Q&A: James McKissic | Rock Candy

Q&A: James McKissic

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This is what the most likeable man looks like.

This afternoon, I had coffee with the outrageously colorful, world renowned Riviera pianist James McKissic. What began as a Q&A with the Pine Bluff native about Robert Schumann, Steinways and his years at UC Berkeley (the crazy ones, 1962-69) quickly turned into lengthy musings on Jesus and seagulls.

Yes, it was a blast.

We completely eschewed anything resembling a question and answer format, but if you want quotes of note, you got 'em.

On his fashion style (today it's one red loafer, one yellow loafer, matching socks and a black and sparkled gold shirt that says "Jimmy Darling, Don't Go There."):

I know God has ordained me to dress the way I do. For example, there was this lady talking to this man one night when I was playing in the bar. He was trying to get in her pants and she was trying to get in his pockets.

When the man went to the toilet, the woman came up and asked if she should go back with him. I said, "honey, if you have to ask, the answer is 'no.'

So I made that into a shirt.

On self assurance:

Oh, people have told me all the time how well I play and everything, but it was like going in this ear and out the other. Even the New York critic for the New York Times who gave me a great review when I made my debut at Carnegie Hall ... that was good, but you know what? It was Thursday night, January 13, 2005 when I realized that I'm good. I was playing piano that night and my fingers felt soooooo good on those keys. Man, if I tell you...I like to write God thank you notes, saying 'thank you' and He said 'when it feels good to you, then it's good and don't anyone have to tell you, not even me.

On divine intervention:

I recorded [an album of] hymns called "Love Songs to God." I was playing in a bar one night in Cannes--and I play hymns when I feel like it, which is every night — but I started playing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."

This man gets up from the bar, comes over to the piano and says "that's my favorite hymn!"

"I say, 'Mister, I've been wanting to record these hymns for a long time.'

"He says, "Well, I have a studio in London! Let's do it!'"

So we take off to London and record the album in one day.

[Hear his take on "Blessed Assurance" here.]

On his spirit seagulls:

[The Hotel Martinez in Cannes, France] had given me a two bedroom suite on the seventh floor. I had developed this relatioship with the seagulls and I would write prayers and roll them up in smoked salmon and feel them to seagulls.I slept with my doors open to the sea and the seagulls woudl come into the suite and they'd literally hop into my bed and peck me on the toe. But they never let me touch them. And that experience is...it's like the Holy Spirit. It touches you but you can't touch it.

But this one day, in the suite, I felt God's presence.

I said 'I sure would love to see you here right now here on Earth...but I don't know what you look like and even if you appeared right there in that doorway, I'd die out of fright.'

So I got dressed and went to work. That night I woke up about four in the morning to go to the bathroom, I turned on the light and there was this big, ugly bird in that very doorway. I about died.

On good stories from the Hotel Martinez:

Oh, I got a lot of 'em, but I ain't gonna tell you the juicy ones.

James McKissic will deliver a sold out lecture, 10 a.m., this Friday morning, at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, followed by a free recital, 7 p.m., Saturday, February 13, at the Clinton Center Grand Hall.

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