A legendary pianist
Pianist Stuart de Silva never dreamt that the day will dawn for his
return to his roots. But it did. After a long, long stay in Sydney, now
his second home, Stuart decided that he was going to make it - much to
his delight and to the happiness of his family in Sri Lanka plus his
friends, including his musician friends who missed his piano artistry
and his sense of humour which funnily is and has always been an asset of
Stuart de Silva at the piano at the
Galadari Hotel.The Hotel celebrates its 25th anniversary in
October this year. - Pic: Sudath Nishantha.
Seated at the piano at the Galadari Hotel, the piano that he played
when the Galadari Meridien first opened to the public in 1984 memories
flashed by swiftly in Stuart's mind. "It's the same piano I played on
when the hotel first opened. I played at the lobby with my trio, Farook
Miskin on drums and Nihal Jayawardena played bass. I thought may be the
Hotel would have changed the piano but I'm glad they haven't done it.
Alston Joachim too played bass for me. It's sheer nostalgia now - the
many friends I made who came to hear me and who enjoyed my music. The
General Manager of the Galadari Meridien then was Steffan Pfeiffer while
the Food and Beverage Manager was Roland Caroot. I played at the lobby
for ten months before I was requested to play at the Rooftop Restaurant
and I had Jean van Heer as my vocalist. At the restaurant I played the
organ. The restaurant's interior decor has changed since I was last
there - many moons ago! Quite naturally!
Stuart de Silve's piano artistry has always been individualistic. He
never looked towards other pianists for fashioning of ideals. You can
with confidence say that he never copied or attempted to flirt with new
theories. His solos sparkled with a freshness that displayed his
imagination, technique and elaborate variations. He has had his
classical musical foundation from Hugo Wagen and the three Hungarian
brothers who started the Colombo Symphony Orchestra.
But his goal was jazz. He enjoyed the music of Art Tatum, Teddy
Wilson, Billie Holliday, Carmen Mc Rae, Sarah Vaughn and 'greats' in
that category. In his early years here in Sri Lanka he performed with
his own trios and was involved in shows on concert stages and radio.
According to him the most popular radio show was 'Airwaves' sponsored bu
Gillette broadcast on the Commercial Service.
"The programme was a half hour one and featured a group with Gazzali
Amit - guitar, Cass Ziard - drums, Jimmy van Sanden - bass and myself on
piano. It was here that singer Yolande Wolff now Yolande Bavan was
launched. Over the months the personnel changed. Mervyn Sherrinton
replaced Gazzali and later Percy Barthholomuez stepped in. The bassist
Jimmy van Sanden moved out and Tony Blake took over."
Stuart had a long stint with impressario Donovan Andree's many night
club music presentations. Greenhouse and The Orchid Room at the Victoria
Park (now Vihara Maha Devi Park) brought luck for Stuart. The famous
pianist Dave Brubeck and his Quartet performed at the Orchid Room and
Brubeck having heard Stuart offered him a scholarship to Berklee College
in the States for further studies, in Jazz compositions.
You were out of Sri Lanka for quite some time what happened after
"I worked at many jazz clubs in England including the Flamingo Jazz
Club, got an opportunity to go to Paris and play at the Mars Club,
toured Europe in solo performances or with trios. I made a short visit
to Sri Lanka in '83 and then moved over to Singapore and Hong Kong to
perform at gigs before I decided to leave for Sydney in '86".
In Sydney did you continue with music?
"Yes I did free lance work at the Soup Plus, the oldest jazz club in
Sydney, the Basement, played with other trios and quartets. While all
this was happening I switched for a change to play the role of a Manager
of a restaurant, studied Travel Management at Quantas and worked at a
Publishing Company doing editorial work for a magazine. I retired from
the Company and now I'm concentrating on writing short stories and a
thesis on the Mathematics of Ancient Egypt. It's a far cry from music
you'll say, but I continue my music on a free lance basis."
You've heard our musicians during your stay here could you comment?
"I was highly impressed on the quality of the keyboardists I heard -
like Dilukshi Sirimane and Kumar de Silva. Unfortunately I couldn't hear
Harsha Makalande. I wish I could have. Alston Joachim bassist is in good
form, so is Revel Crake guitarist. It was a pleasure to meet up with
Dylan Lye and Hassen Musafer after so many years and play along with
A legendary pianist it was inspiring to meet up with Stuart and have
a pow wow with him after more than two decades. Most of the music he
played was his own and what stood out was despite a complex style of
phrasing, which is characteristic of him, he never lost the spontaneous
desire to swing. Hope you'll be back in Sri Lanka soon!