A-Sharp Player

Pianist Nicole Pesce strikes a chord with artsy downtown audiences

Pesce: (Laughing uncontrollably.) No. I can't imagine what a Verne Troyer cabaret act would be. He was staying at the Ritz for a while, and he stopped by to hear me play. He was very sweet.

NT: Oh, I get it. So, tell me the truth: You're playing music while people are eating and talking. Do you ever just want to stand up and shout, "Listen to me, you assholes!"?

Pesce: (Laughing.) I don't know what you mean. No, really, when I'm playing, I try to feel the room out, try to figure out what they're up for. Sometimes I'm just playing ambient music, and other times I'm doing a show. Later in the evening, it's more about my performing.

Classical gas: Nicole Pesce makes everything new old again.
Emily Piraino
Classical gas: Nicole Pesce makes everything new old again.

NT: I've seen that. You really get going, sometimes. Have you ever just fallen off the bench?

Pesce: I've come close a couple of times. My excuse is that I lose perspective when I'm playing. I admit it, though: I've almost taken a dive a time or two.

NT: Bach or Beethoven?

Pesce: Beethoven is more romantic and more piano-friendly; Bach was a genius and extremely difficult to play. I enjoy playing Beethoven more, because it's easier to be more musical with him. I love Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Liszt -- all the composers contributed so much.

NT: Liberace or Van Cliburn?

Pesce: (Laughing.) Now, there's a question. Uh, my father toured with Liberace, so I guess I'd better say Liberace. But Van Cliburn's the most phenomenal pianist of his time -- and talk about big hands!

NT: Major or minor?

Pesce: Major keys have been done to death, so when I'm writing, I tend to write in minor keys. I can find more to do there; minor keys can be more haunting. Sometimes I sneak my own compositions in when I'm playing here, just to see if anyone will notice.

NT: Were you a band geek in school?

Pesce: I didn't start my first jazz band until I was about 12, so I mostly worked solo. It's hard, when you're like 10 years old, to find anyone to play with, because the adult musicians don't really take you seriously. And your little friends from the school band just aren't always up to, you know, improvising or playing jazz riffs.

NT: Not to mention a medley of Queen songs.

Pesce: I can't get out of here most nights without playing my Queen medley. Which is funny, because when I was a teenager, I'd never heard of Queen. I was playing at a restaurant, and one of the servers brought me a Queen CD, and the playing was really phenomenal. I was like, "Wow, rock music -- a totally new aspect of music." It was very challenging to find a way to play this music that wasn't campy.

NT: You play some pretty odd stuff. But do people sometimes request just plain stupid songs?

Pesce: For a whole year, different people were asking for this song called "Who Threw the Overalls in Mrs. O'Leary's Clam Chowder?". I thought they were joking, of course. I later found the song in an old Irish folk songbook, of which there's like three copies in print. And so I finally learned it. Now that I have, I hope those people come back.

E-mail robrt.pela@newtimes.com

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