"I love a piano, I love a piano,
I love to hear somebody play,
Upon a piano, a grand piano,
It simply carries me away..."
Years ago in New York Mark and I were channel-surfing one night, and happened on a peculiarly New York show called "John's Cabaret," starring John Wallowitch. Here was this elfin guy of some other era, dressed in a tuxedo, sitting at a piano playing show tunes, while constantly engaging in a back-and-forth patter with unseen people offstage. Fascinated, Mark and I took to tuning in the show every week. Wallowitch was such a character, and his show embodied all of my ideas about New York cabaret sophistication. Imagine my astonishment when years later, in Brazil, we were channel-surfing one night and happened on a show called "Pianíssimo," starring Pedrinho Mattar. Here was this elfin guy of some other era, dressed in a tuxedo, sitting at a piano playing show tunes, while constantly engaging in a back-and-forth patter with unseen people offstage. Coincidence? Or some strange North American-South American synchronicity?
JW (left), PM (right). Separated at birth?
We slid right into the old Wallowitch groove and began to watch Pedrinho Mattar every Sunday. With little or no Portuguese at that time, I was particularly delighted. Mattar spoke in English and French as well as Portuguese. He told little anecdotes that I kind of followed. He showed film clips of old Hollywood musicals that made me wistful for the Late Late Show. During his television show there was always mention of his weekly Saturday night gig at the Casa Grande Hotel in Guarujá, an old resort town on the coast of São Paulo State. At first Mark and I joked about going to see his show, but we were just joking. Then we thought, we never saw Rosemary Clooney at the Rainbow Room when we had the chance. We never saw Bobby Short at the Carlyle when we had the chance. We never saw Wallowitch anywhere. They're all gone now. This Pedrinho Mattar, he was no spring chicken. Were we going to miss him, too?
You see where this is going. We made reservations and headed for Guarujá. We got to the imposing Casa Grande Hotel early, chose a table right in front of the piano, and spent a delightfully old-fashioned cabaret evening. Towards the end of the show, Mattar started peppering the audience with musical trivia questions, and voices around us tentatively called out answers. Then came the stumper of the evening: "Who played the piano player, Sam, in Casablanca?" "Dooley Wilson," I heard myself shout out. "Give that woman another one of whatever she's drinking," Mattar ordered the waiter. Best Kir Royale I ever had.
For those who like to dabble in the occult, think about this: Wallowitch was born in the month of February and died in the month of August. Mattar was born in the month of August and died in the month of February. And both of them died in the year 2007. Coincidence? You decide.