroll and troll around the corner of Helen and Farmer. Two and a half years of daily unscheduled, unpaid and unpublicized "performances". My current steady gig.

One of my fantasies was always that one day, I would be able to walk into Clark, plunk down $100,000 in cash, pay full retail, and walk out of there with a mack daddy Steinway under my arm. A very real way of truly giving thanks and paying them back for all of their generousity, love, and support.

But they are now closing sadly, and I'm about as far away from that financial pipe dream as humanly possible without being actually dead.

But pipe dreams are what fuel us all, at least to some degree. With that in mind, here's a rare little glimpse into the past, brought to you by the wonderful human beings that made Clark Music such an integral part of my dreams, and of the community at large for 152 years of dedicated service... along with the coffee, donuts, and fresh flowers that the Murphy family provided to the walking Hungarian wounded early on a Sunday sometime way back when.

So here's the faint echo of a little travellin' music, that hopefully still resonates with all my love to the Clark Music Family.


Brendoon said...

Damn fine tale!
I guess no one ever gets used to the world changing all the time.
I'm a cartoonist these days and seem about as broke as yourself. "Living the dream" somehow forgets the whole cashflow thing! Dang, it's good though!
-Brendon Wright, Noo Zealand

Eric Thom said...

Thanks to Sluggo, I got this blog link and was blown away by both your playing - stanky in all the best of ways - and your blog/writing ability. The story of Clark's is a loving one and a testament to really good people. Wish I could go in there and buy a piano or do something to keep good hearts like that in business (no kids to carry it on?). I want to find your music now and, for what it's worth, I do some music writing (of a reviewing nature) for a number of publications, so if I can help YOU in any way, I'd be glad to. Any friend of Sluggo's is just somebody else who will owe me a friend of mine.

Frank DeFonda said...

Dear George!
These kind words are so appreciated, I feel pretty lucky that you and I have so much history together. We at Clark Music always looked forward to your visits, I totally "get" the idea of the difference between the feel and sound of an electric keyboard versus an acoustic grand piano, in our case an acoustic Steinway Grand Piano which is like no other in the world! We have been honored to be a franchise of Steinway & Sons for over sixty years. Mr. Murphy and staff have been big fans of your music. Murphy plays a "mean" Boogie-Woogie Piano himself, he doesn't get enough of an opportuninty to play. He especially enjoyed your visits. When I brought this idea of a "Music Series" to him that we could host for very little money with fairly good results, he and Mrs. Murphy were on board quickly! Though the "Retail" side of things will eventually close, some "targeted" and institutional sales of The Steinway Family of Pianos which includes Boston and Essex will still be conducted as we try and sell our building, the goal of ours for over a year. And the Custom Installation Department for Home Theater will have a small footprint again for targeted sales, and our audio repair division is on board, again while we sell our building. So there is life after retail! I will forward your letter to Mr.& Mrs. Murphy and to George Jenin our former keyboard manager of seventeen years who is still in the area. We really appreciate it George, its a pleasure to call you our friend. Continued success in your endeavors forward.

Frank DeFonda
Clark Music Company

Shelly Iaia said...

Yo Cuz ...
I laughed when I read the blog, and cried (literally) when I heard you play. Your talent is boundless!

Your favorite Cuz from Philly!

Rowdy Ron said...

That was amazing! Hope you do some more shows Upstate. Rock on!

Cathy from Capt Joe's said...

Hey George...just played this for my husband and though he's no musician himself, his older brother, one younger sister, and 2 nephews are in bands. He la-la-la-loved it! It reminded him of when his late grandmother would play the same style on their piano. And it brought back lotsa memories for me as well - loved it!! You are awesome, can't wait to hear more. You need to come out west and play :-)