Tag Archives: Piano player

Paul Shaffer – We’ll be here for the rest of our lives.

schafferPaul Shaffer is a fascinating guy. At once both nerdy and cool, he has lived a musician’s dream, playing continually and successfully, backing up everyone who is anyone, and spending what seems like every waking moment immersed in music.

His autobiography, We’ll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives, is a fabulous romp through thirty or more years of his life, from his time as a young man growing up in Thunder Bay, where his lawyer father looked past his obvious talent on the family piano at Bar Mitzvahs and expected him to pursue a career in law, up to his long-time gig as musical director of David Letterman’s show, and beyond.

The audiobook is even better than the book itself, because Paul himself narrates it. His tone of voice carries with it a certain tone of disbelief, as if he can’t actually believe all of this is happening to him.

He describes coming to Toronto for the first time, as a student at U of T, finding work as a piano player for a local strip club, before hooking up with the cast of GodSpell that gave birth to the cast of Saturday Night Live, SCTV, and many other comedy legends.

He is the living embodiment of Samuel Goldwyn’s famous quote, “the harder I work, the luckier I get,” since every job he got seemed to lead to another bigger, better one.

He was the musical director for SNL; he was in Spinal Tap; he was almost an original Blues Brother (Belushi dropped him in a jealous snit for his collaborations with Gilda Radner), he busked with Miles Davis and David Foster in Scrooged, and of course, he penned “It’s Raining Men.”

His biography is a great adventure story in rock music history, a definite good read. Another great Canadian delivering great entertainment.

The Shaffer Move

Paul Shaffer leading the band.

As a performing musician myself, I always admired the way Paul pulled the Letterman Show band together for nice tight endings. Even though every member of the band was already a hotter-than-hot session player, it’s still a challenge to prepare and play tunes for each individual show. A half day’s rehearsal is not much to go on.

Watching them cruise effortlessly through tunes that could jam on much longer than the commercial breaks allowed, Paul would always pull the band towards a conclusion by raising his arm.

Now I know he is not the only band leader in history to ever do this, in fact I’m sure they all do. But the way he did it, night after night with such cool authority made it easy for me to refer to it as the Shaffer Move, when explaining it to the bands I work with.

Shaffer at Sea

Paul and the KTBA band. Such a fabulous jam!

I am always happy and proud to see Paul appearing with other music legends. He’s the go-to guy who never tries to put the spotlight on himself, but puts it on the music instead. Case in point: here’s a great video of a Paul Shaffer Super Jam – a 2019 cruise ship gig called Keep the Blues Alive, featuring Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Samantha Fish, Jimmy Hall, Walter Trout, Anton Fig and many more. It’s a fabulous jam, and Paul pulls it all together.

Another great Canadian music success story. Paul Shaffer, ladies and gentlemen!

 

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Billy Joel: A nod and a wink to 19,000 friends

Billy Joel, Toronto, March 2014. Photo by Steve Prentice.

Billy Joel, Toronto, March 2014. Photo by Steve Prentice. (That’s why it’s so far away)

I had the privilege of seeing Billy Joel play Toronto’s Air Canada Center this past Sunday, and it was a treat. Having seen many pro bands deliver tight, well rehearsed 3-hour shows as part of a multi-city concert tour, it is easy to get used to cool professionalism washed in the magic purple of stage lighting. But with Billy Joel, you get all of that along with a remarkable intimacy that turns the cavernous concert arena into a merely oversized cocktail bar, with the seasoned piano man himself tinkling the ivories.

His opening joke – “Billy Joel couldn’t make it tonight – I’m his father”  actually works, especially when he pauses, mid monologue, to look up at himself on the scoreboard jumbotron thing, and say, “I look so much like my old man…” before turning back to the crowd with that twinkle in his eye that seems to say that he genuinely enjoys sharing these anecdotes and stories with an appreciative crowd.

It makes you wonder whether the spontaneous rendition of Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” was truly spontaneous – I mean did the band rehearse, or are they, as I would like to believe – just that good that they can play any tune that the master summons up?

The show moved through a number of his lesser-known pieces, such as Vienna, before ending up with his most successful upbeat rock tunes. Even the train wreck that occurred during “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” where he tripped over the words after straying too far from the teleprompter and forced the band to restart did nothing to calm the energy of the full house crowd that stayed standing through the entire  second half of the show.

Billy Joel, Toronto, March 9, 2014. Photo credit - someone who posted on Twitter.

Billy Joel, Toronto, March 9, 2014. Photo credit – someone who posted on Twitter.

He is a giant in the business, but he talks to his audience like he is everyone’s grandpa now, the way Bill Cosby does. Responding to a song request shouted out from one of the front rows, he said, “No! I’m 65. I’ll get to it when I’m ready!” But again, the wink and the smile in his voice showed a good-natured comfort that can only come from decades of live performance.

Technical virtuosity aside, what struck me the most about Billy Joel was the way he connected with the audience. He knew he was actually in Toronto (not every act seems to know or care where they are), and his stories of playing Massey Hall and Maple Leaf Gardens, and his recognition that his absence from the city during the 2003 SARS outbreak meant that “we sucked here for a while” added a connection that everyone felt. It was also appreciated by many that his drummer wore a Maple Leafs jersey.

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