Chattanooga Now Shaking Ray Levi Society presents -- wait for it -- toy piano concert

Chattanooga Now Shaking Ray Levi Society presents -- wait for it -- toy piano concert

December 15th, 2016 by Barry Courter in Chattnow Music

Toy piano virtuoso Robert Fleitz will give the world premiere of "Sonatina for Toy Piano" in a Shaking Ray Levi Society concert with the Jeff Crompton Trio on Friday, Dec. 16.

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

If you go

› What: Jeff Crompton Trio with Robert Fleitz, presented by the Shaking Ray Levi Society.

› When: 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16.

› Where: Tenn Arts, 1800 Rossville Ave., Suite 108.

› Admission: $8-$12.

› Phone: 423-910-9729.

› Website: www.robertfleitz.com, www.jeffcrompton.com.

The world premiere of Jeff Crompton's "Sonatina for Toy Piano" will be Friday, Dec. 16, in the Tenn Arts building, and he has enlisted toy piano virtuoso Robert Fleitz to play the piece.

The show will feature Fleitz, as well as the sax/bass/drums Jeff Crompton Trio. It is being presented by the Shaking Ray Levi Society in the same space that is home to Wayne-O-Rama, the year-long art installation by Emmy winner Wayne White.

Fleitz will demonstrate the versatility of the toy piano, an instrument that has been used in compositions by noted 20th-century composers John Cage and George Crumb, according to a news release. Fleitz will play selections by Pulitzer Prize winner Julia Wolfe, Puerto Rican-born composer Angélica Negrón, Molly Joyce, Monica Pearce, Olivia Kieffer and Andrew Krahn, in addition to the Crompton piece.

"I'm very happy with the program," he says. "The pieces are all from people I either know or am friends with."

Fleitz uses the whole instrument to create a variety of sounds, sometimes plucking on the strings and sometimes muting them so only the clicking of the keys can be heard.

"What's interesting, and one of the reasons I like the toy piano, is that play on expectations," he says. "Some of the music I will play is fun and silly and embraces that aspect of the instrument, but a couple of others turn that instrument around and break it down to its sound percussive and jarring elements.

"It looks cute and silly and fun to watch an adult play but can make sounds that can be quite intense," he explains. "It's accessible to look at, which makes it more possible to play pieces that are more avant garde. It's nice with that instrument that you can open it up and do all kinds of crazy stuff."

Fleitz says he became interested in the toy piano while a freshman at Juilliard and loves how audiences seem to appreciate seeing an adult "sitting at this tiny instrument and playing it so seriously."

The New York Times has called Fleitz's work "mesmerizing." Based in Manhattan, the pianist and composer is the co-founder and artistic director of the Florida International Toy Piano Festival. He also plays alternative keyboard instruments, including harpsichord, harmonium, melodica and Hammond organ, and he has commissioned and premiered more than 50 solo, chamber and music-theater works in the past five years.

Saxophonist Jeff Crompton is an Atlanta native who has played his "off-center, jazz-based music" around the Southeast for 30 years. He has worked with pianist/composer Michael J. Smith, The Bazooka Ants, Darryl Rhoades, Roger Ruzow, The 4th Ward Afro-Klezmer Orchestra and various groups of his own. He is a founding member of the Edgewood Saxophone Trio, whose album "Snake Nation" made several best-of lists in Atlanta. He also leads Three Way Mirror, which has the unusual instrumentation of saxophone, tuba and congas.

The Jeff Crompton Trio's newest album, "Magic Word" features Chattanooga musicians Bob Stagner (Shaking Ray Levis) and Evan Lipson (Normal Love, Wrest, Roughhousing, Psychotic Quartet).

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6354.