" Abandon All Preconceived Notions Ye Who Enter Here -Story of Mark Birnbaum part 1 and 2 June 20, 2011 " - Google it for outrageous photos and fun reading.
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Feature Story - Mark Birnbaum Piano - New York Times
Mark Birnbaum Story & Video--New York Times - by Corey Kilgannon
If you have spent time on the East Side of Manhattan around the United Nations, there is a good chance you have seen a man walking around looking a bit like Elton John circa 1977.
This would probably be Mark Birnbaum on his daily constitutional. Mr. Birnbaum walks Second Avenue flamboyantly dressed in platform boots, hand-painted blazers and all sorts of feathered boas, with cigar clenched in mouth and ornamental cane in hand.
“The street is my inspiration, and if you want to remain immersed in New York you have to walk its streets,” said Mr. Birnbaum, who grew up in Brooklyn and has lived in Manhattan since 1977. “I’m a New York street guy, and Manhattan has the best energy in the world.”
Mr. Birnbaum, 58, who teaches piano out of his studio apartment on the 20th floor of his building on East 48th Street, calls his long daily walks integral to his playing, teaching and composing, a tie to “New York’s street vibe.”
“I dress like this every day of the year, whether I’m staying inside, teaching or not,” he said of his outfit, which includes a top hat, sparkles on his face and colorful strands in his hair.
Mr. Birnbaum said he realized the musical importance of the daily walk after meeting the immortal ivory tickler Vladimir Horowitz, who told him, “Make sure you walk 40 blocks a day, because if you don’t walk, your fingers don’t run.”
Mr. Horowitz was living on Madison Avenue at the time, and Mr. Birnbaum said he walked in that area about 50 times over the next year until he finally saw the maestro and strolled with him.
Mr. Birnbaum also ran into Richard M. Nixon at a grocery on East 65th Street early one morning in 1980. The former president, Mr. Birnbaum said, “was squeezing grapefruits and explaining the virtues of pink versus white grapefruits as if he were conducting foreign policy.”
Mr. Birnbaum specializes in teaching jazz piano, especially ragtime and stride, “with some Bach and punk rock and free jazz thrown in,” he says. In his listing on Craigslist — “A Piano Lesson is a Magical Mystery Tour” — he claims to have “invented a geometric, yet flexible way of teaching blues, jazz, ragtime and classical piano.”
“Jazz is Zen. Blues is the basis of Jazz. Bach is King,” the listing instructs. Many of Mr. Birnbaum’s students are United Nations employees.
On a recent weekday, Mike Heller Chu, 35, who works in the United Nations’ Department of Peacekeeping Operations, showed up impeccably dressed in suit and tie for his weekly lesson. Mr. Birnbaum was decked out in sunglasses, glitter boots with eight-inch heels, necklaces and pendants dangling over his bare chest, long feathers waving above his head.
Mr. Heller Chu sat at the piano, which had a pile of empty cigar boxes accumulated atop. He began improvising a jazzy, vampy solo, as Mr. Birnbaum paced nearby, his cane in one hand, an unlighted cigar in the other.
Mr. Birnbaum exulted with a yell during well-played passages, and urged his student at other times to “Throw in that Gershwin-y thing,” or add a Coltrane lick, or pound out a James Brownian rhythm.
Growing up in East Flatbush near Ebbets Field, Mr. Birnbaum imitated the recordings and piano rolls of Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson. He graduated from Brooklyn College and received a doctorate in music composition from Columbia University.
He has made nine records, although none are exactly big sellers. His life used to be full of high-paying gigs, and he was the pianist and a regular guest on “The Joe Franklin Show.” These days, he relies on teaching for a living.
Among his many compositions is a rag called “Eubie on Second Avenue,” in honor of Eubie Blake, and of walking on the avenue.
“When I walk, I get maybe 100 people who say hello to me every day,” he said. “You have to be an improviser to live in New York, because anything can happen. Walking itself is an improvisation, in New York.”
RECENT UPDATE - MARCH 20, 2011-
"Dr. Birnbaum displays his range of stylistic wizardry and includes multiple varied takes of pieces to suite various moods. If you've enjoyed his prior albums, you will delight in how his genius refracts styles others might find incongruous. "
Peter H. Gilmore, Church of Satan (High Priest)
Valerie's New York - February 4, 2011 -
Famed fight choreographer and director B.H. Barry (who's new show Treasure Island opens soon), and ragtime jazz pianist Mark Birnbaum are Valerie's special guests -*- its archived--- and we did discuss Ragtime Trip-Hop -*-
a blending of the 1890's and the 1990's...from the vantage point of 2011!
