88 keys for free at Caruso's Piano Day

Richard Caruso with some of the pianos that will be given away as part of Caruso Music's Free Piano Day on Saturday, Sept. 8, at the store on State Street in New London.
Richard Caruso with some of the pianos that will be given away as part of Caruso Music's Free Piano Day on Saturday, Sept. 8, at the store on State Street in New London. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

Every now and then, you've just got to make do with what you've got.

In the case of Professor Longhair, the iconic New Orleans R&B wizard, he spent his early years practicing on an abandoned piano in the alley behind his house. The instrument was missing some keys and others didn't work; to master scales and rudiments, 'Fess was forced to develop unorthodox fingering patterns that, when he finally got behind a real piano, enabled him to create theretofore unimagined sonic firestorms.

On Saturday, New London's Caruso Music is hosting a Piano Giveaway - yes, free - and, Professor Longhair's technique notwithstanding, don't let the fact that all of the Caruso instruments actually work and are in great shape deter you from queuing up.

"There are people who'd love to have a piano for their children or just to play - and could never afford one," says Larry Caruso, co-owner of the bi-generational music store at the corner of State Street and Eugene O'Neill Drive. "These are good instruments. They might not be a furniture centerpiece of your living room, but you can have music in your house."

At this point, it looks as though there will be 12 pianos given away; it's possible a few more will come in before Saturday. The event starts at 11 a.m. and Caruso says it's a first-come/first-served situation. As people arrive, they will have to put their names on a sign-up list.

The piano giveaway, Caruso says, was the idea of the store's piano specialist, Brian Biddle. One of the adjunct services at Caruso Music is a piano moving business. Customers frequently trade in one model for another; folks relocate to smaller residences and have no room for a piano; maybe kids took lessons and got sufficiently advanced to warrant a better instrument.

One way or another, Caruso's acquires used pianos and, though they have retail value, the idea of goodwill pianos struck Biddle as a no-lose situation.

"We could definitely generate some revenue and sell some of them," Biddle says. "But the idea of a giveaway means we get pianos into homes where maybe there was never going to be an opportunity. At the same time, it helps us raise awareness that Caruso's is a large piano store. We sell a lot of them outside the area from our website, but maybe around New London not as many people are aware of our piano inventory as they are our guitars."

Advertising for the giveaway is admittedly low-key: there's a banner outside the store. Maybe it's not the equivalent of a Super Bowl ad campaign, but there's been plenty of subsequent word-of-mouth interest.

"People are definitely coming into the store and asking about it, and we've had some say they're going to camp out (tonight)," Biddle says. "People we've never seen before and they're curious. It reminds me of the 1950s and '60s, when almost every home had a piano and it was a primary source of entertainment. I don't think these are instruments a professional pianist is going to make a career on. But for casual enjoyment or someone in the early stages of lessons, they're great - much better, in fact, than a cheap or toy keyboard you might as parents get for your kids at Target or whatever."

Biddle is emphatic that, just because the in-stock free pianos might go quickly on Saturday, that doesn't mean there won't perhaps be another chance.

"There are enough supply pianos out there. Just because someone might not get one on Piano Day doesn't mean we won't try it again."

 

IF YOU GO

What: Piano Day, a first-come/first-served free piano giveaway

When: 11 a.m. Saturday until all the instruments are gone

Where: Caruso Music, 94 State St., New London

Information: (860) 442-9600

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