The Pinch Hitter

I have nothing but the highest of regard for the estimable talents of Dr. Jeffrey Hollander, the legendary pianist who reigns supreme over the musical gifts regularly given in the Pfister’s Lobby Lounge. As any of his fellow musicians might say, “That cat has some big chops.”

My fawning admiration for the Pfister’s king of the eighty-eight keys is great for sure, but I bow to my Narrator predecessors who have lauded and praised Dr. Hollander’s work in better words and phrases than I could even dream of weaving together. They’ve said it well, and anything I could add would only pale in comparison to their prose.

Instead, I would like to talk about what happens when Dr. Hollander decides he needs a night off. That’s when he looks to the bench and calls someone up to make sure the big leagues are expertly covered. I speak, of course, of the pinch hitter.

In talking about a piano pinch hitter, a little moonlight and music seems appropriate, right? I hope you’re listening to this on the Pfister Narrator podcast right now, because all of a sudden, you’re about to receive an ear massage.

There’s a distinct difference about the pinch hitter that stepped in for Dr. Hollander this past Wednesday. When you talk about this sub ivory tickler, don’t use the male pronoun. Switch it over to the she. Carolyn Wehner has recently joined the ranks of the substitute pianist list in the Pfister Lounge, a rogue’s gallery of the kind of swells you like to have around because they’re cool, charming, and talented as all get out. In doing so, Carolyn adds a bit of an X factor as well as an added chromosome to the time honored tradition of spanking good-time entertainment in our lobby lounge.

The night I was able to hear Carolyn, she was hitting all the cabaret classics. And her eye splits its time between the keys and the guests relaxing over a cocktail or evening bite. As a young lady came into the lounge, Carolyn shifted into some Disney tunes to herald her entracnce. In the middle of a set, she modulates between swinging smiley cabaret tunes and melancholy “pour-me-another-Joe” sort of sad sack ballads. She’s also got a bit of a vinegar wit, and she might sprinkle a ditty like the Mel Brooks’ classic “Springtime for Hitler” into a series of seasonal tunes with a devil-may-care effortless that ends up being a fun little Easter egg for anyone listening real hard.

But what does the pinch hitter think about the job she’s got to do? Modest as any second stringer might be, she’s a true team player.

“Why wouldn’t I love being here? It’s a beautiful room, and gorgeous instrument, and I get to back up a legend like Jeff Hollander. It’s heaven on earth.”

Dr. Hollander, you can rest easy. Carolyn and all your other pinch hitters are hitting it out of the park.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

The Birthday Girl Answers the Birthday Questions

My ears perked up the minute I heard Dr. Hollander playing the familiar strains of “Happy Birthday.” It’s certainly one of my favorite tunes, and and the venerable Dr. Jeffrey Hollander, our long-admired pianist in the Lobby Lounge, pounds it out well on the old ivories.

I scanned the bar for the person who looked the happiest to be alive. That’s what birthdays are about, right? A day when you get to be surrounded by friends and say, “Whew, I made it to another one!”

The smile across Shaundra’s face pegged her as the birthday girl right away. I’m not sure if she has a million dollar grin on days when she’s not celebrating her big day, but the lady with the drink in front of her that had been purchased by the friend at her side was beaming. It seemed to me like she was having one of the greatest birthdays of all time as I approached and introduced myself.

I wished Shaundra well and asked her about all the revelry she had packed into her day. Surprisingly she answered, “I hadn’t really planned on doing anything today, but my friend convinced me to stop by the Pfister for a drink, and here I am.”

It was likely because Shaundra hadn’t given the day much thought that she was having a hell of a birthday. Sometimes setting the expectation bar low pays off with huge dividends. So far she had gotten Dr. Hollander’s lilting solo, a free drink, and the adoration of her friend as well as a gentleman at the bar who I saw and understood was certainly taking an interest in getting to know the birthday girl a little bit better.

I believe birthdays are sacred days in a person’s life, calendar marks that should only be reserved for eating cake for breakfast and napping until someone throws you a great dinner party. I always love to see friends and family on their birthdays because a good pal of mine created what she likes to call “The Birthday Questions.”

The Birthday Questions aren’t overly complicated. They are simple and straightforward, but they cause a birthday celebrant to pause, think and reflect. Shaundra told me she was game to answer the Birthday Questions, so I leaned in and listened as this friendly and positive lady let me know a little more about her life.

Question #1: What is the thing you are most happy about from your last birthday to this one?

I’m so proud that I opened my own salon this year. It’s called Salon Cass and it’s right down the street from the Pfister. It was a lot of work…I MEAN A LOT…but it has been great. I’m really happy about that one for sure.

Question #2: What is the one thing you wish hadn’t happened from last birthday to this one?

I wish my grandmother hadn’t gotten sick. She is a really special lady, and she has a condition that has confined her to a wheelchair. She still has a great attitude about life, but it is hard to see her sick like she is.

Question #3: If we see each other a year from now on your birthday, what is the thing that you hope you will have accomplished from this birthday to next?

I want to move to Las Vegas! I love it there. And I’d love to take my grandmother. We’d have a lot of fun. I can get help running my salon, but, yeah, Vegas is where I hope to end up someday.

