Writer’s wife plays pianos in park with ‘exciting excellence’

Nancy Fox plays a tilted, flora-decorated instrument in San Francisco Botanical Garden during the Flower Piano festival. Photo by Woody Weingarten

I’ve joyously been listening  to my wife, Nancy Fox, play piano jazz for more than 30 years.

But I’m a comparative newbie in her life.

She’s been “tinkling the ivories” for 76 years, since she was three.

She started out playing four hands with her dad, Joe Falk, who was part of the big swing bands of Paul Whiteman, the Dorsey Brothers and Peter Duchin.

Her first tune wasn’t chopsticks, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” but George Gershwin’s “Lady Be Good.”

So when she sat down at a battered Bösendorfer in San Francisco Botanical Garden yesterday during the fifth anniversary of Flower Piano, a 12-day festival that runs through July 22, I expected nothing less than exciting excellence.

And I got it.

Just as I had the previous two times we’d attended the event in the daytime and the once we’d been there at night.

As I might have been predicted, a crowd of about 70 that had gathered to hear Nancy play one of the dozen pianos scattered through the 55-acre park clearly appreciated her playing as much as her biased husband.

Their applause lasted a long time.

One new fan, an accomplished pianist herself, suggested my wife get booked for a two-hour stint at next year’s outing.

“You’ll easily keep their attention for that entire time,” she insisted.

My wife, who plays professionally and regularly at senior facilities in our home county of Marin, graciously thanked her but told me later she has no intention of pursuing that possibility.

“I like being able to move from one piano to the next,” she explained.

Similar appreciation for her style occurred, however, when she sat down at a second piano. Ditto when she’d first arrived at the park and played standing up at a tilted instrument near an entrance.

Nancy was hardly the only unscheduled performer to draw both crowds, though — even one guy who was molesting Mozart or two females who fractured a couple of folk songs both instrumentally and vocally.

The range of what was being played was enormous, of course — from a girl I’d estimate at about six who showed promise with her percussive playing to a fellow whose Latin rhythms softly embellished a classical number.

And as in previous years, listener/strollers could discern through the trees, bushes and flowers the distant, diverse strains of pop, rock and country music.

Nancy and I agreed that, of what we heard, our favorite was the Craig and Macgregor Band doing tunes by French composer Erik Satie and jazz legend Miles Davis.

But we, and two close friends, enjoyed every minute of the day — whether we were staring at a plant species from Brazil we’d never seen before or hearing music that defied a few sticky keys.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →