You’re an unfamiliar but welcome face. Thanks for coming out to the Palace Hotel. I’m grateful that you’re willing to hear me sing and watch me perform. Especially on New Year’s Eve.

      I do torch songs. That’s what you’re about to hear. Look around, most in the audience are from a prior generation. My generation. But torch songs aren’t musical relics from bygone eras. They still resonate, stoking our hopes as much as our longings. So audiences sigh and carefully consider the words I sing. Listen a moment as I begin. Close your eyes and really listen. How’s my voice? Critics say it graces with age. Refracting light from the crystal ball overhead shines on you a moment, but all you reveal is a poker-face. Okay, I’ll just trust you’re with me. Wink to verify anytime.

      The band behind me is large. We’ve got a rich, full sound going. The fellow directly before you, the one playing the hollow body guitar, is Chet. He’s my mainstay these days, on stage and off. More often than not we perform as a duo, but tonight we’ve added a few pieces of the house band. Stage left is the bass player from Cuba whose name I’ve already forgotten. The sax player and drummer are both named John. Chet and I have barely rehearsed with these guys. Just met them yesterday. Still, I think we sound pretty tight.

      This opener is called, “What Once Was Ours.” It’s a real heart-tugger. I wrote it for the man sitting to your left. Yes, that old guy in the plaid jacket beside you. With his thinning, rusty-gray hair, even my diehard fans don’t recognize him anymore. His name is George Orton. He’s unaware that he’s the song’s inspiration. I’ll discretely inform him once we’ve toasted the New Year. The news is bound to trigger memories beyond our playing days to times when, for better or worse, we fooled around together. I should mention that the woman next to him with the high cheekbones is his lovely wife, Abigail. They’re approaching their golden anniversary.

      Tonight, even playing with the backing of a four-piece, it’s the sound not heard that rings loudest. We’re missing the tinkling of the ivory. Seeing George there, next to you, amplifies the fact. For nearly a decade I swore he was the most talented keyboardist on earth. Perhaps I was biased since he played in my band, but I considered myself oh so lucky. Then slowly but steadily he lost his magic touch.

      Take a peek at George’s bony hands, the skin gone leathery and liver spotted. Look often enough and you’re bound to see them shake. Even when they’re just resting like they are now, in his lap. You see, George has Parkinson’s Disease. That’s why his dexterity with the keys slipped away no matter how much he practiced. While the disease has fully blossomed, causing a minor ordeal for him just to sit comfortably in his seat before you arrived, its effects were subtle rather than debilitating when he left the band years ago.

      First, George lost his sense of timing. What played in his head he was unable to translate to his fingertips. Not much later his body equilibrium began to suffer, and the pressure he applied to the keys wasn’t as consistently delicate as that to which we’d become accustomed, meaning he was unable to produce the wonderful tone that had become his signature. It was so sad. Soon he could no longer play trills and fills with any polish whatsoever, and the rest of the band agreed it was time for him to go. George and I were strolling the Jersey shore boardwalk after a weekend of gigs in Atlantic City when I broke the news. Seeing him go ghostly as the words sunk in…well…it hit me like a club to the gut.

      But that was then and this is now. A happier moment—thanks for your applause! It’s nice to see that you enjoyed the song along with the rest of the crowd. I thought a little insight would help. I’m especially pleased, too, to see George smiling beside you, clapping arrhythmically. Introduce yourself to him, will you? Say you’ve heard he’s a legend. That he was a maestro of the keys. Not now, I mean, but after the show. I’ll see that a signed CD of my latest makes it your way.

      Until then the band and I have got a whole slew of other numbers for your enjoyment. Enough torch to light up this special night.


In this story I wanted to explore how circumstances beyond our control, in this case, disease, €”can suddenly take away something with which we most identify ourselves. Being an accomplished musician is such an exact discipline, and, with the early onset of Parkinson'€™s, I wondered when the tipping point would be reached and one'€™s identity would be lost. Then I chose the torch singer as narrator, electing to have her to tell the story directly to the reader, with the reader a member of the audience, learning about the person in the adjacent seat.


Special Performance  - Roland Goity (c)


Copyright 2009