White Steinway Sounds Off in Unlikely Places

This piano gets around.

Pure white, classically elegant, coolly sophisticated, the 9-foot Steinway grand is known to its owner as CD-700. But it may be more familiar to motorists and news watchers as the co-star of last week's Fringe Festival rush-hour concert atop Seventh Market Place overlooking the Harbor Freeway.

Next week it travels to Dodger Stadium to open the papal Mass. The week after that it will back Shirley Jones in her concert at Downey's Colonial Faire in Furman Park. And a list of past credits could almost stretch the instrument's length.

"Once you've seen it, it's hard to get it out of your mind," said Sandra Loh, who chose the piano for her freeway concert Friday. "I feel it lent an air of purity and grace to my concert. It was so relaxing up there with the sun, the cool breeze and the white piano."

Pedigree is East Coast

CD-700 has been based in piano dealer Sherman Clay's concert department in the Mid-Wilshire District for the last three years, but its pedigree is East Coast.

According to department manager Ron Brockway, the instrument was one of three white nine-footers commissioned from the Steinway factory in New Jersey a few years ago for a theatrical production that has yet to materialize. The two others remain in New York's Steinway Hall.

The West Coast piano, he said, has been used in concert by such singers as Glen Campbell, Frankie Laine, Kay Starr, Gisele MacKenzie and Johnny Ray and has been seen in many TV commercials. It also was selected (on the basis of its sound quality) for the sound track of the movie "Crimes of the Heart" but never appeared on screen.

According to veteran Sherman Clay technician Ken Brown, CD-700 has "a full, bright, rich sound, carries well and will fill a hall. If I were blindfolded I'd know this piano in terms of sound compared to all the others in our concert stop."

Many of the artists who have used it agree.

International concert pianist Evi Martyn, who says she was the second artist ever to use the piano in Southern California, said she "developed an instant liking for it" when she selected it for her 1985 Orange County debut performance.

"It has a robust, lovely tone and projects well in a concert hall," she said. "Many artists are reluctant to use it because it breaks away from tradition, but I loved it and I would use it again."

Singer Peggy Lee, who used it for her one-woman performance in March at the Pasadena Playhouse, said dreamily: "It was lovely. I wore white satin and white fur, I sat in a Lucite chair and the stage was filled with giant palms and white helium balloons. It all went together so well. I didn't ask for that piano, but I was glad to have it."

When told about the freeway concert, Lee expressed considerable concern about the potential for sun damage. "There," she added with a laugh. "You see how you can become attached to a piano?"

When the Los Angeles Police Department held its annual fund-raising golf tournament at Rancho Park Golf Course recently, the white Steinway was a star attraction, according to pianist Robert Carpenter.

"The Sheraton Grande, which is into elegance, always 'buys' the first tee for that tournament," Carpenter said, "and this year they rented the big white Steinway. There was a special platform, a canopy, floral displays, food and champagne.

"I was hired to entertain the golfers waiting to come up to the tee. I was dressed all in white and I blended in with the piano. It's a fine instrument and a pleasure to play on--definitely not just another piece of furniture."

Last month the piano was the hit of the 25th Southwestern Youth Festival at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Festival president Margaret Lambert said several pianos were ordered and that Sherman Clay included the white one.

"We were surprised to see it and it looked so glamorous the kids clamored to use it," she said. "They all wanted their picture taken with it and it's probably in everyone's scrapbook."

Downey Theater director Kevin O'Connor said he is hoping for a bonus when CD-700 arrives for the Shirley Jones concert Sept. 26. "We feel it will have been blessed at Dodger Stadium," he said, "and we hope it rubs off on our concert."

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