Sometimes You Just Say "Fuck It," Throw A Piano In the Back of A Truck, and Play Your Way Down To Panama
Negrin was a late bloomer as far as piano is concerned, picking up the instrument at age 18 while majoring in theater at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. His roommate, a jazz guitar major, got him into Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and Negrin "became obsessed with this music and eventually jazz piano. There was a piano in the building and I had never played, but I started by ear and took a basic class, and then over the past seven years I've taken a couple lessons but I mostly learned on my own through books and YouTube and things like that."
Back in New York after graduating in 2008, Negrin got part-time work driving a 16-foot box truck making deliveries for a Manhattan painter and photographer. The artist then paid Negrin deliver his work down to the Art Basel art fair in Miami in 2009. "I was like, this is so cool -- he's paying for my hotels and meals and everything else and I'm getting paid to take a road trip," says Negrin. "That was my first spark of inspiration to figure out how I could travel, perform, and make a little bit of money. I was working toward this other artist's dream where I was an artist, too, with my own dream, and I wasn't pursuing it."
With his plan in mind, he bought the GMC box truck and piano, but before he could head out on the road Negrin first had to work up the courage to play piano in public. So every day for months he pushed his piano from the small building near Canal Street that his father manages about eight blocks to City Hall Park, where he'd play standards like "Autumn Leaves" and "All the Things You Are."
"I wasn't very good at all when I started playing on the streets," Negrin laughs. "I guess people thought it was cool, like, 'Oh look, a random guy playing piano in the street,' but I'd spend like four hours playing and I'd only make maybe $40." But Brando helped -- sometimes sitting on top of the piano, he often attracted a crowd. "He's a little bit of a drama queen. He loves the attention. He's kind of a celebrity, and he knows it. I'd play along, like, 'For all inquiries, please talk to my manager --he's the boss.'"
Finally, he hit the road in April of 2011, ultimately spending five months driving around the country, wheeling his piano out of the back of the truck every morning and playing on the streets. "The goal was to get better at piano because I figured if I was playing every day and depending on it for money, I was going to get better pretty fast, and I did. And I started to make more money."
He played piano at Glacier National Park in Montana, inside a giant redwood tree in California, and on a cliff's edge at Yellowstone National Park. He made lots of friends, hooked up with a couple of hot girls who watched him play for hours in New Orleans ("although Brando is better than me at picking chicks up," he laughs), and got robbed by an OxyContin addict in Albuquerque, New Mexico. "He was a nice guy, though," Negrin laughs. "We were playing together --he was playing the buckets and I was playing piano and he was really good and really nice. We hit it off, and then he took all of the money out of my bucket and ran off."