When I Came Out of Diapers, There Was Music

It’s not very often that the formally dressed pianist at Sweet Waters starts playing “Ridin’ Dirty”, a hip-hop song about driving while high on marijuana.  The dining room full of well-to-do, mostly middle age and older, customers don’t seem to recognize the song but do seem to enjoy it.

Chris "Keys" Decarlo playing at The Loft. Photo: Amber Nicholson

The pianist, decked out in a blue sateen vest, a crisp tie and fitted black slacks, chuckles a little while playing the song.  He taps his right foot and rocks his head from side to side, as if he is signing the lyrics in his head.  His energy fills the room.  Without a pause in the music, he transitions to “Georgia On My Mind”, a song certain to be a hit among his audience.  He handles the piano just as passionately as before, but this time he begins to sing.  The room perks up.  A sense of warmth seems to fill the space just as naturally as his words do.  An elderly couple begins to dance, and it is obvious the man behind the ivory keys feels proud.

Said pianist talented enough to combine hip-hop with Mozart and then croon, is known in the Eugene and Springfield area as Chris “Keys” Decarlo. Decarlo is a charmer and seems to connect with strangers within seconds of their meeting.  Decarlo, a native Eugenian, welcomes with hugs, not handshakes, smiles with his whole body, not just his teeth and eyes.  He wears his heart around his waist, extremely proud to point out his piano key decorated belt.  Decarlo speaks in a soothing, melodic tone and quite a bit.  He shares his thoughts, from his answer to the question at hand to his feelings about the MLB quarrel shown on the TV that he caught from the corner of his eye.

“I am a diehard Duck fan,” Decarlo says randomly in our interview.  He continues to talk about “back in the day” when seats at the football games were available and one terrible loss “we” had to Michigan.  “72-10.  Oh, now that was painful.”  He sips his wine and sinks back into the leather couch.

Decarlo has never had any formal training in piano or voice lessons.  “Oh, yeah, self taught.  And you’ll never see sheet music in front of me.  I wouldn’t know what to do with it.  Ever since I was a little kid, I would sit in front of the speakers and just listen.”

Music has always been Decarlo’s true passion, but due to some financial stresses when he was married, he unhappily worked at Target and a Lumber Mill.  After years of struggle he decided to go back to what made him happy, music and his faith.  “I’m the choir director for the Inspirational Sounds Gospel Choir.  We, we have a Facebook page, “ Decarlo beamed with great pride.  “Music is in my soul big time.  When I came out of diapers, there was music,” he said in all seriousness.

Even though Decarlo has lived in Eugene his whole life, he still appreciates it.

“Ohhh, Eugene is a safe place, with only a little bit of racism, but definitely a safe place compared to other places.”  Decarlo, who is African American, is interrupted by the silence; his friend has stopped playing and it is now his turn to go back on stage. He hops up from the couch like a kid hops out of bed on Christmas morning.

Decarlo practically skipped on stage, greeting customers all the while.  He melted into the bench as if it was made just for him, his fingers started at the keys like long lost lovers.  “The night time is the right time to be with the one you love,” he serenaded as a few gentlemen walked up to place tips in his jar.  Decarlo nodded and smiled, but stayed focused on his romantic rendition of “Tonight Is The Right Night.”

Decarlo’s energy and music sure filled the entire space at Sweet Waters.  And although he always enjoys playing at Sweet Waters, at the Piccadilly Flea Market and when his gospel choir performs at the Eugene Celebration, there is a special spot in his heart for The Loft.  “There is a beautiful red baby grand.  Oh man!  There is a balcony floor where people eat and look down and I wave to them.  It’s beautiful.”

To contact Decarlo for his updated schedule, email him at cds4309@gmail.com.

About aanicholson

I'm an experience junkie who has a bad case of the travel bug. I am currently getting my Master's in Journalism at the University of Oregon and loving it.
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