At the jazz club, me and Kyoko meet a guy who speaks piano. Instead of words, his mouth forms the sound of a Yamaha baby grand. Sitting at our circular table near the stage, me and Kyoko talk to the guy about our love for Bill Evans, our discovery of Gogo Penguin, and our admiration for the British trio Mammal Hands. The guy grins in what seems to be agreement and laughs in major sevenths.
A few minutes later, just before he walks on stage to begin his set, the piano guy leans over our table and whispers something to Kyoko. I don’t catch everything he says, but I hear a Cm7, followed by a ii-V-I chord progression.
On stage, the guy pretends to play the piano while speaking the music into a microphone. Though something feels wrong about this, his deception is very convincing: he sways to the rhythm of his progressions. He works the pedals with his feet. He moves his arms and hands as if he’s playing the music.
Near the end of his second song, I watch the people at the tables around us. They nod their heads. They tap their fingers. They sip their drinks. They watch the guy behind the piano, seemingly unaware of his trickery. Seeing this, I turn to Kyoko and whisper across the table.
“Isn’t this the same thing as lip-syncing?”
She gulps a splash of her beer and shrugs.
“I don’t think so,” she says. “It’s not like either of us could do that.”
“Yeah, I guess,” I say. “But it still seems dishonest. He’s essentially lying about playing the piano.”
“I don’t mind it,” Kyoko says, still staring at the stage. “It’s all part of his act. He’s putting on a good show.”
The piano guy finishes his second song. He pauses, takes a sip from a glass of water, and starts whispering Bill Evans’s, “Re: Person I Knew,” into the mic. Trying to keep an open mind about this strange performance of one of my favorite songs, I watch the guy and listen. His tone is warm and shimmering. His touch is gentle and expressive. His interpretation is colorful and creative. As the song continues, I begin to lose myself in the music.
By the time the piano guy finishes the song, I realize that his version of, “Re: Person I Knew,” is the best I’ve ever heard outside of the old recordings of Bill Evans.
Nodding to myself, I turn back to Kyoko. But before I can say a word, I see that she’s staring at me with a knowing look. Holding up my hands in surrender, I give her a nod and take a sip of my beer. I join the crowd’s applause and clap until it stops. I raise my chilly glass and salute the guy on stage.