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Bringing home the Bacon

A 1920s, upright piano with an oak case, ivory keys and a remnant feature from the days of the pianola is now in the hands of the Poverty Bay Blues Club.

This means members are likely to see and hear more of club patron David Paquette. When the New Orleans-schooled pianist and Waiheke Island jazz festival founder met blues club vice president Darryn Clyne last year, he said he would play more often at Poverty Bay Blues Club events if they could get “the old banger of a piano” there fixed, says Clyne.

Instead, the club went a step further and, with a little help from Paquette, bought a Francis Bacon upright. Not Francis Bacon the 16th century Lord Chancellor of England, philosopher and statesman, nor the 20th century Irish-born British painter known for his excoriating imagery — but one of the oldest and most historical of American piano manufacturers.

The Francis Bacon is the biggest upright available, says Clyne.

“It’s like an upright grand. Everything about it is wider, thicker, solid and big. It’s a stunning old girl with a big, deep, rich sound which is why David likes it so much.”

The box above the keyboard on the Poverty Bay Blues Club’s recently acquired Francis Bacon is a throwback from the days of the pianola (also known as a player piano), a self-playing piano. The case above the keyboard was designed to house an electro-mechanical mechanism that operated the piano action via pre-programmed music recorded on perforated paper.

Paquette bought the piano from Napier-based musician Will Sargisson who has previously performed in Gisborne with Dame Bronwen Holdsworth.

“Will Sargisson learned how to play on that piano,” says Clyne.

“He travels to Switzerland every year with David and performs there with him.”

The 19th century piano manufacturer that was eventually to become the Francis Bacon Piano Company was started up in New York in 1789 by business tycoon John Jacob Astor.

Astor took on Robert Stodart and William Dubois, and until 1836 the firm was known as Dubois & Stodart. The New York-based company manufactured and sold a wide variety of piano styles, including uprights, grands, pianolas, electric expression pianos, and reproducing pianos.

George Bacon joined the firm and was later joined by brothers Richard and Thomas Raven. After George died, Francis Bacon joined the firm and by 1862 the company was known as Raven & Bacon.

The brand received awards from the Franklin Institute State of Pennsylvania, Merchants Institute Fair of Washington, and the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago among others. In 1904, the firm was incorporated as the Francis Bacon Piano Company. Francis Bacon continued building pianos until the 1920s when the firm was absorbed into industrial giant Kohler & Campbell. Kohler & Campbell continued building the Francis Bacon name until 1934.

Save our Francis Bacon! The Poverty Bay Blues Club, David Paquette and friends present an evening of New Orleans jazz and blues to raise funds to pay for the club’s recently bought Francis Bacon piano. The Dome Room, February 9 (6pm). $10 entry.

UPRIGHT CHARACTER: Poverty Bay Blues Club vice president Darryn Clyne is rapt with the club’s American-made, Francis Bacon upright piano New Orleans-schooled pianist David Paquette helped the club find. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell