Phyllis and I shake hands and she leads me to the family room where her ebony grand piano lives. I immediately notice the engraved plaque above the keyboard on the right side of the piano that reads: “Miss America 1970.” A few workers walk by and Phyllis introduces them to me and says:”If Kevin needs anything take care of him.” She then turns to me and says:”I’m going to get ready. Feel free to warm up on the piano. I wouldn’t mind that at all.”
Just as she turns to leave her husband Gov. John Y. Brown walks in and she immediately says: “John this is Kevin.” She exits and we shake hands. He asks me where I’m from and I say Michigan. He’s very welcoming.
You should know something about him. “John Y.” (as his friends call him) is the son of US Congressman, John Y. Brown Sr. Born in Lexington, KY., he has a business degree and law degree from University of Kentucky. John Y and a business partner purchased Kentucky Fried Chicken from Col. Harland Sanders in 1964, franchised it and turned it into a worldwide success. He also owned at various times three professional basketball teams; the Kentucky Colonels (ABA) and the NBA’s Boston Celtics and Buffalo Braves (currently the Los Angeles Clippers). John Y is a businessman, entrepreneur and now Governor of Kentucky (1979-1983).
I start to warmup on the Baldwin as servers zoom by with trays heading outside to the largest white circus tent you can imagine. It’s Derby Party “showtime” and I’m ready with ten fingers loaded for action! As I launch into playing I glance around the room. The piano sits on the far right of a very wide family room. There’s a huge bay window on the back wall that allows sunshine to stream in landing first on a free standing inlaid chess table before darting towards a mirrored library case running along the right side of the piano. A long couch is perpendicular to the piano immediately to my left. Anyone who enters the room has to enter behind my left shoulder through an archway and down two steps. If they’re heading outside to the pool or tent they exit through a door just over my right shoulder. There’s a chair with an embroidered seat against the wall directly behind me leaving just enough space from my bench to that chair for a person to pass through. And do they pass through!
Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Billionaire Industrialist and Philanthropist Dr. Armand Hammer, Donald Trump, President Jimmy Carter and wife Rosalyn were the first to leisurely enjoy some melodies of Gershwin, Kern, Porter and Berlin before passing through. Dr. Hammer compliments me while I’m playing and says:”Feel free to play anything from SHOWBOAT. I love that show!” And you bet I seamlessly transitioned into Jerome Kern’s masterpiece. I catch a smile from him as he exits.
Time for a quick break and a fresh glass of water. I wander out to the event tent and hear the Up With People group singing and moving on a stage at the far end of the tent. I see rows of tables overflowing with the most beautiful flowers that act as placemats to the cornucopia of southern dishes; country ham biscuits, fried chicken biscuits, corn fritters, Derby Pie (a chocolate pecan pie with a splash of bourbon)…the food and beverages were endless. I don’t partake yet but will when people head to the Derby.
Back at the keyboard I start up and notice recently retired Dallas Cowboy Quarterback Roger Staubach come in and sit down on the sofa. I have just launched into “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” He says out loud,”I love that song! Keep playing!” I laugh and keep playing. When I finish he comes over to the piano and says:”What would it take to get you to play it again?” I could have said, “Your Super Bowl ring” but instead I reply, “Just ask me.” He does. I do.
More people stroll through. Some stop. Some sit. And some just give a listen as they stroll by slowing their gait as they walk behind me.
Time for another short break and as I get up from the piano bench who is standing right in front of me but Johnny Carson’s second banana, Ed McMahon. I smile and say, “Hi Mr. McMahon!” He takes a quick look at me, pulls in his nose and walks right by heading outside. Yes, he couldn’t be bothered to talk to “the help.” Right there in that instant I thought, “What a turd!” Yes. That’s exactly what I thought. A turd without a punch bowl.
But as I turned away, all thoughts of punch bowls and bananas melted away. In fact, I couldn’t move or even catch my breath.
There I stood frozen; as though I was wrapped in the “Lasso of Truth.” Who could have this kind of power over me? Only one woman – Wonder Woman!
To be continued…