Drifting away on sound cloud of old masters

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IF YOU were sitting in my lounge and I asked you to identify the pianist performing so elegantly on my CD player at the moment, you might have ventured Bruce Gardiner.

A few minutes later, you might have changed your mind and suggested Ken Higgins and after a while, you might say: “Hang on, I think it’s Dave Brubeck.”

And, if you were old enough, you might even be tempted to include Carmen Cavallaro.

You would be wrong though, on all four counts although on several of the cuts there is an uncanny resemblance to the style of all of these masters of the keyboard. But let me explain.

EASE AND GRACE: Mike Sokolitch at the keyboard Picture: CHARLES BENINGFIELD

Intrigued by a small “In Memoriam” notice in the local paper late last year paying tribute to a Ken Higgins by someone called Mike Sokolich, I found his number and rang him to ask if he was referring to the well-known Cape Town pianist. Yes he was.

Ken Higgins, a long-time friend, had died a few days previously at his home in Hermanus aged 80. We chatted about Ken and discovered a mutual love of piano music. Mike, now almost 80, invited me to his beautiful house on the banks of the Nahoon River to reminisce on well-loved keyboard artists of a by-gone era.

Mike showed a gift for music from age three, picking out tunes from a toy piano. He started as the pianist in his father’s dance band, The Companions, in King William’s Town. Remember them?

Anyway, as we talked of music and musicians of yesteryear, Mike quietly got up and strolled to his piano remarking: “Charles, see if you can remember this.”

Practiced hands positioned themselves on the keyboard of a cherished old piano and proceeded, with an ease and grace that held me spellbound, to suffuse the room with lilting favourites of long ago.

I asked Mike if he had recorded any of his music and he replied, “No, I play when I’m in the mood.”

I urged him to lose no time in putting this talent on CD as a family legacy. He said he’d think about it. A few weeks later, he called saying he had recorded a few numbers on a disc and would I like to have a copy.

So here I am, with Mike’s gentle keyboard rendition of that wonderful old waltz Fascination, in the background and my beloved wife of 55 years, Naomi, in my arms drifting round the lounge blissfully lost in the mists of time.

And you know what, I defy you to tell the difference between Mike’s version and that of his friend, the incomparable Bruce Gardiner.

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