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The Piano Music of the late Avis Duane Keaton - Sept 9, 1914 – Jan 5, 2010

The Piano Music of the late Avis Duane Keaton - Sept 9, 1914 – Jan 5, 2010

 

Audio/Piano recorded and restored by Steve Hacker (October 23 & 24, 2004 // Jan. 8, 2010)

To the visitors of this page: While this was an amazing project in terms of the technical process, the one thing that I and my associates were unable to do was IDENTIFY THE TITLES of many of the songs on this CD. I invite you to listen to these 12 songs and see if you can identify them. If you think you know some or all of the titles, PLEASE email, call, text, or something, and let me know, as we need CORRECT TITLES for the ultimate packaging of this CD...

Thanks!
Steve Hacker
stevejhacker@yahoo.com
229-416-8340

The Music - PLEASE HELP ME IDENTIFY THESE SONG TITLES !!!

Left Click and play the songs, or right click to download them. Some of the titles are already assumed, but I want to go on majority in terms of having correct song titles, so PLEASE let me hear from you.

Duane Keaton - Piano Song #1
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #2
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #3
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #4
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #5
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #6
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #7
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #8
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #9
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #10
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #11
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #12

The Story:

The Piano Music Of Avis Duane Keaton – The Story Of The Recording

 Pianist Avis Duane Keaton - Sept 9, 1914 – Jan 5, 2010

Piano Recording: October 23 rd and 24 th , 2004 – Final Audio Mix & Edit: Jan. 8, 2010

 

I knew right away, as soon as I saw “Miss Duane” sit down at the piano the first time in Cotton Hall around 2002 or 2003, that I was going to HAVE to get her recorded. As she walked into Cotton Hall, the Home Of Swamp Gravy, Georgia 's Official FolkLife Play, I didn't know what I was going to be hearing. All I knew was that Swamp Gravy cast members, Ferrell and Sara Ann Keaton had a relative that was coming in to play music for Swamp Gravy pre-shows and intermission. As Swamp Gravy's pianist myself, of course, I knew I was going to have to see and hear what this was all about. I have heard bad pianists, and I have heard great ones. My curiosity was growing…

 

As soon as Miss Duane sat down at the piano and started playing, I was immediately glued to my seat, and I had to hear everything she was going to play. Normally during pre-show, as people were coming into the theater and getting seated, I would usually just walk around and talk, find a quiet place to collect my thoughts about my own performance, or perhaps warm up my hands, but now, I knew I had much to learn…

 

Before hearing Miss Duane play for the first time, even though I had already been playing piano for around 15 or 20 years myself, I had never heard the term “Stride Piano”. I had heard this style of Ragtime playing, but I knew it was simply something I didn't (or couldn't) do myself. It was time for me to be “schooled”. My eyes were immediately drawn to her left hand as she glided back and forth in a “stride style” – low bass notes, followed by higher octave chords, in a steady oscillating rhythm, as if an instrument all by itself, left hand ONLY, all while her right hand was crisply hammering out familiar melodies of old hymns and great pop standards from yesteryear. I was thinking to myself, “this is an amazing left hand technique that I clearly cannot do well, and this lady is nearly 90 years old!”…I have MUCH to learn indeed. It was boggling to my mind to even conceive of playing piano for what must have been 70 or 80 years! Seventy or eighty years behind the piano! I STILL cannot fathom that, but I sure hope I WILL play that long!

 

As I sat there listening to her, I immediately realized that the music I was hearing and seeing coming from her hands was destined to become an integral part of what makes Swamp Gravy…well, Swamp Gravy…After all, much of the music she was playing was directly FROM the eras that many of the Swamp Gravy stories come from. I knew that this wonderful music, along with the personality and the essence of the person who was creating it, HAD to be recorded and preserved…I was now a “man on a mission”…

 

***

 

To be sure, the “mission” was NOT an easy one. Starting during the Fall run of Swamp Gravy's “Down At The Depot” in October of 2004, I began to experiment with different recording techniques for getting Miss Duane's music preserved. There were little problems of every conceivable type. Each Fri and Sat of October 2004, I tried something a little differently. Swamp Gravy had recently purchased a VERY NICE Kawai Electronic Digital Piano. Miss Duane was having some minor challenges adjusting to this new piano as she had already gotten used to the old, beat-up upright acoustic piano that, in spite of my best efforts as a tuner/technician, could NOT be kept in tune for longer than one show. Still, I could see that while she was not fully comfortable with this new piano yet, she would soon be “tearing it up” as usual.

