Canadian pianist brings together Piano Man and Rocket Man in 1970s tribute

September 30, 2010|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • Jim Witter was 10 years old when he first saw Billy Joel perform. The concert inspired him. Now 45, Witter will bring his concert of music by Joel and fellow 1970s rocker Elton John to The Maryland Theatre on Wednesday.
Submitted photo,

Pianist Jim Witter's "Piano Men" embraces the canon of 1970s pop.

Namely, best-ofs from two of pop music's most prolific piano men, Elton John and Billy Joel.

On Wednesday night, Witter will offer audiences his tribute to John and Joel at The Maryland Theatre in downtown Hagerstown. The concert launches a four-show series coordinated by the Hagerstown Community Concert Association. The civic group has been bringing concerts to Hagerstown since the 1940s.

The 45-year-old Canadian musician frequently rhapsodized about Joel and John's contributions to music during his interview with The Herald-Mail. And, yes, the program's title, "The Piano Men," comes from Joel's song "Piano Man."

Still, Witter said his 50- to 65-minute performance wasn't going to be "just another tribute show."

Afterall, there is a certain danger in doing a tribute show of artists who are still living. He's never met Joel or John in person, though, he said he's studied their music extensively.


Witter said he'll try to play and perform the songs of John and Joel the exact way that the artists would.

But that's the extent.

"I don't do the 'dress-up thing'," Witter said.

Witter said he was going for a house party vibe, albeit one in which the host only plays the music of two artists. On stage, there'll be Witter at the piano in the foreground, with a video monitor in the background, conveying iconic images of the decade.

"The Piano Men" is an extension of an artistic fascination that began when Witter was a boy.

His mother, Doris Witter, introduced him to music when he was growing up. She played piano as he sang her favorite songs from the 1940s. It's a pastime that continues today, Doris Witter, 83, lives a few houses down from him and entertains Witter and his children, who are also showing an interest in music.

But he didn't give playing piano serious thought until he was 10, the first time he saw Joel in concert. His then 18-year-old brother, Rob Witter, happened to have a ticket. The year was 1974.

"Who's that?" is what Witter said he asked when offered the ticket. Then, his brother played Joel's "Piano Man."

"That was (when) I knew," Witter said, who after seeing the show determined, "that's what I want to do."

Witter said he was quite familiar with John by the time he attended the flamboyant singer's concert in 1978 in Toronto. John was an hour and a half late to his own concert, Witter said, but when arrived he apologized profusely and played for four hours.

"It was one of those nights you realize you saw something special," Witter said. "There's nothing like hearing 'Someone Saved My Life Tonight' when it was only a few years old."

"Piano Men" has proven to be a lucrative venture for Witter, who had been doing his own original country and Christian music before "The Piano Men." He said he still writes, but lately the songs he's been writing were more "Taylor Swift-y," appealing to his four children's tastes.

"I don't have time to pursue my original music," Witter said. "It's hard at first to put my music on the backburner."

If you go ...

WHAT: Jim Witter presents "The Piano Men," a tribute to Elton John and Billy Joel. The concert opens the Hagerstown Community Concert Association 2010-11 series.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6

WHERE: The Maryland Theatre, 21 S. Potomac St., downtown Hagerstown

COST: $25, single concert tickets. Season subscriptions available for $45 for adults, $10 for students and $55 for families. For tickets, call the HCCA at 301-582-2734 or 301-733-7842 or 301-790-0980 or go to .

MORE: Season subscribers to the Hagerstown Community Concert Association can also see concerts offered by concert associations in Chambersburg, Pa., Waynesboro, Pa., and Westminster, Md. Their schedules can be found at .

Series Schedule

Other performers for the Hagerstown Community Concert Association's 2010-11 season are:

o American Songbook | 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 7

o Eric Himy | 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 8

o Buddy Jewell | 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 1

All performances are at The Maryland Theatre.

The Herald-Mail Articles