Sometimes you hear someone say, “It happened so fast or so suddenly, it was like magic!” Magicians know, better than anyone, that magic doesn’t happen suddenly. To the spectator it may seem that way, but those in the know, realize the preparation, the talking, the misdirection, and all that jazz that make it seem like it happened suddenly!
Speaking of jazz, an event took place in our city of Côte Saint Luc on Monday, June 29, at the park, Rembrandt Park, across the street from our condo. A Piano in the Park was inaugurated by non other than Oliver Jones, the legendary Oliver Jones. There was much excitement afoot. The press was there, including Global TV and CTV, the Gazette, the Suburban; the Mayor of our city, Anthony Housefather; and our City Councillor, Mike Cohen as well as other city councillors from Côte Saint Luc; the Lady who donated the piano, Louise Silverman; and the person who got the ball rolling in the first place, our own Phil Matlin!
Phil emailed Mike Cohen maybe a month or two ago and presented the idea to him. There were no pianos in the park or on the streets of Côte Saint Luc prior to this. It was approved by council and poof, it happened. So many things had to have happened for this to take place. Phil’s mother, may she rest in peace, made him take piano lessons from the age of five, even though he was not in the least bit interested in it. He’d rather be out playing with his friends. He NEVER practiced. His mother didn’t care. He was taking lessons anyhow. He played for years from lesson to lesson. He learned something over the years, and then when he was about 13 he was invited to a “social”, (remember “socials”?) a party with boys and girls at someone’s house. The hostess happened to have a piano and Phil sat down and tickled the keys and all the girls surrounded him. It changed his life. When the teacher came the following week for his lesson, she was shocked. “YOU PRACTICED!”
Within a year or two his teacher said he was ready for his McGill Music Exams but McGill wouldn’t allow him to take them because he wasn’t 16 yet. He was playing classical until then. From there he went to popular music, Broadway show music and ragtime. Mostly Broadway show stuff.
After going into the magic business in 1977 he and his friend, magician Wim Vermeys, decided to have a magic convention, the first in Montreal. This was in 1979 and was held at the Quebec Pavilion from Expo 67. It was in October and there was a big crowd and it went well, except for the fact that it was October and freezing and the heating wasn’t functioning. Montreal magician Romaine, was the M.C. for the stage show, and his opening line was “Bienvenue au plus grand frigidaire du Québec.” That broke the ice, so to speak! Also the caterers who were supposed to bring food for the attendees had an accident on the bridge and couldn’t get the food to us, so I drove to the Brown Derby (remember the Brown Derby?) and picked up several platters of food for the hoard of hungry magicians.
We had conventions for 19 years bringing in the best magicians from around the world. One of them was Dick Zimmerman who also happened to be a Ragtime piano player and he and Phil became friends. They shared a passion for magic and music. Dick was asked to play at the Montreal Jazz Festival in the 90’s and we invited him and his girlfriend to stay with us while he was here, which they did. He was the spark that renewed Phil’s love of ragtime. Dick kept on telling Phil to phone Mimi Blais, a fabulous ragtime pianist and entertainer but Phil was too shy. What would he say to her. Then one day we were at the Jazz Festival, maybe a year or two later, and who is up on stage performing? Mimi. When her performance was over, I dragged Phil over and told her we had a common friend, Dick Zimmerman. “Oh, you must be the magician that Dick keeps telling me to phone.” And so a fiendship started. Phil asked her if she would give him lessons, and she said she didn’t give lessons. If he wanted, he could come to her house and play for her, and if he was good enough, she would coach him.
So he went to her house, knowing full well she was from another planet as no one on this planet could play like her, and sat down to play and he was so nervous he couldn’t see the keys. He hit all the wrong notes. Mimi said, “I’m going to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee.” She understood. Alone with the piano he started to play. She said okay, you can play and I will coach you.
Phil could never have dreamt, even in his wildest dreams, that Oliver Jones would one day say to him, I enjoyed listening to your piano playing. But on Monday evening June 29, 2015 at Rembrandt Park, when Phil finished playing a few tunes, he did.
It was magic. Everything had to be in place for it to happen, many that I didn’t mention. It would take a book. And I didn’t tell Oliver Jones’ side of the story, but he lives just a few blocks from us and how did that come to be? You’ll have to ask Mr. Jones.