The night air made me shiver, and it felt good to step into my friend’s house. The house, actually a remodeled barn, instantly gave me pause with both its beauty and uniqueness. I hugged my friend, as it had been a while since we had seen one another. I told him I couldn’t stay, I had to get back to my family. But there in the corner humbly sat his piano, a seven-foot Steinway Grand. Beautiful. “Try it out,” my friend invited, gesturing in that direction. So, unable to resist, I did.
Quietly, I began noodling, playing an old favorite standard of mine, “Song for My Father.” As I played, my friend, who now leaned on the piano to listen, said, “You know, Leonard Bernstein used to love to play this piano when we lived in the city,” he casually explained. I stopped playing. Wait, Leonard Bernstein? I asked. “Yes, he was my father’s best friend.” Wow, I said, I didn’t know that. “Let me give you a tour of the house,” he said. “Come on.”
As we sauntered from room to room, I learned that my friend grew up on the upper west side of New York City. His father, now deceased, worked as an actor in the city. The neighbors in the building included not only Leonard Bernstein, but also John Lennon, Paul Simon, and “Betty Bacall”– “Well, Lauren Bacall to you,” he said with a wink. He named a few others, too. Needless to say I was stunned at the list. I was also struck by the fact that I had known this friend for over three years now, working with him in different musical capacities (he’s a producer and guitar player), with him never mentioning such facts.
At the end of the house tour, I thanked him and reminded him I needed to go. Back out in the night air, I thought about not just the content of what my friend had said, but the way he said it. He was just a kid, he had explained, and those were his neighbors. How different each of our life paths are, I now thought. Like the families that lived on my street where I grew up in Gresham, Oregon, those families were just his neighbors. A small boy, socializing with some of the most influential musical minds of all time. How cool.