Area Pianist Ignored at Local Starbucks

In the wake of revelations emanating from the Washington Post this weekend, secret sources have confirmed that Upper West Side classical pianist Jeremy Denk has been scrupulously or virtually ignored at any number of locations in the New York City area.

Our correspondent followed Mr. Denk around yesterday in a shocking and heartbreaking experiment.

He emerged from the New York Sports Club at 4:46 pm and positioned himself poetically in line at the 93rd Street Starbucks. By most measures, he was quite descript: a graying youngish (with a certain musical emphasis, or “accent,” on ish) white man in workout pants, a sweaty T-shirt, and a jacket he got on sale at an outlet mall ten years ago, radiating a confident odor of the Elliptical Cross Trainer. Our reporters watched, amazed, as he hummed through several phrases of the Archduke Trio, and gestured expressively into the air around him; clearly this was an artist at work, digesting great music behind his soggy brow, and yet his artistry, if anything, seemed to dissuade the attention of passersby. Would anyone notice?

Mostly mid-level yuppies pass through this familiar location: mommies, daddies, assorted persons of fungible sexuality, the occasional painfully metrosexual European family on vacation. In this quasi-erotic crossfire, each had a quick choice to make: do you stop and notice the bedraggled artist or do you scurry past with a blend of disgust and desire, aware of your cupidity but afeared of odor or solicitation?

Showered and transformed, Mr. Denk ventured out to Chelsea. At Patsy’s on 23rd Street, he sat and ate an entire Rigatoni Bolognese. It was beautiful to watch. The acoustics of the restaurant were surprisingly kind, underscoring each appreciative smack and munch. He brought passionate forkfuls of pasta to his mouth, leaving artsy swatches of tomato across his chewing cheeks, which, like a true rebel, he refused to wipe away immediately. To this reporter’s mind, he oozes, even suppurates artistry. But there was no response: nothing, but the clattering, random helter-skelter of a slow night at Patsy’s. Even the waitress, amazingly, seemed a bit indolent in refilling his water.

At 36, Denk’s an enigma. Medium-height, big-nosed, with constantly changing but unsatisfying hairstyles, he formulates an interesting countertext within the inherent binaries of the glamorous-artist archetype. “I like to live,” he said, “you know, according to the moment. I also like snacks in my dressing room. And snacks, in general.”

He consented to this article on one condition. “No,” he said, “don’t use the word genius.” He mused for a moment, crumbs of Aztec Brownie slipping out of the delicate corners of his thoughtful mouth, “what about poetic soul? or associative mind? No, no, wait, let’s call my publicist.”

We followed Denk into Blades of Glory at the Chelsea Clearview. We paid a friend (who prefers to remain anonymous) to go with him; we wanted to see if it was just the stigma of solitude that was causing this pianist to be ignored. But no! There, too, events seemed to proceed in total disregard of Denk’s musicality. Denk hit a low ebb when the two guys in front of him started making out. “But then I realized,” he debriefed us later, “they were ignoring both me and the artistry of Will Ferrell … I was in pretty good company … at least there was that…”

Asked to sum up the day: “I mean the guy at the gym said, ‘have a good workout,’ and the guy at the Starbucks asked me if the brownie was ‘the one with the weird peppers in it.’ That’s about it for meaningful interaction.”

According to Mr. Denk, the only truly artistic reception he received yesterday, April 9, 2006, from 9:28 am to 1:31 am the next day, was on the phone with friend Lisa Kaplan. “I said, ‘Lisa, let me sing you something,’ and she said ‘let me put you on speakerphone,’ and I knew she wanted her friend Barbara to hear me sing, and I said ‘No, no!’ and as I started to sing she put me on speakerphone anyway.”

We hesitate to report the rest of the story. “Barbara said my singing was like ‘I saw into her soul,’ but I realized she meant it ironically,” Mr. Denk told us, choking back tears. Is there nothing left untouched by irony in these uncultured days?

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33 Comments

  1. e
    Posted April 10, 2007 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    As much as I enjoyed the WaPo story, I may have enjoyed this a little more.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted April 10, 2007 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    Oh Jeremy! Jeremy! thanks a lot for responding to this unprecedented buzz that still humming ’till today in newspapers and the web. I enjoyed reading your story more than the real Bell stunt story. Bell’s story made some people cry for what’s been happening to busy society nowadays but your story made me cry and laugh more. I enjoyed it so much.

