You were my musical hero, mentor, and friend. We met in the 1980s when I was an aspiring composer, conductor, pianist who wanted to do what you were doing. You had a few CDs back then, but most of your music was on LPs and cassette tapes. Ronald Reagan was president, the Cosby Show was the #1 show on TV, Michael Jordan had not won a championship yet, and OJ was beloved.
As a college student studying music, I went to a concert in Tulsa, OK, and was so blown away I snuck backstage to meet you. I think you were amused that a 22-year-old kid knew who you were, but you were especially stunned to learn I had most of your albums. You invited a friend of mine and me to a reception in the green room where I peppered you with questions. You later invited me to attend the rehearsals for your next concert. After the rehearsal you showed me a few things on the keyboard, listened to my arrangements, and invited me back for the next series. We repeated that routine in different cities for years and somewhere along the way we became friends.
As it turned out, we had some things in common. We both adored Vladimir Horowitz and Oscar Peterson. The only difference was you knew Vladimir Horowitz and Oscar Peterson and I just listened to their albums. We were both obsessed with technology. You were endorsing Radio Shack in TV commercials and I just worked for them at the local mall. We both loved dark chocolate and egg salad and we both ate a ton of it before and after gigs.
Over the years we traveled to too many cities to count as you played all over the world. Along the way I met so many interesting people and so many great musicians. What a ride!
In the early 1990s I was involved with the Internet before it was mainstream. I created a Peter Nero Fan Page which was the first of its kind. That page evolved and eventually turned into your official website. I still remember the day you told me the domain name would be printed in the Playbill. When I saw it I almost fell out of my chair.
In the late 1990s you asked me to work for you but I had to decline. A few years earlier I would have jumped at the chance, but I had since created a start up that was exploding during the dot com boom. I was busy but my passion for the music always overruled and I continued to travel to your concerts. Month after month, year after year, city after city, we hung out at rehearsals and concerts and it was a blast!
Thursday was a sad day as you passed at age 89. Bev and I spoke often but when I saw her picture on my phone that day, I knew. Even though I was aware the day could be near, when it finally arrived I was somehow surprised. The sense of finality hit me hard. I was sad to say goodbye, but also happy that you would be at peace. I imagined you leaving your body behind and feeling new again. Then something odd happened. I saw your obituary in the New York Times and it hit me like a ton of bricks. You were a musical giant and a one of a kind artist that the world had lost. Of course I knew all of that after 35 years of hang time and gigs. I had edited and posted your bio regularly through the years but somehow all of that had become secondary to me because you were my friend. To be reminded by the New York Times of all of your achievements again was incredible.
I can’t believe you are gone, but you left us after a very full life. Your story is now complete and what a story it is. I have received messages from friends, musicians, and fans all over the world over the last few days. You were admired and adored and your family and friends miss you already! (I’d give anything to talk shop one more time or to walk a bass line on the piano while you shred those keys just to see if I can keep up.)
Rest easy, my friend. Say hello to Bob if you see him, and don’t worry about a thing. You will never be forgotten.