TRAVERSE CITY — Jazz pianist Jeff Haas still recalls visiting the WJR studios in Detroit’s Fisher Building as a child to see his father, the late classical pianist Karl Haas, record his radio show, “Adventures in Good Music.”
“I remember we actually played a duet on the show together,” said Haas, one of several “guest” artists, including Van Cliburn and Arthur Rubinstein, who joined his father at the keyboard of the 7-foot Baldwin Artist Grand with black satin finish. From 1959 to 1974, his father started and ended the show by playing his theme song on the piano.
Wednesday the instrument came full circle when it was delivered to Jeff Haas at his Building Bridges with Music offices and performance space on 14th Street — a gift from Jim Evola of Evola Music stores in metro Detroit and Traverse City.
“I didn’t do it for any other reason except it seemed like the right thing to do,” said Evola, who came across the beat-up piano languishing on the unused eighth floor of WJR while touring the studios about three years ago. “I know he’ll do the right thing with it.”
The idea to restore and donate the piano as a surprise for Haas took shape last summer when Evola attended the season opening of Haas’ Jazz at Sunset concert series at Chateau Chantal.
“He was talking about his father and that his father would be 100 in December and that he founded the Chamber Music Society of Detroit, which asked Jeff to play a (tribute) concert Dec. 6,” said Evola, who by chance was invited to join the society board later that week. “I don’t know why, but I remembered that piano from several years ago from that tour. My original plan was to have the piano there on the 6th when Jeff was playing and make an announcement that, by the way, it was his dad’s.”
Evola called WJR general manager and long-time acquaintance Tom O’Brien to ask if he’d be willing to donate the piano. Then he took it to his shop for restoration to its original 1950s condition, a job that at retail would cost about $16,000 to $20,000.
Haas, who took possession of the piano a few months after the concert, called Evola’s gesture a “monumental” gift.
“I had dreams of my father all night long last night,” Haas said Wednesday. “I loved being a part of his musical world that became my musical world. It seems like having this piano is a way to share that passion he passed on to me. I expect that I will be in communion with my dad whenever I play it.”