During the 14-years I spent as one of the resident pianists at the Westin Hotel, Copley Place, Boston, MA, I accumulated many experiences and stories I’ll be sharing with you from time to time about my experiences with lots of very interesting people I met at the hotel.
One such story about how I first met a very special person came back to my mind instantly while reading a post in another blog in which this person was mentioned. Let me tell you…
One night during my first set, as I was playing a few solo-piano warm-up songs before bringing out the rest of my trio, I noticed some faint flashes of light coming from the rear of the room.
Thinking it was someone with a camera taking tourist photos, I just ignored it. However, when the flashes continued with increasing frequency, I ruled out tourist picture-taking! These flashes seemed to be directed at me specifically to get my attention. Was this person sending me a message in Morse Code or playing a practical joke or some kind of prank on me? I became more and more curious as it continued!
So, near the end of the first song, I turned my head slightly toward the back of the room and I spotted the source of this mysterious happening! It was coming from a very well-dressed gentleman also in a tuxedo who was seated alone at the very last table in the back of the room and he was looking through something he was holding in his hands which was pointed directly at me. I turned my head back towards the piano and got back into the music.
The flashing continued consistently throughout my warm-up. As I signaled for the bassist and drummer to come on up, I took a short break to introduce myself to this gentleman but by the time I arrived at his table, the mysterious contraption he had in his hand was nowhere in sight.
I introduced myself to him and he said his name was Jimmy Lyon. At that time, I had no idea who he was and I asked if he had any requests. He said not right then but he’d be back in a while after he played a set or two across the street at the Copley Plaza Hotel. That told me he was a pianist so I knew I’d go visit him on my first break but before he departed, I asked him about the object which had been reflecting the spotlights back into the corner of my eye!
He apologized for the distraction because he didn’t realize a reflection was occurring! I assured him it was very faint and that I was fine with it and not offended in any way whatsoever… I was just curious as to what it was. So he took the object out of his pocket and handed it to me.
It was a very classy looking flat rectangular box that looked much like a personal cigarette case but when a special button was pressed, it turned into a set of pop-up adjustable-focus-telescopic binoculars!
He said he liked my playing and he wanted to see how I was voicing chords and making runs. Rather than stand right behind me to look over my shoulder, he said he preferred to sit in the back and watch with his pop-up specs. Both of us started laughing so hard!!! Right away I knew he was a wonderful guy with a great sense of humor!
I took a look through those binoculars and though they were small, their telescopic ratio was very good with great clarity! As I recall the account now in 2014, I still laugh about it!
Shortly after introducing ourselves, both of us went back to work but as I got back to my bandstand, I asked my bass player, who was either Teddy Kotic or Rodney Richardson at that time, if he’d heard of a pianist named Jimmy Lyon. He said he certainly had heard of him and he gave me the “411”! That’s how I first met and learned about Jimmy Lyon!
Eventually Jimmy returned that night with his “pop-up spy specs” to check us out again and with every opportunity I’d get, I’d go across the street and listen to him for what turned out to be MY “nightly piano lesson”! From my point of view, I believe I learned more about voicings from him than he learned from me but we continued our frequent visits with each other during the rest of his tenure at the Copley Plaza.
I was working 7-nights a week at the Westin and he was working 6-nights a week. I learned a lot from Jimmy in the short time I knew him and when the time eventually came for him to return to his home in Paramus, NJ and his gigs in NY, I thanked him for his kindness and let him know that I was very much looking forward to his next return to Boston, but it wasn’t meant to be. He passed away all too soon! What a song specialist! A true gentleman through and through! I was very privileged to have been able to count him as my friend for the short time I knew him!
Here are five audio clips I recorded of him (with his permission) that you’ve never heard, unless you were there the nights I recorded him. The audio quality is not the best you’ve ever heard and you’ll hear people talking throughout each song. if you can ignore the distractions and you want to hear Jimmy playing solo-piano in a very relaxed mood, then here you go! Ear training students, beginners, intermediates and advanced, might use these files as source material too! Pick out some melodies, or chord progressions or voicings that interest you. In any case, enjoy!
Looking At You (Click the encircled down-arrow to download.)
Begin The Beguine (Click the encircled down-arrow to download.)
I Concentrate On You (Click the encircled down-arrow to download.)
You Turned The Tables On Me (Click the encircled down-arrow to download.)
Memories Of You (Click the encircled down-arrow to download.)
Jimmy Lyon (R.I.P)
Full Name : James Frederick Lyon.
Profile : American jazz pianist.
Jimmy worked, among others with Mabel Mercer (singer), June
Christy, Polly Bergen.
Born : November 06, 1921 in Morgan Village, Camden, New Jersey.
Died : November 28, 1984 in New York City, New York. (Cancer)
See you next post.