2018-06-21 / Music Scene


The Man Behind the Piano
By Mark Gorman

Larry Brown Larry Brown Sometimes, the musicians working behind the scenes have all the fun. For decades, Middletown’s Larry Brown has had a front row seat to some of the greatest music festivals and artists in the country. Newport This Week was able to sit down with him while he described his fun musical life.

Brown has been a top Yamaha piano consultant for many years, which requires him to procure, deliver, tune and maintain these delicate instruments for festivals, recording studios and famous musicians.

It all started in 1987, when Brown joined his late father, also named Larry Brown, tuning pianos for the famed Newport Music Festival. “Yamaha flew me to Japan three times to take different six-week training sessions. In Japan, you actually have to be licensed to call yourself a piano technician,” he said.

As a top Yamaha piano consultant, he has flown all over the country and beyond, to tweak pianos for the stars. “I could fly around the world twice for free with all the frequent flier miles I’ve accumulated,” he said.

Mark Gorman is a retired high school guidance counselor and guitarist-vocalist who performs locally each week. Mark Gorman is a retired high school guidance counselor and guitarist-vocalist who performs locally each week. This year’s 50th anniversary Newport Music Festival, which runs from July 4–22, will keep Brown on his toes. “This year, we have 11 pianos in 12 different venues. I tune, prep and move all the pianos. We have two 9-foot concert grands, three 7-foot grands and several smaller ones. I love it,” he said.

Because he’s been an integral part of it for so long, the Newport Music Festival has become a very meaningful part of Brown’s musical life. “It’s a demanding and intense festival, but the camaraderie and the music is amazing. I’ve been working with these artists and volunteers for many years,” he said.

A reserved person by nature, Brown had to be coaxed to share some insider stories and drop a few names, and we’re glad he did. He’s tuned the pianos of John Legend, Elton John, Joe Cocker, Chick Corea, Seal, Randy Newman, George Winston, Hiromi, Vanessa Carlton, Ben Folds and local legend Mike Renzi. “I particularly enjoy working with [Stable Sound Studio owner] Steve Rizzo. He’s such a talent,”

Brown said.

Once, Brown received a call to fix the broken piano on a mega yacht anchored in Newport Harbor. “They had had a huge party on board the previous night and when I looked inside the piano, I saw a jumbo shrimp wedged in the piano strings. Problem solved,” he said.

He is also often called upon to provide pianos for the Newport Folk and Jazz Festivals. A few years ago, he received a last- minute call from festival producer Jay Sweet, saying that Deer Tick needed a piano for their upcoming set. I only had one white and one pink piano and Jay called back to say the band was excited to have the pink one. It made quite a hit with both the band and the audience,” he said.

When he isn’t tweaking pianos, Larry Brown can be found at his North Providence music store, Luca Music, or booking gigs for his late father’s big band, the Larry Brown Swinglane Orchestra. Although he no longer performs with the band, he relishes its success as a living legacy to his dad. “Our monthly gigs at The Parlor are so good for the community and help keep my dad’s vision alive,” he said.

For more information, visit LucaMusic.com and Newport- MusicFestival.org.

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