He was born to play the ivory keys. His mother was a classical pianist and when he was an infant crying – she would put him in his playpen and play Tchaikovsky, Chopin, Bach, Beethoven and of course, Mozart. His mother, Bertha, was born in Hungary in 1924. Trained in the National Hungarian Royal Franz Liszt Academy from the age of 10 years old, she was labeled a “prodigy.” At the age of 14, now labeled as a “Jew,” she boarded a Ship to New York City to escape the growing anti-semitism and the pro-Nazi atmosphere.
In 1951 she married George Krazinski, and a year later gave birth to Jonathan. While she was pregnant she would be tickling the ivories to relax her nerves and to ease her anxiety. She yearned for her parents to be there with her but they were killed along with another half a million or so Jews. He brothers and sisters had joined her on the voyage but they had settled in different parts of America. She would play Frank Liszt’s Annees de pelerinage (years of pilgrimage) which would remind her of being back with her family, all together, alive and happy. She would play Mozart’s piano concertos number 9 through 27 and began to play some American standards especially “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin.
One evening as Bertha and George were cleaning up in the kitchen, they heard the sound of a piano being played. They walked in to find Jonathan playing what sounded like “It had to be you.” The notes were on and off as his fingers either hit too hard or too soft – but the tune was there.
At the age of six he was able to play the full “Rhapsody in Blue” and did so for his family and neighbors. One day a cousin of one of those neighbors was visiting when he saw for himself the prodigy at work.
When he was 10 years old his mother gave birth to the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
He stood by her crib and watched as Rebecca yawned. She was asleep but yawned none the less. She was beautiful. She was wearing pajamas and she was wrapped by a thin blanket. Her skin was light but she had some red patches scattered – nothing major, nothing that would last and certainly nothing that would take away her loveliness. He sat on the rocking chair where his mother would feed her and he just listened to her breathing. He closed his eyes…He woke up when he heard her crying really loud. He stood to see her and at the same time his mother came in and was startled.
“Hi, why are you awake?” She asked him as she picked up baby Rebecca.
“I was just watching over her; mommy she is so beautiful…” He began to sob.
“Whats wrong Johnny? Come here.” She held him with her free arm. “Whats wrong?”
“I just feel as if I love her so much that I am afraid it might hurt me.”
“Oh Johnny that is called love and love can never hurt anyone.”
“I am going to write a piece for her and I am going to call it ‘Rebecca Love.'”
His mother smiled and said, “That sounds wonderful now go to your bed and sleep, you have school tomorrow.”
“Good night Mom, I love you.”
“I love you too.”
This love was multiplied two years later when his mother gave birth to Rita who was just as beautiful as Rebecca.
On his 16th birthday he met his second cousin Judy, who was 18 and in town from Miami. They had sat together at the dining room table and began to swap information.
She was a freshman at Florida State and was interested in Psychology as a major. She was also very pretty and had that college sexiness that only a college girl can possess.
“I love The Beatles but especially John. He is the heart of the band – Sgt. Pepper is my favorite album ever – I must have listened to it 500 times.”
“That is a great album – I am more of a Dylan fan – “Blonde on Blonde?”
“He’s amazing – a friend of mine said she saw him wandering around somewhere in Upstate New York, just like a regular person. She said ‘Hello’ he just waved and kept walking.”
“That is really groovy – I don’t know what I would say to him. What do you like doing?”
“I love to read poetry and to get high.” She looked at him, touched his hair and said. “Do you want to go for a walk?”
They went walking around the corner, she took out a joint and lit up. She passed it to him but he declined, “I need to keep clean, thank you. I would like to kiss you though.”
She took a step back and said, “We are cousins Jonathan Krazinski. How can even imagine I would want to kiss you?”
Taken aback he didn’t know how to respond, “I was kidding, I was just-” She put her lips against his, softly licking his lip and then smiling with a half-laugh.”
“Is there a place we can go?” She spoke softly into his ear with her arms wrapped around his neck.”
“Yes.” He took her hand and led her to the basement entrance of his house. It was dark and cool down there but no one would be coming down.