    See you this Saturday and if you’re coming today on Bell’s award ceremony which you probably will since you were one of the recepients of the grant award before. Congrats to your friend.

    Sure all of you in that ceremnoy will not be ignored.

  3. rednepentha
    Posted April 10, 2007 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    that was hysterical! i wonder if people would’ve stopped if some dude was playing a piano in the street instead of a violin. that would’ve been clutzy to roll around, but different.

  4. claire
    Posted April 10, 2007 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    hahahahaha. my history teacher knows i’m a jb fan and sent me the article over the weekend … i love your response. especially quoting the genius part. great touch 🙂 hugs

  5. Anonymous
    Posted April 10, 2007 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    You’re so funny. I actually shed tears from laughing while reading your writing today. There’s no denying you’re a poetic soul. I may have ignored you in the subway or in the local deli but not when you start the keyboard.

    Outside our main specialty, in local starbucks, convenient stores, gym, movie houses and etc. we are just the average Joes and Janes. Unless it’s announced that certain famous so and so will do such act in that place, then people will notice.

    Have you thought of doing a stunt w/ JB in the subway cars announce or unannounce? or do you play jazz?

    You may be ignored for few minutes but if you stay for at least 2 hours ( usual concert time ) you will earn more than he got and perhaps gather different results and appreciation for the beauty you’ll present.

  6. jolene
    Posted April 11, 2007 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    boo! i wanted to see a picture of you in a baseball cap, crouched over a Casio at Penn Station…

    😉

  7. Anonymous
    Posted April 11, 2007 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    Baseball cap w/ NY Yankee or Mets? Sure you have a picture Jeremy…..please post it here?

  8. ACN
    Posted April 11, 2007 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I’ll be looking for you singing at Starbucks next week when I’m in New York. Perhaps a duet might get more attention?

  9. Samantha G.
    Posted April 11, 2007 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Poor, poor Jeremy. What is our society coming to when the average person refuses to appreciate the beauty of a world-class pianist slurping his rigatoni?

    I for one would have stopped. And laughed. And taken pictures.

  10. Anonymous
    Posted April 11, 2007 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    It was great! like a good episode from Seinfeld (oh, those 90s).

    “…assorted persons of fungible sexuality,” – you can bit Tolstoi, my friend.

    I thoroughly enjoy your ‘unidentifiable’ presence now, Jeremy ~~~~~~~~~~~ Thanks.

  11. Anonymous
    Posted April 11, 2007 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Well, Jeremy, you can at least take heart in the fact that no one compared you to Donnie Osmond.

    *sigh*

    $32 for 43 minutes is higher than my rate for piano-ing… dang it.

  12. Anonymous
    Posted April 11, 2007 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Was wondering, how do you reconcile benchpressing and weight training with healthy fingers. BTW how many lbs do you bench press JD? Your fans want to know (since you stoked their imagination with gym images)

  13. Anonymous
    Posted April 11, 2007 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    What annoys me most about New Yorkers is that they feel compelled to name drop everything, including the name of their gym. Who the [email protected]#$ cares where you work out?

  14. Anonymous
    Posted April 11, 2007 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    They also think Starbucks is THE cofee, having few (if any) artisanal cofee houses with good baristas (like we have in the Pacific Northwest)

  15. Mark
    Posted April 12, 2007 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    Scrumtrelescent.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted April 12, 2007 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    Sheer genius, Jerjer.

    –dw

  17. Anonymous
    Posted April 12, 2007 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    I can only hope that the comment “I was in pretty good company…” aims to describe your indentured movie companion rather than compare your artistry to that of Will Ferrell’s… he’s the genius. 😉

    -anonymous (this automatic moniker worked out nicely…)

  18. Sarah Marie
    Posted April 12, 2007 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed this post; I love your sense of humor! What a great response to all the JB hubub.

