The Compleat Vern Tour VIDEOS (from Pacific Symphony’s “OC Can You Play” project)




(at the Great Park piano)

As the Orange Juice Blog’s contribution to the Pacific Symphony’s “OC Can You Play” series, our editor-in-chief played all twenty painted pianos they displayed across the county (some more than once) and made videos of that.  Here they freaking are.

NEWEST VIDEOS at top, and bottom:

The Irvine Spectrum piano was one of the cooler ones – not painted, but decorated with chunks of wood,
and a wooden Peace Sign on the back.
So I played the first movement of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata,
followed by the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun.”

You’ve heard of that famous concert theater The Hoag? Oh wait, it’s just a hospital in Irvine.
Still, they had a piano there covered with pictures of Beethoven,
which inpired me and Kim Thien Le, to play a duet by Schubert,
his brilliant “Fantasy in F minor” which he wrote as he was dying of syphilis.  (second half only)

South Coast Plaza had three pianos in three of their “courtyards.”
(FUN FACT: The insatiable Segerstrom family, who own South Coast Plaza, refused to be involved if their biggest competitor Fashion Island was involved. Hence, 3 pianos at SCP and none at Fashion Island. Oh. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to share that fact.)

1. At their “Jewel Court” I played Bartok’s “Rumanian Dance #1” which has been one of my favorites since I was 12:

2. And this particular one at “Macy’s Home Court” was covered with Dave Brubeck pictures, so
I decided to do his “Blue Rondo A La Turk”
(and not embarrassing him by doing the piece he’s most associated with,
“Take Five,” which was actually written not by him but by his sax player Paul Desmond.)

3. SCP’s “Carousel Court” featured (beside the Carousel) a shitload of balloons..
So we sort of thought Chopin’s 3rd Ballade would seem right
[henceforth to be known as the “Balloon Ballade.”]

Mission Viejo’s fabulously over-budget Murray Center is a NIGHTMARE.
Twice I was scheduled to play there – there were lots of people in MV who wanted to see me, and it’s hard for me to get there –
and first time they told me “No you can’t play because of the Church of Life service.”
and the second time the place was locked and deserted, four hours before closing time.
(I wonder if folks were getting paid for being there – that’s being looked into!)
Brother Larry managed to get a hold of three current and former mayors, who were pissed but couldn’t do anything at the moment.
It took sweet-talking a Mexican watchman to let us in for a few minutes.
The Mexican, more powerful than three Mayors!
But it’s good to be angry when you’re gonna play the Bumblebee Boogie:

The sheer desolation of our long-unfinished “Great Park,”
immortalized in the prose of R. Scott Moxley,
inspired me to play a very desolate Bartok piece,
and then my medley “Buffoons of Three Eras” (Elton John, Dean Martin and Mozart)
I wanted my cameraman to show the big orange balloon when I did “Volare”
but wouldn’t you know it, it had just taken off and was out of sight!

At Corona Del Mar’s lovely and secluded Oasis Senior Center I played Clair de Lune and Take Five
and the women came out of the the woodworks – two of them!
I gave Nurse Celesta a lesson in the history of the celesta,
and an elderly resident had to satisfy her skepticism that it wasn’t a player piano.

At Costa Mesa‘s utterly hip and artsy anti-mall known as “The Lab,”
I did the bossa-nova classic “Girl From Ipanema” in the original Brazilian
(because the English version is so smarmy)
going into Chopin’s D-flat Major Nocturne.
I forget if I did anything else, haven’t seen this video yet.

Celebrated Fullerton Fringer Tony Bushala created this montage of
the various requests I performed for Celebrated Green Jane Rands‘ birthday.
You’ll notice that it’s dark even though it was only 6pm –
this is because Fullerton is a lot closer to the Arctic Circle than tropical towns like HB and Costa Mesa.

David Bowie’s “Changes” in San Juan Capistrano, Sunday June 22 –
dedicated to the Capo USD Board – HAH!

Prokoviev at UCI’s Barclay Theater, Thursday Jan. 20

Santa Ana’s Artists’ Village, Sunday Jan 16
My version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” incorporating Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus!
(Video by Orange Juice friend Art Pedroza)

Nobody can get enough of Stanislav Fiala, our madcap Czech commenter,
and his duet with me in “With A Little Help From My Friends.”
(also at SA Artists’ Village – they moved the piano inside.

The crowd outside the “Hair” performance at the OC Performing Arts Center had two requests:
“America the Beautiful” and Pink Floyd (I picked “Us and Them”)
I liked those two together – a patriotic American anthem by a Lesbian socialist,
and an anti-war masterpiece ballad.

The piano up at Brea Downtown looked so freaking cool
that I decided not to play anything flamboyant and draw attention away from it;
so I went with Erik Satie’s understated and very popular Gymnopedie #1.

A little Rhapsody in Blue for the striking hotel workers at Downtown Disney

Chopin’s “Aeolian Harp Etude” at Fountain Valley’s Mile Square Park, Wed. Jan 19

Lady Gaga singalong at the Block in Orange, Thursday Jan 20
(I did lots of other stuff there but this is what ended up on tape)

At Laguna Beach we had a great crowd singing along with Bohemian Rhapsody and Crocodile Rock,
but the video batteries were dead, and they were all gone by the time we got more.
So I just played a little Minute Waltz:

This didn’t turn out quite as triumphant as I’d envisioned,
we might give it another try:
Bohemian Rhapsody “Singalong” for the “Hair” crowd outside OC Performing Arts Center.
(Thanks to Ron Levy for the video work)

Bohemian Rhapsody went better with the hardy Fullerton crowd.
You can hear fringy cameraman Bushala singing even worse than me.
Then we did a little Gershwin and Sex Pistols.
This video gets extra credit for mentioning recent Fullerton / OJ controversies
the Roland Chi Food Poisoning matter, and the burning Bruce Whitaker / Dogs question (which doesn’t seem to be disappearing.)

My old ass licking pal Cathy Woo joined me at The Lab
in Gerswhin’s song “Someone To Watch Over Me.”

Three Mexican Songs on Arturo Guevara’s Piano in San Juan Capistrano!

Revolutionary Mexican-American artist Art Guevara painted this piano with Diego Rivera eyes.
And I sang this wonderful song, “El Ropero” by legendary singer/songwriter/children’s radio host of 40’s-10’s Mexico,
Cri Cri (aka Francisco Gabilondo Soler, aka “El Grillito Cantor.”)
Apparently Art sent this out to all his friends south of the border a couple weeks ago,
and it’s the most popular one yet; they want me to go down and do concerts in Mexico now.
Gotta get a passport…

This was by request of the Mexican hordes, another Cri Cri favorite, “Los Cochinitos.”
Unfortunately Cri Cri uses backup female singers on this, which I didn’t have,
so me and Arturo sang it together, I think it turned out pretty good.

Then I insisted on doing my original arrangement of the great Mexican folk song “La Llorona.”


I really wanted to play Thelonious Monk’s masterpiece “Round Midnite”
but it sort of seemed like it should be done outside somewhere, really around midnight.
So we did it. At Mile Square Park.

“Always remember:
Information is not knowledge.
Knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom is not truth.
Truth is not beauty.
Beauty is not love.
Love is not music.
Music’s the best!”

– Frank Zappa.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.