It's been quite a crazy experience trying to understand the pop and singer/songwriter scene as it applies to piano.

Here's the situation. You have a piano, some piano skills, and you can sing a little. You write some songs for the piano. In any batch of songs, you're going to have some songs that absolutely require a band, some songs that absolutely require a real piano, and other songs that are still just fine for a random electric keyboard with no backing musicians.

When you're starting out, you're basically limited to the third type of song. All your band songs (for me that would be Damn My Eyes and Not Today) can't really even be performed. Other songs that really should be played on a grand (for me that would be She Believes and Old Friend) sound more like a pale imitation of themselves when you play them on a keyboard pumped through an small sound system.

And so for piano songwriters, it becomes a sort of permanent treasure hunt to find where and how to play. Every once in a while you think you find a possibility and then you get a curveball. Here are some of the recents.

  • Jo Federigo's in Eugene - I traveled down there with Debbie, after hearing Lisa Forkish rave about playing on their piano and for their audience - their website said they were still open, but their telephone had a mysterious voice mail message explaining they were closed until further notice.
  • Martin's off Madison in Seattle - I heard there was an open mic night here with a real grand piano and was very excited to attend. Took Debbie and loved the atmosphere and the food, and they had a great pianist there. Soon it dawned on me, however, that all the piano music was loungy jazz standards, heavy on Bacharach and music theater, and that Debbie was the only woman in the entire place. And I confirmed with the waitstaff that "open mic" basically meant singing karaoke while the pianist backs you up. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but disappointing to find a cool piano bar only to find that it doesn't cater to your style of music.
  • 88 keys in Seattle - there is a monthly songwriting event here at a dueling piano bar. I attended tonight - it was pretty funny because the pianos aren't even real - they're digital keyboards in grand piano shells. It actually wasn't bad, because the stage and sound were quite good, but the event is on a Tuesday night when the area is completely dead - it's tough as a songwriter to sign up for a 30-minute showcase slot and have no one in the audience other than the other songwriters that have showed up. It's not a good way to build an audience.

I had a great meeting with Jake Oken-Berg recently and we talked about other venues in town that are good for various levels of local songwriters. There's a good piano at Wilf's Restaurant, but it is more for jazz musicians that can fill up a three-hour set - I'm not sure they are amenable for a shared bill where each person might have forty-five minutes. There are venues like Jimmy Mak's with a great piano, if you can guarantee that you'll fill the room pretty well. There's a nice-looking smaller venue in Seattle named Egan's in Ballard that might have possibilities for if you can't guarantee a big crowd. The entire question is how to get started and put on enough of a good show with the puny songs and the electric keyboard and the small sound systems, to gather up enough fans to be able to justify the nicer venues. Tough road.

What seems like a possibility is the house party circuit - finding a collection of folks with grand pianos in their homes and putting on small concerts. I've got some brainstorms in the works for that, as I get closer to having a good hour of original material.