I was introduced to award-winning pianist Leonard Pennario by my business mentor David Sugarman in Los Angeles in 1988.
This was back when David was working so very hard to teach me to listen. He would often say that pretty much everyone had something better to say or show than me. So, I needed to learn how to appreciate great people.
I really miss David.
And, I miss Leonard.
I last spoke to him about 8 months ago.
He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. So, he had not really played for a number of years. But, he was always teaching and influencing. He sounded good, and still had his wheezy and raspy laugh. He inquired about my “ears” – sort of a tribute to our friend David. I think he had hoped he could teach my Emma Jo one day. Her fingers might be long enough he would say. And, she has her Daddy’s eyes and heart.
I always appreciated that he saw Emma Jo and me like that. It made me feel centered.
I had just finished the Western States Raid Endurance Race. I would fly into San Diego to catch a friend and his plane for a drop into Mexico for some surfing Monday. I planned to stop by and surprise Leonard with a visit Leonard for an hour or so. That is when Mary Kunz Goldman, his biographer called to let me know Leonard was gone. “There were complications dear”, I heard her voice quaver over the static-filled connection. She sighed and tutted. I just said okay (it was all that I could muster), and dropped the line.
About the Man…
Pennario won a Grammy in the 1960s for his work with violinist Jascha Heifetz and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky.
He was a passionate performer who enjoyed playing in front of audiences.
Leonard would say… “You have to play for the people; you have to play for an audience,” she recalled Pennario saying. “You can’t just go into the studio and make records, you know?”
Pannario was born in Buffalo, New York on July 9, 1924. He was 10 when he and his family moved to Los Angeles. At age 12, he learned the Grieg Concerto in just a weeks time so he could perform it from memory with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Although Pennario never attended a music conservatory but at 19 made his debut at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic.
He made more than 40 recordings for the Capitol record label between 1950 and 1960. He went on to make more than 20 more for other labels.
I just know that My Grandad liked his music. And, I thought it was cool that David Sugarman called Pannario “his dear friend”.
David would travel almost any where just to listen to Pennario. And, he especially enjoyed having leonard over to his home so they could play chess, and “compare notes” David would say laughing. I suppose David thought that was funny. I just liked hearing David laugh in his rich baritone.
When I look to the skies I will hear Leonard’s gift to this world.
Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.