Here’s to you on your recent special day, Shaundra, and may all your future wishes come true. I hope you’ll let me buy you a drink in the Lobby Lounge next year—that is if you can pull yourself away from the Vegas strip for a visit back home.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

Listening to Dr. Jeffrey Hollander- Part 1

 

This is the one I’ve avoided writing. The elephant in my room. The profile I’ve put off for five months while I watched and listened quietly in the background, leaning against a column with my arms crossed wondering how it happens and how to write about it.

Every time I’ve listened to Dr. Jeffrey Hollander play the piano I’ve had a clear desire to write about him, to chronicle the man and his work. I’m a music fan but I’ve never been a musician. I can converse in a limited manner regarding jazz and even less when it comes to classical composition. But we all know when we’ve been able to observe an art which resonates within us. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve listened to Jeff play and I feel like he’s reached inside of me and turned my ribs into piano keys. Then, there I am in a hotel lobby and suddenly sniffing and clearing my throat amongst a roomful of travelers.

When Jeff’s playing within the setting of the Pfister Hotel it’s almost as though you’re attending a private concert. Sometimes he’s behind the piano for lunchtime, sometimes evening, other nights he plays late. Often, in the late morning sun there are only a few other people who happen to be on their computers or reading while he plays, looking around the room to catch eyes and smile to anyone whose ears have perked. I still haven’t wrapped my brain around the fact that some people come to work and get paid while listening to Jeff play multiple times a week.

So what’s my deal? Why haven’t I just gotten over it and written about the guy already?

My conundrum is this: How do I presume to be able to ask questions of someone regarding an activity, a vocation, a way of life they’ve lived for 70 years?

The irony is that Jeff is a surprisingly engaging musician. Beyond being an approachable musician, he’s a nice guy. Throw out your image of the stormy, brooding genius and replace it with a guy who will tell you about the composer of the piece he’s playing, why they are important, and will ask if there is anything you would like to hear.

In most musical performances there is a barrier between the performer and the audience. Sometimes it’s literal, for instance a stage (Or those weird cages that only exist in tough guy bars in movies like Road House.), but even if there is no obvious stage there is a perceived separation between performer and listener. This makes sense, as playing music is difficult. It requires concentration. For most people an instrument, or painting, or basketball requires most of the individual’s brain power. I know I’m not a very interesting person to sit with when I’m typing. Jeff, however, likes talking when he’s playing. He invites the audience to engage him. His entire face lights up when someone sits at the table closest the piano and begins speaking with him.

There are no shortage of stories about Jeff’s playing. He’s performed all over the world and has played at the Pfister for well over 20 years. Many hotel staff members have their own song, a song he knows they enjoy and he begins playing when they walk through the lobby, or arrive for their shift. Concierge Peter Mortensen’s is “Kiss Me Again” by Victor Herbert. One time a little girl asked if he’d ever heard of a song she liked called “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which made Jeff grin. She sang, lighting up the entire lobby, while the doctor backed her as the smiling rhythm section.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched people, clearly in thought and on their way to an appointment, stop in stride upon realizing the music that they’re hearing. They then look back and forth toward the sliding doors and longingly toward the man behind the piano. Realizing the happenstance musical moment they’ve stumbled into they’re earnestly considering how much time before they absolutely need to leave to arrive on-time.

This has happened to me dozens of times over the past five months, which is probably to blame for the timid sense of awe I’ve acquired toward Jeff. I want to capture him accurately and I don’t want to screw it up.

So, now that I’m getting over my stage fright in approaching this easygoing guy, Part 2 will be about Jeff and his piano. Tonight, as he always does on the first Thursday of every month, Dr. Hollander will be performing in Blu. The series is called Rhapsodies in Blu, and entry to the 23rd floor is free. I encourage you to listen to him dance across the keys before reading Part 2 about the man and his music in the very near future.

Pfister Artist-in-Residence: Dr. Jeffrey Hollander [VIDEO]

As a legacy within the Pfister Hotel, sovaldi sale Katie Musolff, pharmacy the current Artist-in-Residence, prepares her commissioned work; a portrait of Dr. Jeffrey Hollander, the Pfister’s renowned concert pianist.

Stop by Katie’s gallery inside the Pfister to check on her progress with this work of art.

Rhapsodies In BLU

The Pfister Hotel and BLU are proud to announce a new music series “Rhapsodies in Blu” featuring The Pfister pianist, Dr. Jeffrey Hollander. You can enjoy this new series in BLU on the first Thursday of every month, starting in April. Every performance will be completely unique and will draw from a different musical inspiration.

  • April 7 – “My Foolish Heart” featuring the improvisations of Dr. Hollander
  • May 5 – “Lullaby of Birdland” a celebration of the late jazz pianist, George Shearing
  • June 2 – “Nice Work If You Can Get It” inspired by George Gershwin
  • July 7 – “My Blue Heaven” inspired by American Independance Day
  • August 4 – “Play it Again, Sam” Warner Brothers movies of the 1940’s
  • September 1 – “A Fifth of Beethoven” inspired by the opening of the Milwaukee Symphony season

Join us at BLU on the first Thursday of each month starting in April from 5:30-6:30 pm.

Pfister Artist-in-Residence: The Commissioned Work of Art [VIDEO]

As a legacy within the Pfister Hotel, Katie Musolff, the current Artist-in-Residence, prepares her commissioned work; a portrait of Dr. Jeffrey Hollander, the Pfister’s renowned concert pianist.

Stop by Katie’s gallery inside the Pfister to check on her progress with this work of art.