After they were spent they cleaned up and made their way outside and back around to the front entrance.
“Where were you guys? We have a special dessert for the birthday boy.” His mother said.
Judy tapped him on his back and whispered, “I thought we already had dessert – I love seconds.”
“But not in front of the family, Judy.” He responded with a sly smile.
It would be two years later when he heard that she had married an accountant who was an orthodox Jew. She apparently had “seen the light” and adapted to the Orthodox lifestyle. But she was his first and often wondered if she remembered that afternoon and the birthday present they shared.
By the age of 18, Jonathan was an award winning composer, performer and conductor. His concertos #1 and #2; written for and inspired by Rebecca and Rita. He was six feet tall, he had brown eyes and light skin. His hair was straight light brown and he had grown it shoulder length. He was a good looking man, talented; oh beyond talented. He could play back any song after hearing it just once. He could write, he could conduct and he had a presence about him whenever he walked into a room, an auditorium, a concert hall or just about anywhere.
But there was always something missing.
The Pianist – Chapter 3
His father approached him the next evening after they had finished dinner.
“So, whats going on with you? Are you happy with your performances?”
“Yes, of course I am.” He responded defensively.
“As you should be.”
“Thank you Pop. My only problem is that I get bored up there.”
“You need to find your voice, Johnny, it will come in its time. You are so young and have accomplished so much yet, you still have so much to give.” He moved a strand of hair that had fallen onto Johnny’s face and then sat back and smiled.
“Why are you smiling like that?”
“Because you are bored.”
“So you are happy I am bored on stage?”
“Well, let me explain. When someone is given all the tools, the talent and the chances to express these gifts they can go in many ways. But the crossroads are what will define you, which road you choose will be your destiny.”
“I don’t understand, is this a ‘Don’t take drugs’ story? Trust me I do not have the desire to ingest any of that crap.”
“No this is not – but the point I am getting at in my clumsy way is; you are bored. So find a way to excite yourself on stage. You don’t have to fit the mold of the stuffy conductors or performers; you can be Johnny as well as Jonathan, but you need to find balance, you need to discover your unique identity within, just as you discovered your musical talents.”
“So, do you have any ideas?”
With that his father let out a laugh, “I have no idea whatsoever and no one does or should. It is your own identity you need to discover and you will be rediscovering it for the rest of your life.”
“So what do I need to do now to get a hint?”
“Kid, just be true to yourself and it will come out. When you go to see a performance of any kind, watch how it is presented by the artist. Take what you like out of it and make it your own. I am sure you will feel foolish at times, feel empowered at other times. But after a while you will develop your own stage persona and you will not only excite yourself but you will ignite the audience.”
In 1970 he was scheduled to perform at the Hollywood Bowl with an eclectic group of performers – all younger than 24 years of age. The main point for the show was to try try and gain enthusiasm for Classical Music; mostly for the younger generation. He was the final act since he was the best known out of the lineup – he wore a tuxedo with his long hair flowing onto the back of his coat.
He walked onto the stage – just him and a grand piano in the great amphitheater where so many legends had performed; Al Jolson, The Beatles, Leonard Bernstein…He walked onto the stage straight towards his piano bench, bowed towards the audience, sat down and began to play a slow version of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Sensing the crowds so-so reaction to it he decided to introduce the next song.
“This song by Sergei Rachmaninov is one that sashays, bounces and reminds me of time passing, of confrontations and then soft kisses…”
He played Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto 2 with an intensity that even surprised him. His fingers dancing across the keys and his mind picturing the music – the two lovers, loving, fighting, kissing, dancing, jumping, aging…and then a soft dance with twirls and a final dip sealed with a soft sensuality that can only be dreamed, can only be hoped for but never quite obtained…ending it with that final abrupt plunge. The crowd roared with approval, he stood up and bowed. He sat down and began to speak again.
