Thinking back to my youth in the 1980s, my issues with being a successful piano player have always revolved around a lack of ambition, a lack of dedication, a lack of good timing (no pun intended), and - well – a severe lack of talent. A lethal career cocktail (if you will), that nonetheless never stopped me from playing low-rent weddings, receptions and restaurants.
But in the spring of 1983, it stopped me dead in my tracks from being seriously considered for admission into Julliard, Manhattan School of Music, Manes School of Music – and even my safety school - the music department at Bronx Community College.
After this unfortunate parade of highly deserved, missed opportunities, I had zero intentions of attending any college as a Liberal Arts Major. I mean, you’re a liberal arts major either because you can’t decide what to do with yourself, or somebody else has decided what you’re not going to do with yourself. Just my opinion, mind you.
But my father, Frankie Monteverdi - he saw it differently. “All the Monteverdi’s have been well-schooled in their trade”, he told me. “You are – well, let’s face it, Louie - a cocktail pianist. But you should be the best goddamned cocktail pianist you can possibly be.” Frankie then proceeded to tell me about the Brooklyn College of Popular Professional Musical Services.
BCPPMS, in fact, had a major in Commercial Club Dating – and even though it was late June – they were still auditioning. So, Frankie (I always called him Frankie), paid my application fee and set me up with an audition date in mid-July.
BCPPMS quickly responded with a letter congratulating me on this golden opportunity to audition for them - and included a copy of the audition requirements:
All Commercial Club Dating performance auditions, with a concentration in Cocktail Piano, will require the auditionee to prepare from the following cocktail piano repertoire:
- Any slow tempo, commercially popular standard or ballad composed between 1920 and 1960, and played with a distinct use of rubato enabling the display of an exhaustive and gratuitous use of arpeggios and filigree.
- A heavy rock tune of the last decade (by Kiss, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, etc.) transformed into cocktail piano style and played with a distinct use of rubato, enabling the display of an exhaustive and gratuitous use of arpeggios and filigree.
- A tune of your choice, which will be performed while conversing with the jurors.
My audition, as I later found out, was to be conducted by four faculty members. First, there was Marie Canto, the Chairwoman (I guess you would call her), of the entire Commercial Club Dating Department. Next, the very elderly Lawanda Smith who taught Requests 101 and 201. Next was Professor Jan Minisky, who spoke with a thick Polish accent and would later become my private instructor and mentor. And finally, this very uptight guy named Steve Cosmos, who taught jazz and improvisation studies.
The audition itself was rugged. First, the piano was decidedly out of tune and several keys – in commonly used areas – were broken. When I mentioned this, the jury smiled, and Ms. Canto simply said “yes, of course.”
During “Laura”, my ballad selection, the two ladies talked and laughed loudly (a downright cackle, I’d say), while Prof. Minisky purposely hit his coffee mug with a big metal spoon. Steve Cosmos lit three cigarettes, a cigar – and was stuffing his pipe bowl as I finished the first number. But at the end of it, the jury nodded approvingly - except for Steve Cosmos, who muttered something like, “swings like a rusty gate”.