Mark Birnbaum (born February 11,1952) is an American pianist and New York City fashion plate, known for his ragtime recordings and his plumed Mad Hatter top hat (worn on a daily basis).
A classically-trained composer and pianist, and a television personality, Birnbaum earned a Doctorate in Musical Musical from Columbia University in 1982. In 1983, he composed and directed the off-Broadway show A Day Together, which was funded by the Helena Rubenstein Foundation, documented and shown on PBS, and traveled throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Encouraged by Andy Warhol, Vladimir Horowitz, Eubie Blake and a chance encounter with Richard Nixon, he moved to performing ragtime, blues, and jazz, appearing at Birdland, The Angry Squire, and Carnegie Hall.
From 1990 to 1993 he appeared nightly (dressed in Liberace-like flamboyance) as pianist/panelist on the Joe Franklin television show (WWOR-TV), often with Captain Lou Albano which provided national exposure.
At the 13th Street Theater in New York, Birnbaum has had several one-man shows—Ragtime '94, Ragtime '96 and Hot Piano: Ragtime, Blues & Jazz—which continues throughout the tri-state area. In January 2009 it was performed for the 1,000th time.
Nicknamed "Mr. Ragtime" by Captain Lou Albano and Joe Franklin, Birnbaum records, performs, and reinvents Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Bach, 1920s music, 1960s rock n' roll, and free jazz.
In 2005, Birnbaum was awarded an honorary degree from the Neupauer Conservatory (the Order of the Shield) for his work with the accordion.As a tribute to the birthplace of Jazz (and the great jazz pianist and composer), in 2006 Birnbaum released Jelly Roll Morton's Missing New Orleansmarker (piano & vocals), a live CD.
In 2007-2008, Birnbaum and accordionist William Schimmel recorded Duality Wrecks, covering the spectrum of rock and roll, swing, ballads and punk in a one hour non-stop continuum (interludes composed by the performers) and Weather Watch - Free Jazz (which includes Schimmel's "Scriabin at a Picnic with His Mistress and Biographer")."In Orbit" is scheduled for release in 2010. "Accordion Piano-Piano Accordion" was released in 2009 (with Birnbaum nicknamed 'Lucifer Bach').
In 2008, Birnbaum was awarded an ERM Media prize for his "Louisiana Elegy for Piano & Strings"; he has received over twenty "Meet The Composer" grants since 1979.
"Piano Improvisation as Composition in Real Time--The Pianist as Edison, Gandhi and Warrior".
As a pedagogue-
Birnbaum has a radical method for teaching the piano, involving meditation, deep breathing and slow motion transformation ("going faster by going slower").Birnbaum suggests vegetarianism, black-strap molasses & cider vinegar, designed to further one's ability to learn faster with more energy.
The Art of Zen, The Japanese Art of War, William Blake, Milton and Dante are suggested readings. Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson (the father of Harlem stride piano), Herbie Hancock, Vladimir Horowitz and Liberace (as well as Miles Davis and John Coltrane) are included.
Away from the piano, Birnbaum functions as a fashion model - often regarded as the flashiest-dressed man in New York Citymarker; modern eyeglasses, cane and top hat with numerous plumes, two-tone platform shoes, brilliant suits and a full-length (faux) chinchilla coat.Liberace, the Mad Hatter, Elton John..or a pimp? Andy Warhol told Birnbaum, "Americamarker loves visual images".
In February 2009, art critic Ed McCormack (of Warhol - Interview fame) reviewed a portrait/painting of Mark Birnbaum by Andre van der Kerkhoff in 'Gallery & Studio' entitled 'Eccentric Spartan Extravagance'.Comparing Birnbaum's image to that of the Joker, Ed McCormack wrote"Only in a city as lawlessly various as New Yorkmarker can reality hold its own so handsomely against fantasy by producing a cast of characters who prove that truth can indeed surpass fiction. Perhaps as evidence of this, van der Kerkhoff submits "Eccentric Spartan Extravagance," an image of a gaunt-faced citizen sporting dark glasses and a long plume in his top hat whose everyday persona is a striking as that of any of Batman's arch rivals."