 

The Kawai digital piano was a necessary part of Swamp Gravy now, and indeed, ultimately the whole reason we were able to get a studio-quality recording of Miss Duane's playing. Swamp Gravy already had an old and ailing “music computer” that I had rebuilt for ONLY using in Cotton Hall to “document” all the performances. I was “sequencing” the performances in an old version of some music software called “Cakewalk” (software that records audio and “MIDI” data – “Musical Instrument Digital Interface” – the “DATA” of a performance, but NOT the audio itself…this is a standard electronic/digital/computer language for all electronic music instruments to “talk” to each other and to computers. MIDI is to musical instruments what networks and the Internet are to computers).

 

This arrangement worked well for Swamp Gravy, as it allowed us to have a high-tech sort of “player piano”. I could record my performances and they could be recalled in the computer later on for rehearsal and such (an arrangement that is still used to this day). The computer “plays the piano” when I'm not there.

 

S0, with that in mind, I decided that was how I would also record Miss Duane. I have worked in and owned various recording studios over the years, but I couldn't very well bring the studio to Cotton Hall and record with all the noise in the room, and Miss Duane's mobility was already beginning to diminish some, so I knew that the recording HAD to take place IN Cotton Hall, while she was already there, and doing what she was going to be doing anyway, so shortly after her 90 th birthday, I began making digital MIDI recordings of Miss Duane every night.

 

***

 

One of the MOST IMPORTANT parts of the job as a recording engineer is setting the artist at ease during the recording process. I've always considered myself pretty good at this – or at least ADEQUATE. Setting Miss Duane at ease about recording while in Cotton Hall in front of 300 or so people, all the while having me hovering over her tapping on a computer keyboard and clicking around with a mouse was clearly becoming a situation I knew WAS NOT setting Miss Duane at ease. I faithfully made recordings every weekend with a lot of …”ok…go”…”oops…stop…something's not working right”…”Ok…let's try that again”….”can you play that one again”…etc etc etc…When I went back and listened to those records (or rather “played them back” in a player-piano fashion, having the computer replay Miss Duane's performances), I knew something was lacking. You could hear the tension in her playing. You could hear her “not sounding” like she normally did in Cotton Hall. She simply was uncomfortable with knowing that I was recording her (many musicians are, and even I frequently whip myself into my own form of “studio stage fright” when I hit the record button). I now knew there had to be another way.

 

It hit me almost immediately. I was going to have to “SNEAK” the recording. Actually this is a technique that MANY engineers in the world's top studio use. They will tell the artist that “this is just a practice run, so don't worry about it”, when actually they ARE recording, and often THAT very “relaxed practice run”, is the take that is kept and used.

 

How on Earth, in the middle of Cotton Hall was I going to record Miss Duane without her knowing it? Simple! It came in a flash. I was going to have to “record all night”…sneaky me…

 

The last weekend of that Swamp Gravy run of “Down At The Depot”, I put my plan into action. On Thursday October 22 nd of 2004, at the END of the evening, after the Swamp Gravy performance was over, and everybody was gone. I turned the music computer (which was always wired to the piano and ready to go) BACK ON to run ALL NIGHT LONG, and turned the MONITOR off. This made it appear that the computer was off the next day when Miss Duane arrived to perform, and would clearly send a mental “all is well” to her, thinking that she “wasn't recording”. Looking back, I almost feel guilty now, having played this little “trick” on her, but aren't we all blessed that things went the way they did?

 

I thought to myself, “there is NO WAY this is going to work. Too many things can go wrong. Somebody is going to come in and turn the computer off. There might be a power failure”…etc etc etc…Leaving a computer on ALL NIGHT LONG – and remember, ACTIVELY RECORDING, just WASN'T going to work I thought. That meant that the computer had to run all night long safely, WITH THE RECORD CONTROL ENGAGED, which would create this HUGE computer file on the hard drive of the computer that I just KNEW would bog the computer down and crash it LONG before daylight. Also, looking back in retrospect and knowing that it DID work, and having heard all the stories about Cotton Hall being haunted, I was (and still am) REALLY REALLY REALLY glad that no piano data was recorded during the night.

 

When I arrived the next day, Friday October 23 rd , 2004, there was no way to sneakily check the computer to see if it was still on, let alone recording. I just had to hope and pray that everything was fine. Miss Duane came in, seated herself and began playing as usual. Meanwhile I was crossing my fingers and toes that the system was still on and recording after nearly 24 hours. It was going to have to record the entire evening – what Miss Duane was playing at this moment, as well as my entire evening performance with Swamp Gravy. I was in painful suspense all evening!

