Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010

The Guy At The Piano

William Knowles at the Stackner

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Over the years of seeing shows at the Rep’s Stackner Cabaret, I’ve come to appreciate the work of William Knowles. That quiet, charismatic guy at the piano makes it to the stage of the Stackner Cabaret for his seventh time these next two months, appearing pianist/musical director of its latest production—Roz White's Pearl Bailey . . . By Request.

The set-up of the band at the Stackner usually takes a back seat to concerns about the show. With Pearl Bailey, there’s sort of a relaxed, lounge feeling to the proceedings. There’s no storyline forced into the performance, which consists of some of Pearl Bailey’s most recognizable hits. The set-up of the band (consisting of White as Bailey, Knowles on Piano, Don Linke on Bass and Dave Bayles on drums,) allows for Knowles’ back to be to part of the audience. This gives some of us the opportunity to see Knowles' fingers on the keyboard. There’s a subtle flourish to Knowles’ technique that’s a lot of fun to watch. Every pianist has a different style. Years ago when I was working in sales for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, I had the opportunity to see Awadagin Pratt play from a similar perspective. Seeing Knolwes fingers dance across the ivories is every bit as much fun.

Knowles is a supporting part of as show featuring Roz White in the spotlight. Knowles shaes it ever so briefly in a duet--a novel performance of Baby It’s Cold Outside. Sitting at the keyboard, Knowles speaks most of his end of the duet. This accentuates Roz White’s rich vocals and gives the song a really interesting dynamic—which can be kind of tricky to do with an old classic.

Pearl Bailey . . . By Request runs through February 28th at the Stackner Cabaret.
A comprehensive review of the show runs in this week’s Shepherd-Express.

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