  19. Anonymous
    Posted April 12, 2007 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Oh Jeremy, my as of yet unmet friend,

    Deadpan, always. Irony, never. Irony is the tarnish on Bubbe’s samovar. i.e., my soul is a hulking monstrosity of a thing that only heats a very tiny cup of water. But man, is that water hot!
    Get your ass to Chicago.
    Barbara

  20. Emily
    Posted April 12, 2007 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

    On a quasi-serious note: recognition for one’s otherworldly talent is one thing, but relative anonymity (at least among the masses) doesn’t strike me as an altogether horrible thing. Just imagine if you were constantly plagued by rabid groupies as you puttered on the elliptical trainer or attempted to sip your joe in peace at the local Starbucks. Then again, I’m not sure any classical musician (in the 21st century) would be the target of such crazed behavior…..even one with a “Donny Osmond-like dose of the cutes.” Oh, gawwwwd.

  21. Anonymous
    Posted April 13, 2007 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Jeremy is already plagued with rabid groupies right here in his Comments section. The sycophantic drivel one reads here is really becoming nauseating. Make them stop, PLEASE!

  22. Anonymous
    Posted April 13, 2007 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Jeremy… just wanted to tell you about a little experiment I ran last week.

    As part of my multi-part, conceptual “performance art experience”, I spent last Thursday in the men’s room at the Delacorte, washing my undies while humming 4’33”. A surprising number of park denizens seemed eager to interact with me, but I was waiting for the right Zen moment.

    Then, wouldn’t you know it, this moderately buff, upper West Side type entered the facility. After a brief, fraught glance, he proceeded to TOTALLY IGNORE me!!

    Was this the perfect realization of my concept, or was it yet another symptom of the decay of our musical culture?

    I’m just not sure.

  23. Anonymous
    Posted April 13, 2007 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    [b]Jeremy is already plagued with rabid groupies right here in his Comments section. The sycophantic drivel one reads here is really becoming nauseating. Make them stop, PLEASE! [/b]
    Oh c’mon, we’re just having fun. First, Jeremy responded our request to make a blog about the DC stunt and thanks for being sport, Jeremy. We’re just having fun. If you’re nauseated, then find a brown bag, come back when you don’t have stomach upset anymore.

    It’s supposed to be spring but we’re still not in New York. We need something like this from time to time.

    Cheers!

  24. Canadienne
    Posted April 13, 2007 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Hilarious parody. Excellent!

  25. Anonymous
    Posted April 13, 2007 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    Ignored no more! Jeremy, you are featured today,Friday the 13th no less, on Performance Today, in a chamber music performance you did with Joshua Bell and others. The critic refers to it as the best performance he’s heard in ten years, and Fred Child refers to you as the “rising cult figure star of the musical blogosphere”. There is justice in this world after all!

    http://performancetoday.publicradio.org/?year=2007&month=4&day=13 Hour 1,starting about30:30.

  26. La Cot
    Posted April 15, 2007 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Well, the Denk wit certainly can’t be ignored! Truly the perfect coda for the WaPo story 🙂 Is there a prize for anyone who spots the artist in his native habitat(s)?

  27. Anonymous
    Posted April 15, 2007 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    spot in his native habitat? Hahaha!
    I fell on my chair laughing. Well, only JD can answer that. I haven’t spotted JD yet in any of the walkways and starbucks corner in the upper west side. What if, what’s my prize? another cup of coffee w/ a pepper coated brownie? I don’t mind as long as I can chat w/ him. Well, yesterday, I did not only spot him but sat the whole Beethoven’s Archduke performance in Lincoln Center.
    Jeremy you’re brilliant and the three of you were marvelous. Clearly you’re the guiding spirit and you fed them your energy as to us as well. I wish I’d stayed later for the post concert discussion, but other priority came up.

    I wish also WQXR could have recorded it but I guess not, they did for the 8pm. concert.

  28. Spaghetti
    Posted April 17, 2007 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Hilarious.

  29. Anonymous
    Posted April 17, 2007 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Think Zelig.

  30. Anonymous
    Posted April 18, 2007 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    ???
    ????
    ??????????????????????

  31. Anonymous
    Posted April 19, 2007 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    Suppurates? Good lord, man!

  32. Jenny
    Posted April 21, 2007 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Touche, JerJer – Thanks for writing this – and please remind JB to report that $32 to the IRS if he doesn’t want to play his next season from Sing Sing!Loved seeing you in our fair city – please look us up again next time you are in or near Charlotte…you sounded glorious…I’ll never forget it.

  33. Anonymous
    Posted April 25, 2007 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Jenny, all the money JB got including the $20 from the woman who recognized him were given to a girl who owned the violin case. He was interviewed last April 11 by NPR and asked what happened to the money.

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