In my younger days, I worked at a Steinway piano store in downtown Boston. I’d bike to work from my little rent-control apartment in Cambridge and spend the evenings after work developing my chops on a fleet of awesome concert pianos.
One fateful day, Elton John (THE Sir Elton!) and his band came in while on their “The One” tour. Elton wanted to check out “Steinert Hall” – an abandoned concert hall 35 feet underground.
Steinert Hall was built in the late 1800’s and was considered THE piano venue of the day. The stage was just large enough for a 9′ concert grand and the unique acoustics (specifically for piano) kept all city noise out. A true “acoustic marvel”. “Rock star” pianists of the era who played here included Rachmaninoff, Hofmann and Paderewski. In 1942, after the deadly Coconut Grove nightclub fire, the subterranean theater was subject to stricter fire codes and was forced to close. And it has stayed that way, frozen in time…
Back to Elton. He was fascinated with the old building – and particularly loved Steinert Hall, the “apocalyptic” vibe, and the unique acoustics (more on this later). Emerging from the hall, he then visited the upstairs showrooms where he came across a piano he wanted to try while on tour. So, a deal was made to deliver the piano during their upcoming show at Madison Square Garden. A couple “comp” tickets were part of the deal…
Of course, I wouldn’t turn down a chance to see Elton at MSG, so I volunteered for the delivery crew. Even if the story ended here, it would be EPIC, but it gets better…
Madison Square Garden, New York City
We arrived early to setup the piano through the MSG sound system… “Hey, anyone play?” one of the engineers asked. My heart quickened. “yeah, I do…” I offered. What happened next was magical. I sat down and improvised as the engineer tweaked the sound. He asked me to keep playing as he recorded samples for Elton (this was on DAT – well before MP3s). I’m not a rock or pop pianist (nor aspire to be), but I was playing piano in one of the biggest and baddest stage settings in the world – and loving it!
After my impromptu performance, we were invited to dinner with the band and crew. Great guys, all. It was hard not to feel like “one of the band”. I can remember sitting there in the backstage “musicians only” area eating with Elton’s band and just feeling comfortable. I had seen behind the curtain of “the show”. I wasn’t just a delivery guy – I was a piano guy who knew what it was to load gear, hang out backstage…and play piano in Madison Square Garden. Now, I realize this might sound so absolutely small-time in the grand scheme of things, but I was floored. I absolutely loved it.
Needless to say, I was the last person to play before the show, and it sure felt like I had just opened for Elton John…
From Elton to The Naked Piano
Fast forward, and I took that youthful passion for piano and created a whole series of solo piano albums. And here’s the best part of the story: Where do you think I recorded my first “Naked Piano” albums? In Steinert Hall – the abandoned “acoustic marvel” which had so impressed Elton John and his band!
Steinert Hall recently made wordwide news – it’s currently being renovated by new owners and has been opened to the media for the first time in decades. You can find a complete video story here, and a bunch of great photos here. Over and over, people comment about the “special acoustics” and “mystical, ghostlike character” of the abandoned space.
I was fortunate during my time at Steinerts to have supportive colleagues who allowed me to bring a Steinway Concert Grand piano (9′, Model D) down into the Hall, set up and record (even when closed to the public for decades). To my knowledge, I’m the only one who has recorded a solo piano album in Steinert Hall.
And to show you the special sound quality of that old hall which had so impressed Elton John (and many, many others), I’d like to offer you one of my favorite piano solo tracks called “The Thinker” (recorded on a Steinway 9′ Concert Grand D in Steinert Hall back in 2005) FREE – no strings attached. Just click on this link:
If you like the track you might consider checking out “Platinum”. It’s my latest album and it’s full of my top-selling piano singles (including FIVE recorded in Steinert Hall) I’d like to think would make Sir Elton and his band proud 🙂