Notes of San Francisco: A pianist reflects on half a century in the city
October 12, 2018Marie Nedich

October 22, 2018

Kurt was raving about his favorite meal, Cheese Tortellini, as he walked through his sparse but neatly arranged kitchen. Sunlight from the late autumn afternoon flickered on the walls. “I love the program. My budget won’t allow me to eat out. It’s just so easy. Pop the meal in the microwave and boom, bam. Done.” He was feeling especially glad to be in his home where he’s lived for the past 40 years.

At 72, Kurt radiates a delightful mix of tranquility and ambition. He is always entertaining (or scheming as he may put it) his next project in life, including the possibility of enrolling in a Master’s Program in Music. Among many of his accomplishments, Kurt is a prodigious piano player. On this particular afternoon, he had just finished playing one of his favorite songs, Carnival, by Antonio Jobim. His fingers danced along the keyboard like the light against the wall. The room was aglow with energy.

Kurt was born in Pocatello, ID in 1946. His ancestry is Native American and his parents belonged to the Shoshone Indian tribe. He and his sister were adopted at the age of 6. Two years later, Kurt started playing piano. “My sister and I played piano on this TV show in Twin Falls. We were little kids and I remember it was so fun.”

After that brush with fame, playing piano became a lifelong passion for Kurt. He went on to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Music from San Francisco State and he’s been in the city ever since. He remembered fondly the frenetic energy of the 60s in San Francisco. “It was electric. Unbelievable.” He will never forget the moment he met Janis Joplin. “I lived on Haight Street, a block away from Janis Joplin. One night, I was at a show and she sat down right next to me on the sofa!” As he recounted this memory, the expression on his face was timeless as if all the years in between evaporated into thin air.

As an adult, Kurt was diagnosed with glaucoma. He received treatment, but that didn’t stop the disease from progressing. “I have a little vision over here. I can see my arm moving and I can see light and dark. Over here, its midnight,” he said, describing his eyesight without a hint of pessimism. Kurt navigates his apartment and the city with grace and confidence. He has a spry and insatiable energy. He is always moving and thinking about the next thing he is going to do.

While he recognizes the music scene of the 1960s and 1970s has faded away, he has not. He loves San Francisco and never wants to leave. He has enjoyed a life he could only have dreamed of growing up in rural Idaho. When asked what advice he might offer a millennial just moving to the city, he said, “You’re late.”

For Kurt, he’s right on time, and right where he wants to be – moving and grooving to the beat of a city that never gets old.

Photo Credit: Maren Caruso

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