Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 20, 2015

Interview with David Kane: Capitol Steps much forgotten pianist

Cranwell Resort, Lenox, MA
through August 31, 2015
by Shera Cohen

In the Spotlight approached this article of the annual comings and goings of Capitol Steps (bringing DC to Lenox) with a Q&A to its accompanist. Sure, the singers/comedians get all of the laughs and applause. It's time that the pianist, the guy squished into the corner of the stage at Cranwell, receives credit for keeping this 90-minute show musically paced at near break-neck speed. Below is our conversation with David Kane.

Spotlight: Describe a typical performance. Is each night unique or the same? Is it fun?

Kane: It is generally fun -- it's a comedy show! Some aspects are similar as we tend to do the same show over a week. Variables include errors from the cast or myself (hopefully, not too many of those!), age/mood/size of the audience and the day of the week as well, but in all in all there is a general and agreeable consistency to the shows.

Spotlight: Do you have input in the show's preparation?

Kane: I have little input with the music selection -- which is a good thing since I'm a jazz musician at my core. I have occasionally made lyric suggestions that have been incorporated in the show, but generally speaking, most of the humor comes from our crack team of writers.

Spotlight: Do you feel a bit left out of the "action" and humor, literally being on the sidelines at your piano?

Kane: Nope. I have my hands full at the keyboard as most of the time I'm emulating a band, trying to remember each performer's key and following the idiosyncratic tendencies of each performer. I'm content to leave jokes to the professionals.

Spotlight: How did you get this gig?

Kane: I had myself recently carbon-dated and concluded that I have been with the Steps for 18 years or so. I was foolishly recommended by one of our other pianists, who should have known better, Lenny Williams. The rest is history.

Spotlight: Besides Steps, what else would we read on your resume? 

Kane: I trained as a classical performer/composer and as a jazz saxophonist though I know better than to play saxophone now. I've worked in a wide variety of situations from symphony orchestras to Greek wedding bands, and I even recorded a Zydeco album years ago. I love all music and have been fortunate to play a little bit of just about everything.

Spotlight: Do you ever get so caught up in the audience's laughter that you laugh miss a beat?

Kane: Humor tends to lose its impact with repetition, so while I will know the upcoming punchlines, I find it useful to identify with the audience's enjoyment and that makes it more fun for me. It's like seeing a funny movie with a friend that you've already seen before -- you feed off of their reactions.

Spotlight: Do you think you would ever want to be one of the comedians/singers?

Kane: No way! Sometimes I imagine I could up there and be funny but, truth be told, the thought terrifies me. In very rare instances there will be a mismatch between our show and an audience where they're not enjoying the humor as much as they could be. It is at those times I'm happy to be cowering behind the relative safety of my piano.

Spotlight: Are there any onstage or backstage anecdotes you would like to talk about?

Kane: Sharing life on the road with a bunch of comedians for 18 years has surely generated an impressive pile of anecdotes over the years. It would be difficult to single out one or two. Rather than leave you empty-handed, I will relate one of my worst moments on stage. During a show many years ago, during intermission, our leader needed to substitute a different song than had been listed. He asked my if I remembered the song "Women's Room Line," a song we used to do all the time but hadn't done in a while. I said, "I don't think I remember it well enough" as the song had some complexities which eluded my recall at that moment. Unfortunately, the backstage environment was noisy at that moment and he thought I said, "I remember it well enough." This led to an uncomfortable moment when the singer, one of our pluckier performers, came out and started singing "Women's Room Line" to my utter shock and horror. Since she had already started singing I was forced to try and play the song which at that point, I remembered approximately 10% of. This led to a bizarre rendition where I played the wrong chord, she tried to adjust to my chord which led to me playing even worse chords, and so on. Somehow, we got to the end of the song and the audience dutifully applauded despite the fact that from their perspective, they had just listened to the equivalent of an Arnold Schoenberg atonal song with oddly satirical lyrics. After the show, our leader said, "We shall never speak of this again." I'm hoping that with the passage of the years, finally the truth can be told without me losing my job. This is certainly a much more palatable anecdote than the time when I got sick onstage in full view of the audience at the Chicago Field Museum. I will not speak of this again.