There was a church at Major and Bloor where myself and other pianists practised in one of two beautiful rooms for $1 an hour many years ago (hence price). One of those pianists and I became friendly. One day he asked if I would like to play the West End Detention Centre For Women. His girlfriend worked for the Elizabeth Fry society, she spoke about how meaningful it was to the women in jail to have some entertainment. I’m not great with the idea that I’m an entertainer, it isn’t my sense of what I’m doing when I write music or why I do it. I was not confident my interests in whacked out piano music would mean anything to whoever the inmates were but they insisted, “any entertainment means so much you have no idea please bob…. ” I caved.
When we got there we passed through many doors, some shut behind us with a loud echo. The room had an upright piano, the women entered, more than half of them were from the West Indies. The other pianist played first. He sung songs like Billy Joel. They hated him. Everything I had been told about how much they would appreciate entertainment was not true. They will be pissed if I play the piano music I like to play, they will be hostile, I have been set up. Fortunately my older brother Ronnie was my teacher and he gave me the two best piano lessons of my life. The first was teaching me how to play the blues in the lower register so he could solo but the second was how to play reggae piano which up until this moment I never had reason to show anyone. I ditched the far out stuff and started playing Police and Thieves. They loved me, they started dancing and calling at me to keep playing, it was awesome.
I had forgotten about this story until putting my daughter to sleep this evening. For no reason she turned to me and said have you ever gone to jail? I said yes I have.