“My mother was blessed to get out of Europe before the war began. Her love of music and art was always a major part of our lives. She taught me about classical music, the Blues, Jazz, and of course Rock n Roll before it even had a name. She taught me that music has no barriers; music is never bound by race, color or religion. Music is about freedom; this piece by George Gershwin was written in the 1920’s and believe it or not, if you close your eyes and listen, really listen, you will see that its all about sex, love, rebellion, dancing and breaking free from, as Mr. Dylan would say, ‘Society’s pliers.’ At least that’s how I feel it and its how I play it.” He then broke into “Rhapsody in Blue.”
The crowd loved it and then he ended with kicking his piano bench behind him and throwing his arms up in victory. He then stood up, bowed and to great applause walked off the stage. It was his finest performance up to that point and it sparked a new interest in Jonathan Krazinski. He had He was inspired, he would later say, from the night before the show.
The night before, a friend of his asked him to go to a show at The Troubador in Hollywood. There was a piano player from England who was making his debut in the states and apparently it was a big ticket. When he walked in he saw all these famous people he had only heard on the radio or read about. Bob Dylan, Carol King and Neil Diamond, among a lot of others he didn’t recognize. Then this short dude with glasses and long hair took the stage, sat down and began his show. He was a presence on the stage and although his music had been kind of classical and dark on the album he had just come out with – he had added some other songs to the playlist. His name was Elton John and he inspired Jonathan to realize that the piano was not the only instrument that God had given him. He was also blessed with a personality that could light up a room. Until that evening at the Troubadour, he had held it in opting instead for the seriousness of the trade. It was then that he realized what was missing from his performance.
He loved the performance, especially the last song, “Burn Down the Mission.” Although there were other rock n roll pianists there was something about the way Elton played that night. It really made Jonathan realize that he wanted to play rock n roll and add in the blues and jazz. He wanted to mix up the classical music which he loved with some sex and some sweat. But that wasn’t who he was – he was a classical musician and he loved it. He loved to conduct, he loved to perform and he loved the atmosphere.
Jonathan began what would be an amazing string of success – for the next twenty eight years, from 1971 until late 1999 he was known as “The Entertainer.” He headlined three separate one man shows on Broadway and then for each he would tour the world with stops across each continent. He was successful beyond his expectations – celebrity had come to him he had not looked for it. He just wanted to be the best at what he loved to do the best and he was.
In 1976 as his star was still rising he was on Broadway performing five times a week to sell out crowds. One night his parents came to see him backstage with a neighbors niece.
“Jonathan, I would like you to meet Sophia, she is Mr. Greens niece; she is a big fan of yours.” Sensing what his parents were doing he was about to be distant and cold to the “Fan,” when he looked at her and saw her green eyes.
“Its beautiful to meet you.” He said, “I mean, its great to meet you Sophia.”
“Its an honor Mr. Krazinski, I have been a fan forever. I was at the Hollywood Bowl when you played that amazing set.”
“What were you doing all the way in Los Angeles?”
“I was living with my cousins in Sherman Oaks and going to a USC. I only went for the one semester and then came back when my father had a heart attack.”
“Oh I am sorry.”
“Its OK he lived but was in the hospital for a month and it was during the winter break so I just stayed home.”
“Two minutes Mr. K!” The stage manager called out.
“You better get to your seats – how about we get something to eat after the show?”
“Sounds great!” George and Bertha simultaneously answered for all of them.
After the show George and Bertha told Sophia they would meet her and Jonathan at the restaurant.
“Hey Sophia, how did you feel about the show?”
“I truly enjoyed it – you really are a natural. When you speak to the audience its as if you are speaking to one or two people and each of us feel as if you are speaking to them directly.”
“Well I was speaking to you directly.”
She blushed and then smiled.
“Where are my parents?” He asked.
“They said they would meet us at the restaurant,” she replied, “By the way which restaurant?”
With that he burst out laughing and said, “It seems this is our first date.”
Six months later as he was about to perform the final song of his three month engagement at the Uris Theater in New York when he stepped away from his piano.