 

At the end of the evening, after everyone had gone again, I anxiously hit the space bar on the keyboard (signaling the recorder to stop), nervously squinted my eyes tightly shut, turned on the monitor, and gradually opened my eyes and let them adjust to the Cakewalk interface on the screen, hoping for that familiar pink bar going across the screen with little black “blobs” indicating a musical signal HAD been recorded from the piano. Open a little more, open, open, slowly, slowly…OH MY GOSH IT WORKED!!!! I actually shouted it out! Sure enough, there was the most beautiful pink and black “blobs” on the screen I had ever seen! I started playing back some of the data, and I realized not only had I captured Miss Duane's entire performance, I had also captured my own, and even Swamp Gravy cast vocal warm-ups with Debbie Sloan directing and playing the piano. YES! This idea WORKS! Yes! Yes! Yes!

 

I immediately saved the file, and created another one, and did the EXACT same thing again on that Friday night so I could also capture Saturday's performance, and of course, again, it worked flawlessly…

 

***

 

I walked around pretty proud of myself after that. But I knew there was still more work to do. This “DATA” recording had to be converted to AUDIO that people could actually LISTEN to. I couldn't very well constantly invite people to Cotton Hall to listen to the computer play Miss Duane's music. A CD had to be made, and that proved to be a big problem. This normally is no big deal, but at the time, I had a recording system that DID NOT “play nice” with Cakewalk MIDI sequences. Without getting into all the technical details, I'll just quickly summarize that every time I tried to create audio from the data that I recorded, it sounded horrible. It had noises in it. It clearly was misinterpreting some of the performance elements that Miss Duane had played, and even her pedaling, for some reason, was completely absent. It just sounded bad, in every way. Because SOME record of what I had done needed to be saved, I gave Sara Ann and Ferrell Keaton a CD of the best job I could at the time, but it was in my opinion, simply not listenable. We needed “studio quality”. At that point, I pretty much gave up, feeling very disappointed and technologically beaten.

 

The Swamp Gravy music computer that had become a regular fixture in Cotton Hall “went away” soon after. It was old, and it was time to upgrade. A new cutting-edge music laptop was being bought, and before I knew it, we were up and running with that, and I didn't see the old desktop machine that had been used to make the recordings any more. To my knowledge, it had been discarded along with the recordings stored on it. That was pretty depressing, since I thought that the recordings of Miss Duane were also gone forever.

 

***

 

Fast-forward 5 years later to the end of the Fall Season 2009 run of “Gospel Truth”, and enter a Swamp Gravy Angel and Saint by the name of Kate Willis – Kate Willis who, in my opinion, absolutely, positively gets the job done, beautifully, reliably, and quickly, EVERY time, whatever it is.

 

We just happened to be sitting around talking in Cotton Hall late one night after a rehearsal, when I obliquely touched on the subject of the “24 Hour Recordings” of Duane Keaton, and my regret about that project not working out, and the files being “lost forever”, when Kate matter-of-factly told me, “oh, I backed up all those files along with everything else on that old computer before we got rid of it”…STUNNED SILENCE (coming from me). I said, “Kate YOU DIDN'T !!! Don't get my hopes up! ” …”oh yeah”, she said. “I didn't know what those files were, and they did look sort of strange, but I figured they must be important, so I backed them up”. YES! We are BACK IN BUSINESS! Yes! Yes! Yes! I already knew Kate was a saint, but this just reaffirmed it for me. In that moment, we got a USB drive and I took those files home with me to be kept for all eternity. I was back in business and this CD was going to get made! In the intervening years I had been upgrading my studio technology and skills and I knew that turning this MIDI data into audio was going to be a piece of CAKE now (no pun intended).

 

Because of some personal challenges at that same time with my son's recent diagnosis of Leukemia (October 2009), I knew the CD was going to have to get made, but it was going to have to wait a little while. I wanted it done, but I wasn't sure when it was going to get done. Only Kate and I knew about the “saved files”. To my knowledge, the Keaton's, nor anyone else, had any idea that the CD getting created was back in the realm of possibility.

 

***

 

I got the sad news about Miss Duane passing away when Kate contacted me on Wed. Jan 6, 2010. I now knew that the CD ABSOLUTELY HAD TO GET DONE NOW, before the funeral, “no ifs ands or buts”. Kate and I talked about different ways to approach it, but we both knew it had to be a surprise for the Keaton family.

