Piano Man on a Mission

Kristopher Hull is zeal on wheels.

She was impressed, too, with his technical skill: "I don't know how he can do it so well. He has arpeggios, glissandos."

Hull asked her about what seemed to be a perfect location: Chopin Plaza, the name of the concrete expanse along the waterside in Bayfront Park. Greenfield knew Tim Schmand, executive director of the Bayfront Park Management Trust, who granted Hull a permit to play anywhere on the grounds. Hull had finally gotten the ball rolling, it seemed. He would establish a regular time and day to play in the park, so people would come to expect him and spread the word. The rest of the time, he'd maybe try hitting other locations for fun, and work on getting private gigs as well.

A couple of weeks later, on a windy afternoon in late March, Hull's mood is more subdued.

The life of a pianist-errant can be lonely in Miami.
Victor Staaffe
The life of a pianist-errant can be lonely in Miami.
Kris Hull unloads his piano with the help of a winch installed in his truck bed.
Victor Staaffe
Kris Hull unloads his piano with the help of a winch installed in his truck bed.

He has played a couple of times at Bayfront Park, but it's been more than a week since he's done so, and he doesn't think he's found the right location on the grounds. He's down to his last five dollars.

So Hull heads back to the park in the late afternoon and finds a private spot near the water, just beyond the casino boat. He decides to survey the scene, though, before going through the trouble of getting the piano off the truck.

A smattering of homeless men and relaxing office workers lounge in brightly colored plastic chairs in a palm-studded faux-beach area. The Miami SkyLift balloon sits unused atop the Isamu Noguchi-designed fountain. A standing sandwich board advertises a free yoga class at 6 p.m., but only a few people float past it, like specters.

Hull decides it's not a good time to bother with the piano, and heads back to his truck. On the way, a frantic man in too many layers stops him in his path. "You know what's happening?" he demands, waving his arms. "It's going down — and under the earth! The clouds, that is!"

"No wonder they gave me a permit to play here," Hull mutters.

Sounding defeated, he figures he'll try Lincoln Road again, even though he's not sure if he has enough gas left for the return trip. But walking toward Lincoln a little while later, he sees there aren't many people milling around there either. Again, it's pointless, he decides, and he stops at the Starbucks Hear Music store to escape the heat. The mood is resigned, even glum. "Maybe," he concludes, "I should just get a job."

But Hull is nothing if not unflappable. Just a few days later, his mood is again buoyant. He's been hired, he says, to tend bar at Mark Soyka's new restaurant at 55th Street Station. He's pleased about the prospect of steady income.

"I am sort of happy, just because it takes the pressure off the piano and financing my life being part and parcel, you know? Because it was really starting to get annoying and detract from my relationship to music as an art form," Hull says. "It's tiring, the whole thing of hustling and trying to make a buck."

His focus now is on earning enough that he doesn't have to worry about making money off his piano playing. " I know that with time, I'll make plenty of money with the piano. But right now, I'm just getting started with this thing," he says. "Even Don Quixote himself had three sallies into the world. The first one didn't work; then he went out again. Right now I'm somewhere between number one and two."

Visit Kristopher Hull's website: www.pianisterrant.com

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