NEW YORK—Faint piano music could be heard around the corner at the upper terrace of Bryant Park Monday afternoon. Terry Waldo, 68, adorned in a faded jean jacket, was playing jazz on a pastel green piano. As a ragtime, early jazz musician he received an unusual request. Waldo shrugged his shoulders and gave it a shot anyway.
A member of the audience asked whether he would be so kind as to play “Clair de Lune” for the crowd on the warm spring afternoon.
“It’s a little bit out of my field, but I’ll see what I can do,” Waldo said. He tested out the first few chords to see if his fingers still remembered it; they did. “I wouldn’t put that in my repertoire,” he said.
But he played the piece beautifully anyway, softening at all the right places. Waldo struggled slightly as he recalled the fast part. Perhaps the agility was not there, but the distinct, romantic feeling of Debussy was apparent in his performance.
“He connects really well with the audience. He plays exactly what the audience wants to hear. It’s perfect lunch time music,” said Nancy Ng, one of Bryant Park’s event coordinators. “He’s one of our favorites every year.”
Waldo is the opener of a five-monthlong parade of piano players at Bryant Park. Nearly every weekday at lunchtime until the end of September, visitors to the park can enjoy free soul-soothing music. The piano is located on the Upper Terrace, at the base of the William Cullen Bryant statue, between the Bryant Park Grill and Bryant Park Cafe.
Waldo is one of America’s premier performers and presenters of ragtime and early jazz—and not to mention a protégé of legendary jazz composer and pianist Eubie Blake.
Waldo has produced and arranged over 40 albums, and composed for several films and TV programs, such as “The Tonight Show.” He also previously taught a ragtime course for Swing University at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
After Waldo finished “Clair de Lune,” he began to lean toward a classical mood and jumped into an exciting whirl of Mozart’s “Turkish March.”
“I love playing at the park,” Waldo said. “It’s a great atmosphere.”
“The music is fantastic. … It lifts your spirits up,” said Estella Camacho, a passerby at the park.
Waldo will be playing at Bryant Park from 12:30 p.m.–2:30 p.m. from May 6–10.
Next up to take over the keys to the piano is Jon Weber, jazz performer, TV score composer, and guest host for Marian McPartland on NPR’s “Piano Jazz.”