Greensill scores with Great American Songbook – Times-Herald

Diving head first into this whole “live-streaming” thing was, perhaps, one of Mike Greensill’s smartest business moves.

Choosing the piano over the clarinet was another.

“Playing piano, you can do it all on your own, which is one of those things that attracted me to the piano in the first place,” said the St. Helena musician, who performed hundreds of gigs at Silo’s in Napa before it closed pre-COVID.

Yes, he started his notable career playing clarinet. But in his early 20s realized “I was getting more piano gigs than clarinet gigs. And I just loved the piano.”

Little did the 73-year-old know — until mid-March — that solo performance would basically be the only way he could perform because of COVID-19-induced social distancing and sheltering in place.

“Obviously, there are musicians who can’t play with other people in these situations,” Greensill said by phone.

Greensill admitted he wasn’t much of a tech guy when it came to performing. It took a bit of nudging from Napa vocalist and former Vallejoan Kelli Fuller to convince Greensill.

Mike Greensill and his late wife, singer Wesla Whitfield. (Courtesy photo)

“In the first week of the shutdown, she persuaded me to show online,” Greensill said.

“He wasn’t very keen on the idea and wasn’t sure it would translate well,” Fuller said on Monday. “His biggest concern was the sound, understandably. I think he agreed to do it because he’s a good friend, and maybe I wore him down a little. I’m not sure he had confidence in this being a show that would fairly showcase what we were doing.”

Using only Fuller’s iPhone, Greensill delivered a one-hour show mostly out of the Great American Songbook. For two months, he played five days a week. It’s whittled to Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“People had nothing to do in life other than be on Facebook,” said Greensill, laughing.

Apparently, he’s got a following. About 2,000 witness his one-hour presentations and most donate to the cause.

“I’ve been working harder than I’ve worked in a long time,” Greensill said. “And I’ve made more money than I would normally.”

Again, Greensill laughed.

“I may never leave home again,” he said.

Greensill’s isolated life — his wife of 32 years, vocalist Wesla Whitfield, died in 2018 — would be worse if he didn’t take the golf bag out of hiding when COVID-19 hit.

“It seemed a way to get fresh air and not be dangerous,” Greensill said. “It’s really been a relief as well. I don’t feel quite so lonely.”

Greensill lived in San Francisco most of his life, relocating with Whitfield to the North Bay 15 years ago. St. Helena was a short commute to Silo’s for his standard gigs. And now, with all his work live-streamed, “I don’t have to commute,” he said.

Grateful for his fans — “There’s a hardcore listenership that seems to be women” — Greensill said he’s gotten more than 350 comments about his shows.

The support “is a very interesting selection of people,” Greensill said, with one serious follower documenting every Greensill tune he’s played since COVID-19 — roughly 1,200 songs “and there are 1,000 that aren’t repeats.”

Though most of the tunes are from the aforementioned Great American Songbook, “there are also a lot of these obscure ones I come up with,” Greensill said.

There’s even a fan club — “Green Sillies” — though, the pianist says, “there’s a fine line between groupies and stalkers.”

Though people are typically home watching, “I try to relate this to playing in a nightclub,” Greensill said. “It’s always nice when people sit and listen politely. People can talk to each other back and forth, but I can’t hear them when I’m playing and I can’t read the comments coming in. People seem to like it.”

It’s just Greensill and his seven-foot Yamaha concert grand piano.

“I don’t have a living room. I just have a piano. Everyone says the sound quality is great,” said Greensill. “The piano has never been used so much. I’m practicing more to prepare.”

A recent Monday show attracted 1,800 viewers. And a Friday one lured in 2,900.

“When I first started, there was a big flurry and I made quite a lot (of money),” Greensill said. “It’s calmed down, but there are people who spend $20 a week or $50 a week.”

Yes, “I was worried about money. Where’s my rent going to come from?” Greensill said. “But it’s become a living and my actual job. And this whole thing started when all my gigs went away. This has really saved me. It’s such a blessing.”

If COVID-19 lasts for another six months or longer, “I can see a time when I’d do it a little less. Maybe once a week,” Greensill said. “Obviously, I have a captive audience at the moment. If they go back to work, I have to re-think it.”

Though acknowledging that “my musical life has been rekindled through this,” Greensill that “there’s no substitution for having a live audience.”

Then again, having no distracting waitresses, “table talk” or bar noise “is lovely,” Greensill said.

Whether people tune in to Greensill or not, he said music “is incredibly important” in getting people through COVID-19.

“It’s one thing you can rely on,” Greensill said. “It’s going to be there.”

Greensill and Whitfield helped start Silo’s as a jazz club. Greensill played there 12 years and at least 500 gigs when it closed for good in November, 2018.

“It was a place to listen to music that happened to have a bar in contrast to bars and restaurants that happen to have music,” Greensill said.

A Gloucester, England, native, Greensill said he’s working on a book about the life and careers of he and Whitfield.

“I’m trying to channel her a lot,” he said. “There would be part of her — like me — that wouldn’t mind that everything shut down. We were both sort of loner types. She would be able to amuse herself for years with all the stuff in this house.”

Mike Greensill streams an hour of tunes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 5 to 6 p.m., on his Facebook page.









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