Michael Drake At The Piano
ďI love entertaining,Ē says Michael Drake. No one who ever saw him in person would argue the point. A prolific recording artist with nearly a dozen albums to his credit, Drake began as a jazz trumpeter but branched out into Latin and Caribbean-flavored ďisland musicĒ along with childrenís shows. Never less than fully animated, Drake is a percolating coffee pot of highly caffeinated ideas. Recently, he took up a Wednesday residency on piano at a long-running West Side restaurant, Pitchís Baby Grand, 11320 W. Bluemound Road. Drake entertains from 7:30 p.m. to whenever.
No band? No trumpet? Just solo piano?
Just me and the baby grand with no sequencers. Iíve always loved Billy Joel and the great piano songsters. And Iíve repurposed my island music for this gig as romantic musicóballads. But itís still all done with an entertainment attitude. Itís all about the stories. I tell stories in song. By changing my format to piano, Iím setting the stories in different places.
What do you play at Pitchís on Wednesdays?
It all depends on whoís there. I might noodle and create the wallpaper if the mood is quiet. An entertainer has to read the audience. It can go in any possible direction. Without sequencers, I can change the character of the song Iím playing on the spot. If someone wants to come up and sing a Beatles song, Iíll accompany him. Iíve got a repertoire of 150 Beatles songs.
You take requests?
Iíve got a song list sitting on the piano, 400-500 songs. Iíve got them categorized. Itís all part of the entertainment thing. An entertainer cannot be selfish. Iím pouring my heart out on that song for the person who requests it!
How long have you been making a living at music?
That depends on what you mean by making a living! I played my first paid gig in 1967. I delivered the Chicago Tribune for 15 years. Finally, I was able to get rid of the day job in the early í90s.
Have audiences changed over the years?
Thereís been a change in receptability. More and more people donít know what entertainment is. Itís a conversation! Back when I played weddings, Iíd have everyone in the palm of my hand. I still do, but itís more work. People arenít used to seeingentertainers in person any more. Being an entertainer is a one-on-one relationshipóa rapport. You canít get that from a TV screen.