88 Pianos I have Known – Jan Preston

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23 March 2019 /
MTG Century Theatre, Napier /
By Jocelyn Freeman

The Piano is able to communicate the subtlest universal truths by means of wood, metal and vibrating air. Kenneth Miller

Wow! If you ever thought piano concerts were for the conventional and staid, this show changed that. My feet didn’t stop tapping all night and from the movement in the audience, I would bet the same for everyone. Jan Preston’s shoes were studded with sparkles and buttons and they didn’t stop tapping all night either. With her black and white pants and sparkling clothes, 88 keys on the keyboard, and 88 pictures of all things piano, she gave a lively, spirited, generous performance. I really appreciated being able to hear every word she sang and spoke. The acoustics were great.

Her opening piece, ‘The Boogie Woman’, was an invitation to us all to kick up our heels and join in. With a joyful sense of humour, she revealed the origin of ‘Chopsticks’. ‘Boogie Woogie’ – stunning playing, with rich warmth, an almost alarming complexity of range, a racy pace, notes pouring from tips of polished professional fingers – this piano was singing. The ‘Nut Cracker Suite’ reworked as the ‘Nut Rocker’, a cracker of a piece, and a tribute to unsung women heros of Ragtime, photographed in their kitchens with aprons on.
While Jan was certainly well supported by husband Michael on the snare drum and Tauranga double bass player Nigel Masters, this was a woman’s night!

She upstaged, perhaps, her famous film-maker sister Dame Gaylene Preston, who brilliantly portrays New Zealand life and the untold stories of women, but Jan filled us too with hearty sound. ‘Home by Christmas’ expresses a tender pathos in andante, the musical score for their father’s story (told in the film of that name), one of many she has written for the movies her sister produces. Jan honoured their parents with ‘Sunshine’ (“you make the sun shine down on me…”), building the warm image of the backdoor step, all being well at home.  Her sincere storytelling accompanied the music seamlessly, as she shared stories of early family life here in Hawke’s Bay. Her father would say to her, “You’ll be right, love, you can play the piano real good,” sending her off to seek her fortune. And seek she did, through a five-year degree in classical music, her rock band Coup D’Etat in the 1980s, to piano bars in Sydney, becoming Australia’s crowned Queen of Boogie.

Her encore ‘Für Elise’ fabulously demonstrated this trajectory in her cross-over from classical to boogie woogie – her repurposing of this well-known piano piece was something else!

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