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Steinway B Piano

Every piano is different. They’re not like synthesizers, where each instrument is made exactly the same in a factory by machinery with the exact same parts. Each piano has a personal sound and feel and character, and while pianos from the same company are made more or less alike, they each come out with their own voice and identity. A professional traveling pianist like myself has a lot of one-night stands with a huge range of quality in pianos, and my philosophy is, if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Every now and then, however, you wish that one-night stand could turn into a serious relationship.

I was ready for a committed relationship in the late ’70s so I went to the imposing Steinway Hall in New York City to get hitched. I had always dreamed of owning a Steinway, and since I was playing with Sonny Rollins at the time decided I could now afford to rent an upright. I walked into Steinway Hall, and told the salesman I was a professional jazz pianist and wanted to rent an upright. He replied, “I’m sorry, but we don’t rent pianos to musicians.”

Apparently a famous jazz musician had returned a rented Steinway with nails hammered into it-just my luck. Eventually it worked out when I got my father, a doctor, to cosign the rental agreement. He had to swear to a notary that he’d never played an instrument.

Things have since loosened up at Steinway Hall, as I found out when I went to test its seven-foot long Steinway B.

The Steinway B I played in the Hall, an ebony made in the last year or two, is a very good piano (serial number 554 954). I started out playing a very fast chromatic scale up and down the keyboard. First with hands separate, then hands together. The action is very even up and down the piano. Many pianos are regulated to have the upper register a bit lighter than the lower, but from what I could feel, this piano has a very even action, with the up and down weights very similar in all registers. The action is a nice, new Steinway feel, not difficult to play, but not as easy as it could or possibly will be. The hammers are soft with no grooves in them; it was obvious to me that this new piano has not been played very much, if at all. It needs some playing, and some more regulating.

I began playing repeated notes to see how well the keys would return, and they returned very quickly and evenly. I then began to play some tunes: “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “Donna Lee,” “Giant Steps” with left-hand stride; a few ballads, “My Funny Valentine,” “Like Someone in Love;” a couple of my own compositions; and I also played some Mozart, Bach and Ravel.

The midrange of this piano has what I consider to be a typical hornlike Steinway sound, warm and bright and singing. The high range was not voiced as brightly as I prefer, but I imagine it was voiced down to sound pleasing in the showroom. The low bass notes are pretty and strong, but not quite as soulful and growling as I would ideally like them to be. I like a very rich, powerful bass, and this low end is a bit more subdued than I prefer.

I played the ballad “Blue in Green” with the soft pedal on, and felt that the piano sounded too covered, even for the soft pedal. Probably if the piano were voiced more brightly, the soft pedal would be able to change the tone without cutting out the singing quality that this piano possesses.

All new pianos have plastic keys and it bugs me. I like ivory keys. They just feel better, and while some piano companies seem to have come up with very credible substitutes, these plastic keys just don’t knock me out. Of course, since ivory comes from elephant tusks, it is now illegal to use. I certainly don’t like the idea of killing elephants for ivory on piano keys, and I don’t wear real fur, either; I just wish there were another material that felt as good.

This Steinway B is a happy, positive, American piano; like a good marriage, it’s solid, beautiful and dependable. It is a very expensive instrument, but any Steinway is a worthy investment, financially as well as artistically.

Originally Published