by Michael Caruso
The Chestnut Hill Community Association, with the generous help of Chestnut Hill Hospital, opened the 66th season of concerts in Pastorius Park Wednesday, June 18. Although the weather was a tad hotter than one might have wished, with a hint of the high humidity most likely to arrive in the weeks to come, Hezekiah Jones drew a large and enthusiastic audience that cut across those boundaries of age that here in Chestnut Hill serve to define the diversity of the community.
Although the band describes itself as “New Weird American,” I was hard-pressed last week in Pastorius Park to find anything “weird” about the sound the six-piece group produced. There’s certainly a tart, almost country twang to their tone, yet the overriding characteristic that struck me was one of unaffected lyricism. Yes, their tunefulness was always supported by a strong rhythmic drive, but there was never anything unflinching about those rhythms and the easy-going bounce they projected.
I was particularly impressed by the way Hezekiah Jones started many of their slower numbers very simply, almost sparsely, but then little by little added instruments and vocals and percussion to build a convincing crescendo that sounded inevitable. Melodies were always lilting, and harmonies were always sensitive and imaginative. Lyrics were easily accessible and always laced with sweet charm.
The addition of an electrified fiddle to the instrumental mix conjured up images of the ante-bellum Deep South. Touches of New Orleans jazz were balanced against the infectious innocence of the Beatles at their height in the mid-‘60s. Vibrato-inflected guitar riffs recalled the rock of the following decade – all blended effectively.
A ‘GRAND’ RETURN
The Cunningham Piano Company at 5427 Germantown Ave. in Germantown has achieved its goal of offering a full spectrum of pianos assembled in the firm’s factory. The company, now 123 years old, is building its own 9-foot concert grand as the culminating complement to its full line of pianos.
When Patrick Cunningham founded the company in the 19th century, piano building was a major industry in America, with hundreds of companies producing fine quality instruments. The piano had become a symbol of middle class prosperity; many families wanted one in their homes. But the Great Depression, which began in October of 1929 with the stock market crash, changed everything. People could barely afford to buy food and remain in their homes; the purchase of a piano became an impossible dream. By the outbreak of World War II in 1941, many piano building companies had folded.
Cunningham stopped making new pianos and concentrated instead on restoring older instruments, thereby keeping the factory in Germantown open. However, the dream of returning to the company’s historic mission of building its own brand of pianos was never forgotten. When its current co-owners, Rich Galassini and Tim Oliver, took over at the start of this century, plans to revive the Cunningham piano took shape.
The current roster of instruments built by Cunningham features a 50” studio upright, a 5′ baby grand, a 5’4” studio grand, a 5’10” parlor grand, a 7’2” semi-concert grand, and now a 9’0” concert grand designed by George Emerson. With parts made all over the world, they are assembled in Germantown and have received high marks from pianists such as former Germantown resident and keyboard titan Andre Watts.
For more information, visit www.cunninghampiano.com.