The Restaurant Gig

I was nineteen years old, playing in a wine cellar. I’d spent two hours bringing the audience to this point — chatting them up, telling stories about composers, mixing in a Classical Gas here and a Jobim number there.

Everything was set for the knockout. The waiters had stopped serving, the cash register had stopped cha-chinging, and a full house of patrons had put down their forks and stopped talking to hear me finish burning through Leyenda.

In those days, playing Leyenda, I used to picture a great wheel rolling across the Spanish countryside in darkness, with the landscape periodically lit by a flash of lightning when the big chords were struck.

So there I was, racing across Andalucia with the audience in the palm of my hand, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a sweet little old lady shuffling toward me. She had a kind smile on her face, one hand holding her cane and purse, the other hand extended toward me.

Now she was right in front of me. I still had a minute to go in the piece, but she wanted to give me a tip right then and there. She began nudging my right hand with her own outstretched hand, smiling sweetly all the while.

Still furiously rolling through the arpeggios and banging out the lightning, I motioned with my head toward the tip jar was, but she just kept smiling and nudging until she finally separated my fingers from the strings.

I gave up, smiled at her, and opened my hand to receive the offering. She smiled even more sweetly and delivered five dimes into my hand. Then she wished me a good night and slowly made her way out of the room.

I couldn’t think of anything to say or do, so I just put my guitar down, thanked my audience, and wandered outside for a walk under the stars, wondering what I had learned.

Remembering Victor Borge

One of my favorite memories of my guitar-playing days was the time I played for Victor Borge. I was playing a Sunday brunch at a hotel in Los Gatos, CA. Mr. Borge had performed nearby the night before and had spent the night at the hotel.

His entrance into the dining room was a lesson in stagecraft. He came in through the french doors and just stood there a moment and looked around. Then he simply raised an eyebrow and caused half the room to start laughing. It doesn’t sound like much in the retelling, but it was very impressive in the moment.

He took a seat at a table near me. I’d been playing for quite a while and was due for a break. So I wondered what would be a good piece to finish with. I wanted something sophisticated, but short. Something a little different, but familiar. Something from the piano. Something charming.

Aha. It occurred to me. Debussy’s Maid with the Flaxen Hair. Perfect.

So I played it. When I finished, he gave me a nice smile and a nod. Then I put my guitar away and sat with him and we chatted for a minute, but I remember only one thing he said. It was about the Debussy. He said, lightly and with a smile, “You got the harmony right. That’s important!” It sounded just the way you’d imagine.

It’s not much of a story. There’s no punch line. But the meeting left me with an enduring, happy memory. And maybe that’s the point: In the end, when you’re dead and gone, what’s left is the way you are remembered. What’s left is the way others feel when they remember you.

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