Dust & dirt don’t silence piano player’s big sound
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    Auction Finds

    A grand piano with my name penciled on it

    The huge black grand piano sat there like a good-looking man ensnaring me with a glance. My own eyes landed on it as soon as I walked into the furniture room at the auction house. It was everything I had always wanted in a piano, and there it sat waiting for me to take it home.

    The only problem was that it was too much for me. My house wasn’t big enough. I had always longed for a large music room that would accommodate a grand piano – Steinway was the dream model. The closest I got was a Fischer console on which I would practice every night when I took piano lessons for a couple years. I overcrowded its top with mini grand piano music boxes, mini violins and saxophones in black cases, a Hohner Blues Harp harmonica and two kalimbas or thumb pianos.

    The Yamaha grand piano at auction drew many admirers.

    But this piano, this Yahama grand, I drooled over. I tapped a few of its perfect black and white keys, checked out its pedals and looked beneath its top cover. The frame and strings were covered in dust, and the top cover was caked with a film that someone had partially wiped away to show the shiny exterior beneath.

    The piano also made a big impression on others at the auction:

    As I sat there on the leather-top stool, one auction-regular came up to me. “You know you want this piano,” he said. I guess it showed. Then I went into the story about my dream music room with the grand piano.

    I watched as another man asked the auction-house staff about moving it. It must have weighed a ton. A co-owner/auctioneer explained how he could get several of his guys to move it for him (later, one staffer mentioned the chore of moving this mountain of an instrument from its original home). The co-owner pointed out the spot where the dust had been cleared. “We got it straight from an estate,” he said. As they talked, a woman who had been sitting close by like a sentry got up to hear their conversation. Later, I chatted with the man – remarking on how beautiful and awesome this piano was and telling my music-room story again. He mentioned that he didn’t have any place to put it in his home, either. So I assumed he was a dealer and would sell it.

    As I was examining items on a table in another room at the auction house, a regular walked up to me. “I bet you came for the piano,” he said. I began to wonder how many people saw the look in my eyes and the way I had spent too much time with it. He told me that he has five pianos in his house, including a grand, an organ in the basement and his wife’s console upstairs. I looked at him a little strangely. “My dad used to own a piano shop,” he explained.

    A close-up view of the perfect piano keys.

    This Yamaha grand was likely manufactured in the 1980s, and it’s a 200-year-old descendant of the first grand, invented around 1700 by an Italian named Bartolomeo Cristofori. Three of his pianos from the 1720s are still around – at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Musikinstrumenten-Museum at Leipzig University in Germany and the Museo Strumenti Musicali in Rome.

    The piano was the instrument of early classical composers who not only wrote but played their own music, as well as later jazz composers and musicians the likes of Thelonius Monk, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams.

    It was always my intention to first learn how to just play the piano – as in learning and remembering the notes – and then settling into some jazz. Unfortunately, I never got very far past the first part. I think, though, that if I had that Yamaha in a music room, I’d be giving mini concerts for my friends.

    At the auction, I waited close by for the bidding to start. The auctioneer announced that this Yamaha G1 piano was worth “over $10,000.” One website noted in 2005 that grand pianos were worth more than their original prices, estimating the G1 at $18,790. Another noted that by 2009 prices for pianos had dropped.

    Here’s someone playing Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehaving” on a G1, and someone else demonstrating the wonderful sound of it.

    There were one phone bidder and two people on-site – the woman who had baby-sat the piano all morning and the man who had inquired about moving it. Bidding started at $1,200 and went tit-for-tat past $2,000. The woman held up her bid card the whole time, determined to get the piano. It sold for $3,000.

    The Yamaha grand piano sold for $3,000 at auction.

    I wasn’t sure who actually won the bid – auctions can get rather confusing – so I asked the man who had inquired. It wasn’t him (I think it was the woman). He finally told me why he was interested.

    He was bidding to buy it for his church. He only had $2,500 to spend, and the next increment of the bid would’ve been $3,500, more than he could afford. Too bad; it would’ve been a lovely addition to his church.



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