Written by Jill Nossa Saturday, 07 December 2013 00:00
There’s no better way to get into the holiday spirit than with music, and critically acclaimed pianist Stan Wiest will be hosting a holiday sing-a-long at Locust Valley Library to help get everyone in the mood on Sunday, Dec. 8, from 2 to 4 p.m.
Wiest has been playing piano since he was 5 years old, and now, at age 69, has recorded his first CD; an album that has been so well-received, it is a top seller on Amazon.com. The talented pianist spent much of his early career traveling and says he played every supper club in Manhattan, while also working full time on a TV soap opera. To promote his album, his local circuit also includes a presentation at Forest Books in Glen Cove on Dec. 12.
About 30 years ago, Wiest stopped traveling to be with his wife and kids and has been running a music entertainment business in Fort Salonga. Now, with his new album, he’s back on the road, something he never expected to happen at this point in his life.
“I always wanted to record a CD, but the opportunity never arose,” he says. “Then this great opportunity came about. It was completely unexpected.”
Last year, Wiest was asked to play at a surprise birthday party for the wife of an acquaintance he knew at a North Shore country club. He was given a list of 24 of the wife’s favorite songs from the Great American Songbook, composed primarily in the 1920s and ‘30s -some of which had never been written for piano, only arranged for big band - and he played them all. The acquaintance later approached him, asking him to record the songs for a Christmas gift. Then, he was asked to take it to the commercial level.
He recorded the songs in eight hours at Euphoria Studios in Manhattan, an experience that he found “intimidating” at first because of the photographs hanging on the walls of all the great musicians who had recorded there. He ended up having a very good experience, and used a method of recording that makes it sound as if the piano is in the same room with the listener, with no overdubs.
“I had to play each song without a single mistake - if I made a mistake, I had to start from the beginning,” Wiest says.
The CD, titled Music to Drive By, is marketed as the first volume of a series titled Music You Will Love. He refers to the acquaintance as his “guardian angel” who told him simply, “it’s time for you to get your record.”
“The client is so thrilled with everything that he’s already talking about songs for the next album, so I’m just trying to stay above water with doing what I have to do with this album because as soon as this is made public, he wants to start talking about the next one,” Wiest says.
As a kid, Wiest says, “I hated practicing the piano more than anything in the world.”
His parents pushed, with the consequence of eating a plate of vegetables for dinner on days he refused to practice.
He hated it so much he ate vegetables on a nightly basis until he was 12, the age that everything changed and sealed the fate of his career path.
“In seventh grade, I got a new piano teacher. She was 6’2”, blonde, and I fell in love,” Wiest recalls. “I would do anything for her.”
When she asked him to practice for her, he did it. When she asked him to listen to Mozart, he did it. When she asked him to go to the opera, he didn’t miss out.
“I would practice six hours a day for her -- eight in the summer,” Wiest says.
As a result of his dedication to the teacher, he developed a love for the piano -- and an amazing skill.
“I became popular through music...I was this scrawny kid who was suddenly cool, people asked me to play at parties, girls wanted to go out with me, and it was all because of her.”
He attended Hofstra University on a full piano scholarship and began a busy lifestyle of playing weddings, clubs, parties, taking acting classes, filming for NBC’s soap opera Another World Bay City and Another World Somerset, where he appeared as a supper club pianist, and hosting radio shows.
Wiest has an interesting story about how he came to be in possession of Eddy Duchin’s original 1910 Steinway Model A grand piano.
As a broke recent college graduate, Wiest knocked on the door of a Great Neck home and asked a family he had never met for permission to play their piano. He had just heard that the hand-made grand piano originally owned by famed
1930s and 40s American pianist Eddy Duchin was to be auctioned off by the owners a few days later. They agreed to let him play, and Wiest says he ended up staying and playing for them for the entire day. He told them all he could give for the piano was $450; though it had an opening bid of $20,000, they agreed to sell the piano to him.
“They said, ‘Show up tomorrow with the money and a moving van and the piano is yours.’ I was beyond astounded. I guess it was because they probably wanted somebody who really would love the piano and knows it for what it is, being a phenomenal instrument. I guess it was more important for them that the right person had the piano.”
Decades later, Wiest still has the piano in his home, which he estimates is valued now at more than $100,000. He is president of A. Stan Wiest Music based out of his Fort Salonga home, which provides music and entertainment at parties, weddings and events on Long Island and the tri-state area with his personal orchestra called the Stan Wiest Orchestra.
The sing-a-long on Dec. 8 at Locust Valley Library is free, as is the presentation and CD signing at Forest Books in Glen Cove on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. He will play selections from the CD, show a video of himself playing Eddy
Duchin’s piano, and share anecdotes about his past performances. His CD is available cdbaby.com, amazon.com, iTunes and music-you-will-love.com.
Wiest has had a rich and exciting life with numerous stories to tell about his encounters with Victor Borge, Sammy Davis, Jr and Harry Helmsey; this new opportunity is sure to bring him not only more experiences but a chance to share his story and talent with others.
“It’s a dream come true,” says Wiest. “I just never expected something like this to happen. I’ve always wanted it but now I think the realization is hitting me that it’s happening, and that’s so great."