Planes, pianos

There are several ways to overcome jet-lag. I think the most effective is simply avoiding attachment to any one timezone in particular. When it comes to something as fickle as time, I try to stay non-committal. This is my attitude as I embark on a four-day transatlantic journey, which will take me from Greece to the United States and include making a recording with one of the world’s greatest trumpet players Joe Burgstaller and performing in North Carolina, not to speak of going through four months of accumulated junk mail in my New York apartment. While it used to be considered “cool” to sit in the back seat on the school bus, that isn’t the case with airplanes nowadays. That charitable feeling you might get from finally being able to fully recline your seat without trapping someone behind you is more than made up for by the nearly constant shaking of said seat for the entire duration of the flight. While I do remember reading that “humans can take any form of torture so long as they know when it will end” that’s not helping make time pass right now. I feel as if my whole body is caught inside the mouth of someone with a stutter trying to pronounce the word “coconut”. It also amazes me that they are still trying to teach us how to put on our seat belts. If you really still don’t know how at this point, aren’t your problems of an entirely different order of magnitude, and definitely not something a seatbelt can help you with?

Joe and I are to lay down a couple of tracks for his new solo CD of the yet-to-be-chosen title. Three hours for 12 minutes of music sounds reasonable, but considering that a lot of it will be improvised, nothing is for sure. Throw into the mix that both of us travelled from Europe within the last 24 hours and a good name for the album might just be “jet lag.” We are recording in the concert hall of Kean University, a state-of-the-art facility with a just tuned 9-foot Steinway, two engineers and enough microphones to satisfy even the undercoverest of CIA operations. After just a couple of notes Joe and I concur, and having double checked with our I-phones, announce the piano is tuned slightly too high. No problem, an already oxygen deprived Burgstaller will compensate by blowing a bit harder. In the slightly modified words of the famous Queen song, “Recording must go on.”

Ironically, after playing on ships for several weeks in a row, it is only during the drive from Charlotte International Airport to Banner Elk in North Carolina that I finally get seasick. I’m here for a concert as part of their summer festival but can’t imagine too many people with the stomach to navigate these mountain roads. My fears are dispelled when I see over 700 people packed inside the beautiful Lees-Mcrae Concert Hall, as I make my usual “leap on to the stage” from the audience side, just barely clearing the edge.

After opening with a Chopin Etude, I tell the audience, “I always dreamt of being a rock star when I was growing up but my parents got me piano lessons. My hair never stopped dreaming.” The audience is in Banner Elk for the summer and during the year resides in Florida, but only because after a certain age in the United States that’s the law. They are a confusing group because, after giving me a standing ovation, they are practically all gone before I can make it out of the dressing room to greet them in the foyer. I can only imagine making an early bedtime such a priority before an early international flight or during your honeymoon. 

A friend of mine recently told me this story. He was walking down Broadway when all of a sudden a hail storm hit. He sought cover in a local Starbucks and comfort in a Chai Latte, which he specifically requested “hot” and “made in milk”. It turned out the server had only recently moved to New York and spoke little English. This became more apparent when his drink arrived “cold” and “made in water”. He didn’t have the heart to complain. I find this to be the perfect metaphor for the human condition. We are on planet Earth for a very short time. We don’t really “speak the language”. And more often than not, we have no idea what we are doing. The real trick is not having the heart to complain. 


Julian Gargiulo is a pianist and composer who
divides his time between wishing sabre-toothed tigers weren’t extinct
and making paper pirate hats out of his old bios. In between his
involvement as fundraiser for and friend of,
he also finds time for touring with his new album mostlyjulian, working on his nonprofit,
curating the Water Island Music Festival in the US Virgin Islands and
Crossing Borders of Hunter College in NY, and endlessly walking the
streets of
New York in search of people to add as Facebook friends.

Contact the globetrotting pianist on
[email protected]


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