Luis Perdomo: Walking Towards the Light
"The next thing, they gave me a scholarship," he says. "I sold all my equipment in Venezuela. I was real close to the man cat in Venezuela, as far as doing all the gigs. I was doing fairly well. I used to play, in addition to Juan Sebastian Bar, with a lot of jazz artists. I also had a real good pop gig that was paying a lot of money. I was doing fairly well, but I always thought I was a big fish in a small pond. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to come to New York. I sold all my equipment and moved. That was 19 years ago."
Excited, but not overwhelmed, Perdomo moved slowly at first in the Big Apple. Language was a barrier at first. When he began to pick up the English language, he had to get into the habit of promoting himself, something that didn't come easy to him. "I was a fulltime student. I was taking 21 credits. So I didn't have that much time to go around the city, try to get some work. So the first two years, it was kind of hard. But then after that I started playing with people like Stefon Harris. He was going to Manhattan School of music at the same time. Myron Walden. Bill Saxton. He was the first guy who took me to Europe. From then on, work was getting bigger and bigger. I started playing with La India, a singer with a salsa band. It was money to pay my bills. The phone just kept ringing and ringing and ringing. Thank god, to this day it's always ringing."
Another important part of his education was his relationship with Sir Roland Hanna. The rigorous training he received under Hanna's tutelage elevated Perdomo as a player and musician.
"I had seen Sir Roland Hanna perform at the Manhattan School of Music. He played a couple of tunes, solo piano. I was like, 'man, I've got to study with this guy.' Just the way he made the instrument sound. The harmonic knowledge that he had. That's what I was crazy for at this time. I went to Queens College and by chance he was teaching there. He auditioned me and the next day it was cool. He took me for a student. I was really happy. I did my master's degree with him.
"That was one of the best things that could have happened to me. He was a super great teacher. He wasn't really interested in hearing me play my best at my lessons. I remember one time I was playing a song that was real fast. He was like, 'Cool. You can play fast. Play me a ballad right now. Real slow. Play me a ballad like Mulgrew Miller, with big chords and a big sound. With real good voicing.' All those little details. I said, 'OK. I'm going to play "I Fall In Love Too Easily," a ballad that I know real well.' He was like, 'Do you really know that ballad?' I knew the lyrics too. When I was getting ready to play, he said, 'I want you to play the melody in the key of A. The solo in the key of E flat. Then the last melody in G major.' Oh man," Perdomo recalls with awe.
"He made me play the whole piece real slow. He would say, 'I don't care how slow you play it. The only thing I want is that you play the right chord every time. Don't mind playing real slow. I have all the time in the world.' For the next four months, we just worked on transposition. He would start my lesson my making me play a ballad in some different key that he would name. He was looking for whatever gray areas you would have in your playing; then he would make that the focus of the lessons."
Even after getting Perdomo got his master's degree, Hanna felt there was ground that needed to be covered and kept up the lessons. "He said, 'It's really important that you get this. I know you're getting your degree, but if you want you can still come to your lessons. The only thing I ask is that you practice what I told you to practice and do as I say.' He gave me lessons for a year-and-a-half every weekend he never asked me for a penny. He was very happy every time he saw progress. At the same time he could get real mad. Make you feel like nothing. But when he saw you actually practiced, he would be the happiest man." The lessons could last two-and-a-half hours at times. Perdomo's playing became stronger.
"He used to talk to me about stuff that I never really thought about, like the way you use the pedals. I was already playing with Ravi, off and on. I was playing with Ray Barretto. This was in 2001. I was playing with John Patitucci. And with Yosvany Terry, Brian Lynch. I was in eight different bands at that time. He was like, 'You're making a little money. Cool. Maurizio Pollini, the great Italian pianist, is playing a Carnegie Hall. Buy a ticket where you can sit real close to the piano and you can see the way he uses the pedaling.' He opened my mind to different things I wasn't really used to. That was a real cool period in my life."