articles / Music History

Steinway No. 129281

The piano that played and created a huge chunk of the American Songbook under the creative touch of Cole Porter is being saved. This elderly, badly beat up, very out-of-tune Steinway grand piano, built in 1908, is finally getting its just due—as it should be. Franz Liszt rescued and preserved Beethoven’s piano, and Neil Young bought and watches over Hank Williams’ acoustic guitar. The sources of such wonder need to be preserved and treasured, if only for the lucky few musicians who are allowed to sit down and feel the magical energy under their fingers—and along the way perhaps steal some inspiration to last a lifetime.

This famous piano’s story is interesting. Cole Porter lived at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel Tower in New York City from the mid-1930s until his death in 1964. Can you imagine the tunes, creations, and parties that centered on that grand piano overlooking Manhattan’s lit-up skyline on any given night? Yet after his death, it ended up being a bit of a musical mess. A fair amount of use and abuse was heaped on it from cabaret pianists over the past 50 years, and at some point, a painter’s hand decorated the top of the lovely mahogany lid.

When the Waldorf recently closed for condo renovations, the piano too was sent in for an overhaul. Cole’s old workhorse is a nearly seven-foot tank. Steinway No. 129281 is a noble, priceless souvenir from one of the finest songwriters of 20th-century America. Currently, across the East River over in Queens at the factory, a small team of experts headed up by two top Steinway techs are pulling apart every bit of the piano with loving expertise. They’re cutting, rebuilding, and replacing broken and worn-out parts top to bottom.

Sometime before the Waldorf Astoria condos reopen in 2021 when the piano techs are finished with their repairs and complete the refurbishing of this special piano, it will make its home at the New York Historical Society, placed right next to JFK’s rocking chair. And maybe if we’re lucky, someone like Michael Feinstein, Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr., or a “new” artist like Jeff Goldblum will get to record an album playing Mr. Porter’s wonderful piano. And that would be “Alright with Me.”

You can read more over at the New York Times.

Written by:
Ray White
Ray White
Published on 04.01.2019