I’ve heard a few piano players in my day. Sure the majority of them were playing at large departments stores, amidst the escalators, feet away from the cosmetic counter, but they sounded great and always impressed me as I went about my shopping. Come to find out, there’s a wide breadth between the solid Nordstrom store pianist and Royal Academy of Music grad Gwilym Simcock. On Sunday evening I beheld jazz greatness.
The Welsh performer casually took the stage clad in a plaid blue button-down and black slacks, took the mic, and with one dry joke, instantly won over the audience. Turns out Simcock is hilarious. Not in a hardy har har kind of way, but in a charming self-deprecating fashion. I would have paid to hear him talk even if he hadn’t then sat down at the keyboard and proceeded to absolutely killed it with his opener “These Are the Good Days.” And that’s pretty much how the entire show went: a sarcastic intro, followed by a jaw-dropping performance, rounded out with uncontainable applause.
In the face of such greatness, a piano prodigy-turned-world traveling entertainer, it was impossible not to wonder what I’ve been doing with my time. At 31 Simcock is an absolute phenomenon. So much so that for the 2012 Olympics the city of London commissioned him to compose a piece to be played on pianos installed throughout the city. (At 31 the only thing I’ve ever been commissioned to do is make a sandwich.) He went on to say that after debuting his Olympic piece in the “dodgy” East End of London, a group of drunk lads banged on his car windows and told him to never do that in their neighborhood again. “So I hope you like it better than they did,” he added wryly, then sat down to play the piece fittingly titled, “Antics.”
And antics is just what I think this pianist is all about. Sure he started out classically trained, but as he shared, he swiftly caught the jazz bug and got carried away with the freedom to make his own sounds, to inject each song with the playful nature he displayed in his sarcastic verbal liner notes. The result was, with no exaggeration, transcendent. Listening to his ode to his hero, Jaco Pastorius of Weather Report, the brain buzz of to-dos, worries, and plans vanished. The need to reach for the iPhone for a social media hit lessened its grip. The twisted knot of stress in my neck muscles relaxed.
And when he struck his final note I realized I was beaming. Ahh, right, now I remember, that’s what art and music and theater is all about — the indescribable power to transport you to a different place and time, to another dimension, or just a small break, where for but an hour the panic of everyday life seemingly washes away. If Simcock would just move here and set up shop, I’d take his concert over yoga any day.