The Prime Example’s new resident
8th July 2013 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
If an instrument could speak, undoubtedly it could tell many tales. The newly acquired Sohmer baby grand piano, a beauty at only five feet long, that now resides at the Prime Example is one such instrument. What we do know is that the late great pianist and vocalist Eddie Bo of “Check Mr. Popeye” fame used to tickle its ivory topped keys in his studio. That, in itself, is enough to make the diminutive piano special.
On June 27, pianist David Torkanowsky played the first official and very memorable gig on the Sohmer that wonderfully filled the bill in sound and resonance for a jazz ensemble that included vocalist Germaine Bazzle, drummer Herlin Riley, saxophonist Wess Anderson and bassist Jasen Weaver.
“Germaine Bazzle lives right across the street but she wouldn’t play there because there wasn’t a piano in the place,” says Torkanowsky who recommended the Prime Example as the best spot for the fine baby grand.
Bo’s piano had been stored along with other instruments at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s building on North Rampart Street. With upcoming renovations in the site’s future, it and the other musical instruments had to be moved.
“The baby grand needed a home where it would be well-used,” says Scott Aiges, the director of marketing, programming and communications at the Foundation. Wisely, he called Tork for advice that landed the Sohmer at the Prime Example while an electric keyboard was moved to the renovated Tremé Community Center.
When Aiges said they needed somebody to take the piano, Torkanowsky remembers immediately saying, “Why don’t you give it to Julius (Kimbrough) at the Prime Example. He comes out of his pocket to present local New Orleans culture every week at his place. He would think it was Christmas morning if he got this piano.”
Beyond its sound, history —man, it was Eddie Bo’s studio piano —and stunning classiness, the Sohmer fits perfectly on the club’s small stage. It looks as if it was made for that space.
Because its keys are topped with ivory, Torkanowsky estimates that the piano was made in the 1940s or 1950s. “It was great playing it because it’s got a classic old, hard bebop sound.”
Longtime Bo sideman, saxophonist Red Morgan remembers the Sohmer from recording sessions that he played with the pianist and vocalist in his studio. “He never used it on a gig – he always played gigs on an electric keyboard. His acoustic piano playing was really fantastic—I loved it. That little ax (the Sohmer) has gotten around,” Morgan adds. “ I think I have to go over there (to the Prime Example) and play some more.”
“First of all, if it was Eddie Bo’s piano it has soul,” pianist/vocalist Davell Crawford unconditionally declares. Crawford stopped by the North Broad Street nightspot on the Wednesday prior to the club’s regular Thursday night jazz sets. He played a couple of tunes and says, “Now I’ll book a gig there just to play the piano. “Maybe I’ll do a tribute to Eddie Bo.”
This article originally published in the July 8, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.