Saturday, November 19, 2022

The joy of piano personified

Pianist Bobby van Deusen returned to southwest Florida on Friday, November 22 with a long-overdue performance that celebrated his mastery of virtually every keyboard style - delivered with joy and enthusiasm.

The Pensacola-based keyboard marvel hadn't performed locally in nearly four years, thanks to pandemic and hurricane postponements.That made his performance in Morrie Trumble's South County Jazz With Morrie series even more special.

Over nearly two hours, van Deusen covered a lot of territory, both stylistically and in the sourcing of his material.

"I'm gonna play a lot of tunes everybody knows," he told the audience at the at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice. "That seems cliched, but they're not cliched if you play them your own way." And he did.

Van Deusen won his second senior division title at the World Championship Old-Time Piano-Playing Contest over Memorial Day Weekend in Oxford, Mississippi. He said he is gunning for a third.

The tunes of the day ranged Scott Joplin's ragtime classic "The Entertainer" to Bobby Troup's classic "Route 66" to Duke Ellington's "Satin Doll" to a stunning, shortened version of his amazing "Phantom of the Opera" medley.

"Route 66" was an appropriate inclusion, as van Deusen took various turns all afternoon down Ragtime Road, Stride Street, Boogie-Woogie Boulevard and Classical Circle to add delicacy or thundering passages as the moment prompted him. At times he sounded like the piano duo Ferrante & Teicher rolled into one.

"I Left My Heart in San Francisco" was embellished with lush ornamentation and stride segments. He also dug with zest into "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "Tenderly," "Mandy, Make Up Your Mind" (one of his Old-Time Piano-Playing Competition" selections this year), "Edd Tide," the Four Freshmen hit "Shangri La," "Stardust," Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness," and a eye-popping take on Willie "The Lion" Smith's aptly named composition, "The Fingerbreaker." There were many others, as well.

Late in the program, he dropped in a teasing, sometimes off-kilter version of "Sweet Georgia Brown" that resolved with a lot of boogie-woogie. 

In the spirit of the season, he added a few classics from Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas repertoire, including the joyous "Linus and Lucy" and "Skating." He closed the afternoon with a holiday medley that opened and closed with popular singer Andy Williams' 1963 hit "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

For van Deusen, the afternoon revealed that he is consumed with sharing his love of piano - right down to his socks.

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