 

My Main concern was that, except for the old hymn standards on the recording, I didn't know the names of most of the songs, and we needed to know that for the labeling of the CD. Calling the Keaton's for song titles would immediately let the cat out of the bag, so Kate called Swamp Gravy cast member, Joye Bailey, since she knew a lot about the old hymns, and she was happy to meet us at my studio in Bainbridge at 8pm on Friday night, Jan. 8, 2010.

 

Kate, Joye and I met at 8pm that night and started pouring over “The 24 Hour Recordings”. Extracting song by song from the MIDI data into marked-chunks by measure number in a notation score. Some of the files had nearly 40,000 measures of data! We were actually listening to Miss Duane playing the piano AS IF SHE WAS IN THE ROOM with us, because my newer, faster music computer was playing back every note and every nuance of Miss Duane's performance flawlessly by way of MIDI-triggering of my own Kawai piano – the same type piano in my studio that is used in Cotton Hall! For all practical purposes, Miss Duane was in the room with us, and moreover, sounding exactly like she was in Cotton Hall !

 

I was surprised at how many of the old songs I was able to identify. Joye and Kate were able to identify a few more, and then we “called for back up”, by having another Swamp Gravy cast member, Amy Thomas, come in. We still didn't get all the songs identified (although they are ALL very familiar), so we were not able to make a CD label at that time ( I encourage you, the listener, to help in identifying the songs on this recording so that later when the “official packaging” is done, everything will be in order ).

 

At midnight on Friday night, 1/8/2010, the ladies left my studio and it was now my task to spend the rest of the night doing what I TRIED to do 5 years ago - create an audio CD from this MIDI data that was now broken up into the individual songs. I wired the piano to be triggered by my computer software, and then wired the piano audio connections to my audio recording system and said, “ok Miss Duane…Time to play for me one more time, and with that, the REAL recording began…

 

As if she was right there in the studio with me, from midnight until 6:45am the next Saturday morning – just hours before the funeral, Miss Duane and I recorded the CD that was destined to become her legacy – indeed, part of Swamp Gravy's legacy. Nothing – ASBOLUTELY NOTHING was going to keep me from getting this CD made, and I was also not going to let ANYTHING keep me from being at the funeral to present the CD to the Keatons. Miss Duane's performance was not flawless. Every note was not perfect. She was, after all, 90 years old when she made this recording, but I and everyone I spoke to about this project said that while, I COULD have edited the recording so that every note was PERFECT, it was clearly the right thing to do, to leave the notes AS THEY WERE, so that Miss Duane, just as she was, would be captured for all time.

 

The next day, Sat 1/9/2010, I awoke after a short one or two hour nap to begin my Saturday morning music teaching routine. The lack of sleep didn't phase me. I was ready to reveal the surprise to the Keatons in Colquitt. After a half day of teaching, I headed straight to the funeral in Colquitt. While the funeral was of course sad, I was experiencing a fair degree of joy because I knew I was about to present the Keatons with something that (I hoped) would completely change that day for them, and at least put some level of happiness in their hearts.

 

I pulled Miss Sara Ann aside first and told her what we had been “up to” (Kate was of course with me as a willing and equally-sneaky accomplice), and I saw the tears of joy right away. With Miss Sara Ann's permission, I sneaked into the fellowship hall of the church where everyone was gathered talking and reminiscing and began playing the CD on the sounds system in the room. Immediately there were smiles, tears of joy, and plenty of, “I want a copy! I want a copy!”… MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! MAN, that felt good!

Later that day in a conversation with Swamp Gravy's Music Director, Debbie Sloan, when I told her this story, she said, “Now isn't that what life is all about - doing neat things like this and making people's lives a little better because of it. Filling their hearts with joy and seeing them smile..”….I couldn't have said it better. That is indeed what it is all about, and I am SO THRILLED that I got to complete this recording, and see the faces of the Keatons and their family and friends light up as I presented them with this recording…

So…it is indeed with GREAT JOY, that I present this CD to the Keatons, the Swamp Gravy family, and the world…

May it be enjoyed by everyone for many many years to come…

 

Steve Hacker
stevejhacker@yahoo.com
229-416-8340

 

The Music - PLEASE HELP ME IDENTIFY THESE SONG TITLES !!!

Left Click and play the songs, or right click to download them. Some of the titles are already assumed, but I want to go on majority in terms of having correct song titles, so PLEASE let me hear from you.

Duane Keaton - Piano Song #1
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #2
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #3
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #4
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #5
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #6
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #7
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #8
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #9
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #10
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #11
Duane Keaton - Piano Song #12