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Flamboyant Pickard wows crowd at IVC's annual spring benefit

March 24, 2002|By JOEL JACKLICH

Special to this newspaper

Friday night the versatile and flamboyant Wayland Pickard entertained an audience of 300 at the Imperial Valley College Foundation's 20th annual Spring Benefit Gala Dinner Theater at the Barbara Worth Golf Resort with a fast-paced show that featured Mr. Pickard not only on his main forte, the piano, but as singer, impressionist, comedian, satirist and soloist on the flugelhorn.

The evening started with the song "I Love a Piano" a la Harry Connick Jr. with Mr. Pickard singing at the piano, accompanying a series of video clips spanning 70 years of the piano in film.

After a short version of Billy Joel's "Piano Man," he took us from the turn of the last century, with Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" and "Maple Leaf Rag," to the 1920s with "Fats" Waller's stride piano style and singing in Louis Armstrong's gravely voice (as well as playing a flugelhorn solo a la Satchmo)

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With the addition of a gold-sequined robe, he transformed into a 50s-era Liberace, and later into 60s rock-'n'-roller Jerry Lee Lewis for "Great Balls of Fire." The 70s saw him change into the Charles Shultz comic-strip character Schroeder for the "Charlie Brown" theme while video clips of Schroeder and Lucy played on the screen.

Donning oversized glasses, Sir Elton John graced the stage and sang a medley including "Your Song" and "Candle in the Wind."

Mr. Pickard's comedic side (already much in evidence) took over as he presented a series of credible impressions, from re-writing the songs of Willie Nelson ("Always on My Mind" about Nelson's tax troubles with the IRS), to Kermit the Frog singing the "Rainbow" song to donning a black fedora, white gloves and all the perquisite mannerisms as he moon-walked across the stage as Michael Jackson.

Non-singing appearances were made in the guises of Clint Eastwood, Andy Rooney, Paul Lynde, Marlo Brando, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Katherine Hepburn and George Burns.

Back to the piano again, Broadway was featured next with selections from "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera" (complete with mask).

Hollywood joined the parade. To clips from the silent Lon Chaney film "Phantom of the Opera," Mr. Pickard added traditional movie-house accompaniments. With a montage of clips from the talkies, a suite of familiar themes poured forth: "Tara's Theme" from "Gone with the Wind," "Our Love is Here to Stay," from both "An Affair to Remember" and "Sleepless in Seattle," "Lara's Theme" from "Dr. Zhivago," the theme from "Chariots of Fire," and "As Time Goes By" from the Bogart/Bergman "Casablanca."

David Foster's Olympic theme "Winter Games" provided the setting for a montage of American Olympic triumphs.

The classical genre lent itself to Pickard's comedic talents as he played "Happy Birthday" had it been composed by Mozart, Beethoven a la "Moonlight Sonata" or Gershwin a la "Rhapsody in Blue." Beethoven made another appearance in the form of the disco version of "A Fifth of Beethoven."

The most famous of Rachmaininoff's "Variations on a Theme of Paganini" from "Somewhere in Time," Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," and Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor a la "Classical Gas" ended the program.

Mr. Pickard was ably supported throughout the evening by the other two members of the Wayland Pickard Trio: Kenney Park on drums and David Dial on synthesizer, the two of whom also provided reception and dinner music prior to the concert.

It is a shame that, during the concert portion of the evening, the piano and synthesizer were often over-mic'd and the speakers hissed and hummed during the quietest sections (due to a possible grounding problem). This was not a rock concert needing "tower of power" speakers. The piano is an acoustic instrument well capable of filling the hall at the Barbara Worth, and the synthesizer needed to balance, not overshadow, the soloist. Subtle reinforcement of the sound was all that was needed, but these shortcomings were outside the purview of the performers, as the sound amplification was not under their immediate control in the concert.

The one shortcoming aside, it is obvious why Wayland Pickard has been called "the piano variety artist of the millennium." His enthusiasm and his musical and comedic talent, were bountifully demonstrated on Friday night. Bravo!

>> Joel Jacklich is professor of music at Imperial Valley College and music director of the Imperial Valley Symphony.

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