He Shook Sinatra’s Hand – Brian O’Rourke~
Life is probably best when you go from, “Oh. We’ve made a horrible mistake,” to, “Whoa. This is amaaaaazing!”, in a matter of a few minutes.
I was out celebrating the birthday of a great friend of mine. Her newish boyfriend had spent all day on Yelp, trying to find a unique place to celebrate. He’d also be meeting a lot of her friends for the first time. The pressure was on.
We all walked into Miceli’s in Hollywood, the oldest Italian restaurant in Los Angeles. And before the door closed behind us, we heard the sound of one, and possibly two pianos. The newish BF shot me a terrified look like, “What have I done?”
I’m sure all of us have had dueling pianos evenings. Usually in a very touristy part of a very touristy city. And it usually doesn’t end well.
But as we were led to our table, we managed to get our bearings. Steered up a small stairway to a charming mid-level part of the restaurant, we were deposited at our table, directly next to, thankfully, just one piano.
From there, the evening immediately went from uncertainty, to hmmm, this is interesting, to wow, this is pretty cool.
I’ve been in a lot of restaurants all over the country that claim to be one of Frank Sinatra‘s old haunts, and Miceli’s was certainly playing that card. Except that here, you could really believe it.
Behind the piano were photos of Frank and Dino, among others from the Rat Pack, (a few of them signed, of course), along with walls of portraits of Italian women. Yeah, this was old school Italian, for sure. In the best way.
But back to the piano. The man behind it was having a great time. And he was good. And funny. Really funny. I imagined he’d been doing that for years. I’d find out so much more as the evening wore on.
Brian O’Rourke was his name. And as our lovely dinner progressed, we were close enough to have bits of a conversation with him in between songs. Yes, he did know Sinatra. But he said it in a way that wasn’t like how you might expect someone who claimed to know Sinatra might tell you he did. No. This was genuine.
It was a long and wonderful dinner, with laughs and even an emotional moment when Brian played a request for my birthday friend, the uplifting and magical, Clair de Lune. I love it as well. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful. Possibly my favorite piece of music.
I have a strong memory of it with my mom growing up. She taught herself to read music and that was one of the songs she spent weeks learning to play. And because I was one of those kids that could annoyingly do a lot of things without putting in the effort, I’d sit down after she got up, and just play it by ear. So, Clair de Lune still brings back very powerful feelings about my mom.
Brian had been playing medleys of standard songbook fare all night, only a minute of one piece before segueing into another in a very entertaining and humorous way. Instead, for some reason, with this piece, he didn’t. I don’t know if he could hear the reverence in our voices as we requested it, or if it was just a nice change from the standards, but he not only played Clair de Lune all the way through, but he performed it like he was suddenly transported out of this Italian restaurant, and found himself at Carnegie Hall. (Which odds are, he probably had at some point.)
It was beautiful and moving and all of the things that composition always is to me. After only a minute into it, tears were streaming down my face. It was a beautiful and completely unexpected moment. Just wonderful. Brian O’Rourke played the hell out of Clair de Lune.
As the evening was winding down, dessert was enjoyed, the bill was paid, and we were all, including Brian, getting up to call it a night. I walked over to him to thank him for that moment. And we had a great few minutes of conversation. I asked him about his history. It turns out he was also Steve Allen‘s piano player back in the 60s. Another old school legend.
“Steve was actually very good,” Brian offered, “But he’d usually get tired of being at the piano, and that was my turn to step in and keep things going.”
So yeah, newish boyfriend hit it out of the park that night. Nice job. We’ll be back.