Maria Schneider – Master of Color

Maria Schneider is one of my musical heroes. She composes for Jazz Orchestra and has brought a welcome new approach to a venerable musical style. This post is related to piano work, but you’ll have to read it all to figure out what the connection is.

First, what is a jazz orchestra? If you’re of a certain age, just think about the Tonight Show band, or the Buddy Rich Orchestra or the Woody Herman Band. Duke Ellington and Count Basie both led jazz orchestras, as did Glenn Miller. The jazz orchestra is usually around 16 to 18 pieces, including trumpets, trombones, saxophones and a rhythm section consisting of piano, bass, drums and usually guitar. The ensemble offers a huge range of sound and style possibilities and is often known for a hard driving style. The jazz orchestra, or “big band” as it is colloquially known is traditionally a source of powerful, driving, loud exciting music. Yes, every so often ballads are brought out to slow things down and show range, but excitement is the key…think Maynard Ferguson!

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What is a Duplex Scale?

A duplex scale is a length of the string, other than the speaking length, that is intended to vibrate sympathetically. That’s my definition, I have not idea how they define it at the Oscar Walcker School. There is often a rear duplex, but there can also be a front duplex, making it a triplex?

The speaking length is the part of the string that is hit by the hammer and creates the basic tone coming from the piano. Rear duplex string lengths are the most common and are those that are on the far side of the bridge, between the rear bridge pins and the hitch pin. Front duplex strings lengths are found between the tuning pin and the capo bar or agraffe. Usually front duplexes are only in the caop bar area. The front lengths in the agraffe section are almost always muted with felt.

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Say Bosendorfer: Brilliant marketing piece for pianos

I actually forgot where I came across this wonderful piece of international marketing. I’ve been carrying it around in its own ph balanced box for years.

There are a number of things that make this piece unique and powerful. First is the format. It’s rather large, multipage printed on a wonderful, thick paper.

But the most powerful component is the language. In both English and German it conveys prestige, value, emotion and history without ever talking about features or technical aspects. And the German writing is especially effective, using words and phrases that evoke a luscious Viennese history that no other piano maker has.


What’s A Wippen?

grand piano wippens
A wippen is the heart and soul of the grand piano action. With some aspects of piano design and construction there is a wealth of variety but not so much anymore with the wippen.

The top two wippens in the photo represent the most fundamental designs (yes, you nit pickers there are more, but these two are the most common designs in pianos of the last 30 years or so).

The top one is called a Schwander design and was the most common wippen design until about 10 years ago or so.

The middle one is called the Herz spring design, or commonly the “Steinway” wippen because it was primarily found in Steinways until about 10 or so years ago. Since that time most manufacturers have migrated to the Herz design because it repeats better.

You can get an idea of why it repeats better when you look at where the repetition lever (the angled piece on the top) fulcrum is and the way the spring is attached. In the Herz design the repetition lever fulcrum is closer to the middle and the spring clearly has better positioning to lift or suspend the repetition lever during play.

The main complaint about the Herz design is that setting repetition spring tension is much more difficult and time consuming. On the Schwander design you set the tension by turning a screw. On the Herz design you have to unhook the top of the spring, bend it to increase tension then reset it in the slot in the repetition lever and then gently reduce tension until it is where you want it to be. Oh well..

The bottom example shows an attempt to introduce screw adjustment to the Herz spring but that design never achieved much traction.

Here is a great site to learn more about piano and action components.

Fazioli Moving Up

Fazioli at night
I was invited to an event sponsered by the “new” Fazioli dealer in NYC. I put “new” in quotes because while the dealership stays the same, Klavierhaus, much has changed. This includs the new involvement by Michael and Marina Harrison formerly of Faust Harrison and Allegro Pianos, and a new location caused by the move of Beethoven Pianos. Confused? That’s OK, it’s confusing. But I’ll go into all that later.

The event was described as “An Evening with Paolo Fazioli” and included brief performances by 11 different pianists. The music was varied and great,the select crowd appreciative and enthusiastic. However the location stole the show; The Estrela Penthouse on the 44th floor of the Parker Meridien Hotel in New York City. The piano was set against a wall of windows with an expansive view of Central Park, a dramatic setting indeed. The Parker Meridien is, apparently, the new location of the Klavierhaus salesroom. It will be located in a now closed restaurant space on the ground floor facing 56th St. How a piano store focusing on high end Steinway rebuilds and even higher end Fazioli pianos is able to afford ground floor space in such an extraordinary area is a story in itself…a story that I don’t understand well enough to document and as the space is still under construction, I won’t get ahead of things.

It was a musically satisfying evening. with performances by Joel Fan, Saar Ahuvia and Stephanie Ho, Luis Perdomo, the great Randy Weston, Manuel Valera, Laszlo Gardony, Frank Kimbrough and Jochem Lecointre.

These are all wonderful, skilled musicians and I enjoyed all the performances, but the real revelation for me was Vadim Neselovskyi, a young Ukrainian pianist with a style and musical intelligence all his own.

Go here and listen to the 3 tracks from his CD titled Music For September and see if you don’t agree.

A Letter to Udo Steingraeber

Steingraeber A170
Dear Udo
It has been far too long since my last visit to Bayreuth. My son is 17 now and while he will someday treasure the photograph of himself at Wagners grave, alas, that day is not yet here.

I of course remember vividly my then 2nd visit to your works and your compelling description of the steps required to make a Steingraeber piano. I loved the Steingraeber sound before then and I love it to this day, even more so because I’ve had more opportunities to work on and become familiar with your fine pianos.

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You MUST control the humidity

humidifiersIt has been freezing in New England and running the shop humidifiers has been critical. The photo shows the only time ever that the various hygrometers have been in such agreement. RH is in the 40% range because it rained for half a day before freezing again. Usually it is a struggle to keep it above 30% with 2 humidifiers going.

But struggle you must! If you have a nice piano and are at all serious about keeping it in shape, measure and control the humidity. You have to play an active role if you don’t want bad news later. Confused? Call or email me. I’m happy to help….really!

Author: Eric Johnson