November 24, 2017

Socialist does well in Minneopolis election

Ballot Access - Socialist Alternative entered a candidate in the November 7, 2017 elections for Minneapolis city council, ward 3. That candidate, Ginger Jentzen, placed first among the first choice ballots. Minneapolis uses ranked-choice voting. Jentzen did not win a majority when the first place votes were counted, so the city then counted the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place ballots. When those votes were counted, Jentzen had lost to a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, but even in the final tally she had over 40% of the vote.

There was no one in the race with the label “Republican”; there were two candidates with the label “Democratic-Farmer-Labor.”

Piano tuner update

Sam Smith - Several years ago I told you about the 1898 Steinway I bought in the early 1970s when uprights were not popular. The guy at Kitt's Music Store in DC told me that I should just come in and get whatever they had that day. The afternoon I followed his advice the Steinway was the only upright in the shop. And so I bought it. For $300.

For years it was cared for by James Shadd (photo at left). James Shadd was a pianist and band leader who had backed up Josephine Baker during WWII among other things. Shadd started his piano hospital in 1941 and one of the delights of having him tune your piano would be that he would tell you some great stories and, when he was through, let loose with a few jazz numbers.

Once he told me that his mother had a band that Doris Duke used regularly. Doris Duke gave his mother a white Cadillac, "but, you know, my mama drank that Cadillac right up."

When James Shadd passed, his son Warren took over. His firm sold and fixed all sorts of pianos, Warren, whose mother was a stride piano player and aunt was Shirley Horn, not only was not only deep into pianos but started playing drums when he was four. . .He serviced pianos for Herbie Hancock, Tony Bennett, and Aretha Franklin. and performed or recorded on drums with the likes of Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, and Dizzy Gillespie.

So my $300 upright has had some pretty wonderful attention.

Now the story has a new chapter thanks to a recent story on Warren in the Washington Post:
Shadd, who, as far as anyone knows, is the nation’s only African American piano maker, has his high-end, made-to-order instruments in several Rolls-Royce dealerships, on the set of the television show “Empire” and at the Vatican. It helps that he is an accomplished musician with a salesman’s drive and a showman’s charm. When he first heard the Holy See was looking for a piano, he wrote Vatican officials a letter. To his amazement, they wrote back. In 2015, three donors gifted an instrument to the Vatican, and Shadd personally delivered a gleaming black grand piano emblazoned with the papal seal.

…By the time Shadd was 8, local newspapers were chronicling his skills as a drummer.  He started piano lessons at age 5 but did not focus on the instrument more seriously until he was about 12. “That’s when I started thinking that I could write music, and you needed a piano for that,” he says. He left Howard University his junior year to play jazz organ with Lionel Hampton, then drums with other jazz greats, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Horn among them.

Today, Shadd upright pianos start at $22,000, its concert grands at $185,000. Custom pianos can go for more than $300,000. He has chosen to focus, with patented designs, on improving the way pianists hear what they play.

Shadd works out of his home and keeps costs down by marketing on the Internet and social media. Shadd still recruits customers himself. Two years ago, he cold-called Caroline Perzan, a veteran set decorator who developed the look for “Empire,” to convince her that his pianos fit the style of the series, about a music mogul. Perzan needed a piece for the ornate office of protagonist Lucious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard. “Empire” “was going for an ambitious high-end look, so the pianos were one of my main challenges,” Perzan said. “I just sent my wish list to him.”

The show now has six Shadd pianos.