By: Trina Becksted
The hauntingly beautiful piano tune Autumn Leaves brought tears to my eyes. You can’t hear it and not be moved, especially when it’s performed live by piano legend Roger Williams.
Roger has been giving the gift of song since he first sat down on a piano bench at age 3. He has recorded 21 Gold and Platinum albums and has been awing crowds for generations. He has played every major venue from Carnegie Hall to the White House and is affectionately known as the “Pianist of the Presidents,” after playing for nine different chief executives.
My mother and I had the pleasure of attending Mr.Williams’ 86th birthday celebration last Friday, October 1 at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. For many years, Roger has performed a piano marathon on his birthday and this year was no exception. He gifted us with a 12 hour marathon, pausing only for small breaks and to greet his adoring fans.
The concert was held in the hall of the museum, with his custom gold Steinway piano set up in front of throngs of fans totaling over 2,000 that day. We went backstage as his birthday cake was presented, in hopes of getting to meet him. To my delight, he invited me out in front of the audience where I had the honor to interview him and ask a few questions on what has kept him so young and vivacious all of these years.
His base player told me that “food doesn’t matter much to him”. That’s interesting-he eats to live rather than lives to eat. He also told me each day Roger downs a drink blended with around 20 different vegetables. This ‘power drink’ gives him the energy and sustenance he needs to do what he loves: play and play and play (piano) all day long. He goes from room to room of his home where there are several pianos, playing them all.
Despite the hours he spends expertly running his hands over the keyboard, Roger has no arthritis. In fact he still hits a punching bag (boxing has been a hobby since an early age). His mind is sharp, harvesting a library of 10,000 songs, all of which he can play, without hesitation, on key.
When I asked him ” how do you do keep your mind so sharp and your health so vital, what is your regime”? He told me “If I don’t feel like doing something, I force myself.” This is a testimony of his tremendous self-discipline, from eating to exercising to playing. His self-discipline has kept him so youthful and full of life- a life that shines through with his music as well as with his witty sense of humor.
The audience sat with rapt attention when I asked him ” how can you keep a repertoire of 10,000 plus songs in your head?” Again he resounded “I force myself, if I don’t want to do something, I do it anyway…I force myself” meaning he does what he knows he has to do to take care of himself.
He went on to encourage and inspire the audience (which comprised mainly fans age 70 plus) who have faithfully followed his music and career for decades.
At 86-years young, Roger is as spry and as sharp minded as ever. Attending his amazing concert and meeting him was an inspiration and I will treasure it forever!
To hear a tribute to Roger Williams visit http://video.yahoo.com/watch/2557750/7670975 and hear his rendition of Autumn Leaves recorded in 1954. There are numerous others on YouTube that will enchant you and take you down memory lane. Others include Born Free and The Impossible Dream.
86 years young has never sounded so good!!