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Michael John Hall

"I want touch touch people, to make them cry."

I started playing the piano as a 5-year old, and was moved toward jazz when Mom would play Erroll Garner's "Concert by the Sea" album or a sampling of the great Oscar Peterson or George Shearing.

A couple of years of lessons in the 3rd and 4th grade came to an abrupt end, somewhat out of a lack of focus on my part, and because I didn't enjoy playing anything "classical." I liked songs. I didn't touch the piano again until sometime in the 7th grade, when Bobby started taking jazz lessons and a 300 page "fake book" filled with songs sat on the piano. Wow! Of the almost 300 songs in the book, I maybe knew 25. Nor did I know a C 7th chord from a C major 7th. So if the chord had the letter "C," I played a C octave in the base. An F#dim-9 was likewise played as F sharp with my pinky and thumb (barely) hitting the octave, no notes in between. But the song - the MELODY - came naturally. Some helpful pointers from Bobby and a couple thousand hours later, I could play that f-sharp diminished, or the C7 with the raised fifth and diminished 9th. And without having ever heard so many of them, I worked my way through every song in that blessed fake book.
Thanks to some wonderful coaching from my Carle Place High School Music Theory teacher Bill Westcott, I, a mere junior, was able to accompany vocalist Karen Mancus singing "Wedding Bell Blues" for the Senior Talent Show. Something else happened during those formative years - the magical music of Vince Guaraldi that filled "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Oh dear. I wanted to play music like THAT.
For the next thirty-five years, with only a few gaps for babies and house remodeling, I played the same standards every day of my life. Found pianos in dormitories and practice rooms and empty concert halls. My family endured "Over the Rainbow: and "If I Only Had a Brain" five thousand times. (They are still among my favorite songs, and I am forever grateful for E.Y Harburg's father taking that great American composer to shows in New York when he told his wife he was taking him to temple!
Those decades of playing notwithstanding, my repertoire - and ability - changed little. Then something else happened that changed everything. For my 50th birthday, my family gifted me a series of piano lessons with Santa Fe piano teacher Criss Jay. At the deepest level of my being, I KNEW that would be a turning point in my life. During the first lesson, I was so scared I sat on the sofa instead of the piano bench. Criss said, "It's the same per hour on the sofa as the bench." Then he asked me, "What do you want?"
"I want to make people cry," I answered. "I want to touch people." So in the lessons that followed, Criss had me do things like practice touching one key with one finger for one hour just to really get the sense touch and nuance on the piano. Another time he had me put one hand on my heart while playing with the other. These were no ordinary piano lessons. Images of floating silk scarves for me personally, the results were profound.
Two years later, during a lesson in his Santa Fe studio, as I played a standard song, I began weeping. Sobbing. Criss pointed a finger at me. "You could never make your audience cry with your music until you could make yourself cry." How right he was. Many a tear has been shed at the piano since that special day. And many an audience member and CD listener has shared those tears with me since then. (Please use the Contact page to share your personal story with me.)
Something else, something strage,happened between starting with Criss and recording the first album (Higher Places). One day I was alone in a large room praying for guidance in my life. "What's next?" I asked Spirit. A simple question, sort of. And I had no agenda or thoughts when I asked, just, "What's next?"
"Music." A whisper in my ear, a la the "voice" in Field of Dreams. I looked around. No one. Empty room.
"Music" it came again.
I had asked. And listened.
And followed.
And what followed in the years since that whisper in 2007 went way beyond playing the piano and recording a bunch of CDs. Way beyond. I will share some of that in future entries.
I thank you for listening, and hope this music touches you in some way.

With love,