“These past three months have been nothing short of exhilarating. I have played here night after night for 3 months and each performance has a special place in my heart. But tonight, as I get ready to leave the stage I know that its time I take a break. There is someone in this audience that has added a dimension to my life that was totally unpredictable, at least to myself, that whatever trajectory my life was on its course has been changed. With that in mind I am going to walk back to my piano, my first love of my life and play a song for that person in the audience who has changed my life forever.”
Sophia, watching from the first row was in tears; she loved him and wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. Sophia thought back to when she was a little girl and the man she dreamed of meeting and marrying. She could not have dreamed of anyone better than her Piano Man. She watched and tears welled up in her eyes.
“I have often brought up my family when introducing the music I play. n pieces or, not to put mine in the same category, the pieces of music which have inspired me, moved me and somehow helped me identify who I am. My mother is from Hungary and one of her musical inspiration was a composer by the name of Frank Liszt. This piece, entitled ‘Prelude’ is one full of waves of emotional surrender. That’s how I sense it at least. To me, emotional surrender is when we reach a point in our lives where we are at peace within ourselves which in turn leads us to surrender any emotional barriers. this gives us the ability to accept love from another.”
The wedding took place in a small temple in Brooklyn. He then whisked Mrs. Krazinski on a month long honeymoon which took them to Israel, Cannes and then to Paris.
One night while he was in the studio listening to the previous nights recordings he noticed his right hand began to sort of twitch. He shook it off and assumed it was a muscle spasm. When it began to happen more frequently he decided to go to a Doctor.
“It looks like its a nervous condition. I would recommend staying away from using your hands as much as you have been, take some time off from the piano if you can.”
“Do you think I should do anything for it?”
“Let’s try relaxation and see how that goes; come back in two weeks.”
There was a sense of relief when he was told to stay away from the piano. He went home and saw his wife sitting on the sofa and she was crying.
“What is it? Whats wrong?” He sat beside her and feared the worst.
“Nothing is wrong, Daddy.” She smiled with tears falling on her face.
“What? Oh, my…” He held her and kissed her. “I am going to write a song for our child and for their beautiful mother.” He sat at the piano and she sat beside him. He began to play when he felt his fingers aching. He stopped.
“I need to spend some time away from the keys – the Doctor thinks its overuse.”
“Is that even possible when you have been playing the piano since you were a baby practically?”
That night he had a dream…
He was on stage doing a sound check for that evenings performance. He placed his hands on the keys when the piano door closed abruptly on his hands.
He woke up in a sweat and quickly checked his hands. He was alright, it was just a dream.
Two weeks later he went to see his Doctor to update him that the pain and the spasms had continued. These were not frequent enough for any individual to panic but for a pianist it was a good reason to be concerned.
There was a bang and it was over. Just as what is written in the sand is erased when the tide comes in so are the lives of future generations when death comes too soon.
There was no Pianist in actuality. The Pianist was the dream that Bertha had one night in Auschwitz. She had dreamed of having a child who would change the world with their musical compositions. She had dreamed of watching her child light up the world with the songs that they themselves had written or the songs that she loved being played by her child.
Bertha never did board a ship to New York -there was no marriage to George Krazinski. Jonathan Krazinski never played the piano, never saw or listened to Elton John or anyone else. Jonathan Krazinski never played the concert halls or Broadway. He never fell in love or knew the feeling of conceiving a child. He never existed.
He was just one of the billions of children who could have changed the world if they ever were given the chance to live. Can something that has never been actually find its way into existence?
Can a flame that was extinguished still guide us or are we forever searching for the way to another sunrise?
What should have been and what was stolen from existence changes the level of expectancy and causes earthquakes and tsunamis as a show of anger a show of resistance. Music that would have been played, medicines that could have cured, love that could have overwhelmed any hatred…
Instead there are unwritten symphonies and dark theaters, loneliness instead of companionship, silence where the sounds of a piano should have been echoing throughout the world bringing lovers together to dance and to sing. But the ghosts of what should have existed, what should have been born and what should have been; fill the hallowed air in silence causing a sad empty wind to blow across time and onto the darkness of possibilities which were destroyed.
A piano left unplayed is equivalent to a life unlived – the natural order is disrupted and all is meaningless in silence.