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Sunday, 23 August 2009

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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 musicians.

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 Berklee?

"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 them."

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!

 

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