///Play it Again, Mom

Play it Again, Mom

Lifelong resident Joan Kaufman (nee Skall) has had an 80-year love affair with the piano.

By Jane Kaufman

Close up of piano keys

My mother grew up with a piano in the house, a Chickering with a mahogany finish. It was the gift of her father to her mother on the birth of their first child, a son, in 1926.

My mother, whose childhood name was Joan Skall, began piano lessons at the age of 6. Her teacher was Mrs. Schneider, who lived on Chadbourne Road. There is a book of Christmas carols in my mother’s collection marked in red pencil in a hurried angular scrawl. It must be Mrs. Schneider’s writing.

My mother loved classical music as a child. In fact, she wrote birthday cards to the great composers of the classical canon, unable to fathom that the creators of such beauty could be dead.

By the time she started high school in the 1940s, her older brother and sister began goading her to switch to pop. Jack Jones, who had a penchant for scotch and water, was her teacher. My mother, then 15, already knew how to mix drinks, so she poured one for him at the start of each lesson.

She first wanted to learn Vincent Youman’s “Tea for Two,” but Jones told her it was too difficult. Instead, her first piece was Richard Rodgers’ “Blue Room.” “Tea for Two” came next.

The structure went like this: She played, and then he played. When her mother came in from golf or bridge or volunteering, she asked Jones if he wanted another drink, and he played until her father got home and asked if he’d like a third.

After she married Jules Kaufman, had two children and moved to Chadbourne Road, my mother continued to play piano.

Living around the corner from Shaker Square in the 1960s, my family went to Stouffer’s Tack Room on special occasions. Eddy Ryan provided ambience at a black baby grand six nights a week, backed by Bill Bandy on bass. Ryan was a kind man without ego who worked people’s favorite songs into his set list before being asked. His touch was light. His flourishes added elegance without flash.

He cut an album called “Live at the Tack Room.” On it the tinkling of silverware on plates and the buzz of conversation is audible.

It wasn’t long before my mother decided to take lessons from Ryan. His first assignment to my mother: Play “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from “Mary Poppins” in all 11 keys.

With Ryan she played popular contemporary songs “Tijuana Taxi,” “Never on Sunday,” and “Georgy Girl.” He wrote arrangements for her in a neat, efficient hand, and the titles in triangular letters at the tops of pages. He also taught my mother enough music theory to arrange her own medleys.

My mother loved classical music as a child. In fact, she wrote birthday cards to the great composers of the classical canon, unable to fathom that the creators of such beauty could be dead.

She practiced in blocks of time, but also found snippets of time to play, typically while waiting for my father to finish dressing before going out on weekend dates.

At the age of 40, my mother began playing out — at nursing homes, at the Hospice of Western Reserve, the Gathering Place, Hope Lodge, Cleveland Clinic, and University Hospitals.

At 86, my mother now lives in an apartment near the Farnsleigh Rapid stop. She often plays before supper, at the cocktail hour, just like she did when Jack Jones was her teacher. In recent years, she’s been working on her bass lines with the virtuosic ragtime and jazz player George Foley, whom she deeply admires. She is still playing medleys at nursing homes, and she still practices. On that beautiful old Chickering.

Jane Kaufman is a staff reporter for the Cleveland Jewish News. This article originally appeared in Shaker Life, Winter 2019.

2019-01-04T15:18:57+00:00Scene in Shaker|