“Art of the Accompanist”, a book by Mike Greensill

February 6, 2011

My father, Frank C. Newman, was an amateur accompanist for most of his life. He used his talent on the piano to support himself through college, arrange and accompany dozens of Boalt Hall faculty skits, and host boisterous Christmas sings at our family home in Orinda.

As a result of some crazy twists of fate and circumstance in the late ’70s, my mother became friends with Wesla Whitfield, who is widely-acclaimed as one of the great cabaret singers of our time and master of the Great American Songbook. Through her performances, my father found himself mesmerized by her accomplished accompanist, Mike Greensill. The friendship between the four of them grew (and eventually extended to me as well), and in 1986, my father had the honor of officiating their marriage ceremony. (As an aside, I think that performing weddings for friends and family, including my own, was his favorite legacy of his time as a judge.)

My father often said that Mike was the best arranger and accompanist he had ever encountered, with an uncanny sense of subtlety, timing, and intuitiveness. The world seems to agree, because the Mike Greensill Trio (both with and without Wesla on stage) is an established presence on not only the local jazz scene, but in New York as well. In addition, Mike is the resident piano player on Sedge Thomson’s weekly Public Radio show to the world, West Coast Live.

Art of the AccompanistMike’s latest ambition is to share the tricks of his trade with the music world by writing a book – “Art of the Accompanist”, subtitled “A Practical Guide for the Jazz / Cabaret Piano Player.” Though I love music and played a little when I was younger, I am not the target audience so I didn’t think it would be of much interest to me. But because of my father’s connection and my friendship with Mike, I explored a little further.

He has published the first chapter on-line as a sample so I read it. It is terrific. Far from being just a “how-to” book for students, it’s a primer in music appreciation for fans. His engaging personality shines through in his writing, and he includes anecdotes and quotes from legendary performers which adds a delightful a touch of music history. He has managed to express (in very readable prose) some of the practical theory behind the nuance that so impressed my father. You needn’t be an accompanist to enjoy this book, although I concede that it might not be quite as readable without some music background.

The book will be published both in hard copy and digital formats. As illustrated in the sample, Mike is taking full advantage of digital enhancements by including recorded examples with associated images. This technology adds a richness that is simply amazing.

The book is self-funded, which means that there is no big publishing house fronting the costs. Mike is taking time away from his performing schedule to pour his energy into this project. As such, he is reaching out to backers to help support the project, using Kickstarter, a unique online funding platform for the creative arts.

I encourage you to take a moment to read the sample chapter and review the proposal and videos on his Kickstarter page. My father would have loved this book and I will be contributing to this project in his honor. I hope you can too. Either way, I will update this post when the book is actually published.

Adventures of a Silver Spoon

July 11, 2010

The story of the Silver Spoon is the stuff of family legend, a saga spanning two generations and two significant wars. I had almost forgotten about this chapter of my family’s history, until Wendy Vogelgesang, current caretaker of my family home in Orinda, unearthed the evidence in a bedroom closet. She photographed the spoon and the supporting documents – which include a letter written by my maternal grandfather and a rubbing of the spoon itself with explanatory notes.

Here, for your historical viewing pleasure, is the whole story.


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