Armas Maiste and Friends warm up for Christmas together
The afternoon was certainly a collaborative one, and featured a full program from a variety of Estonian (and Estonian by association) talents organized by Pastor Kyllikki Pitts and St. John’s Organist Karl J. Raudsepp. In addition to organizing the afternoon Raudsepp was also a participant, tucked behind the organ for well over an hour leading hymns and carols between performances. Kara-Lis Coverdale opened the afternoon with an arrangement of Eesti Jõuluviisid on the organ, followed by Megan Baillie who told a charming story called “The Littlest Angel” and her sister Jodie Baillie who sang “Winter Wonderland” accompanied by Greg Halpin, Matthew Raudsepp’s bandmate of Montreal-based indie band HONHEEHONHEE.
Then, accompanied by Halpin on guitar and Kara-Lis Coverdale on accordion, Matt Raudsepp sang arrangements of “The First Nowell” and “O Holy Night”. Peeter Altosaar, Anne Kiis, and Gary Kirchner each read Gospels of Luke, Hille Viires read a descriptive story in Estonian called “Joulukirikus”, and Ralf Kall told the story behind “Silent Night.” Karl Raudsepp brought the church-portion of the afternoon to a close with “Noël - Grand Jeu et Duo” by Louis Claude Daquin.
Afterwards, everyone gathered for coffee and desserts in the church basement and was announced to enthusiastic reception that everyone was to be treated to a surprise intimate performance from the much-adored pianist and jazz legend Armas Maiste.
At 82, Armas is a charming, seasoned showman. He joked and laughed with the audience, many who were old friends and familiar faces who had gathered closely around the piano. Many of us were only an arms-length away from the yellowed ivory keys. “I can only play for a while, you know, but I’ll play you a few songs ... if you’re lucky,” said Armas with a playful smile and a wink. He spun around on the swivel chair, moving his arms like a ventriloquist, animating his face, rolling his eyes, posing for silly pictures, and telling jokes in-between a few chords and sprinkles of melody. “So, what would you like to hear?” he asked. “Hey. That one is my favorite” he said suddenly, for what was one of the only times he was dead-serious all afternoon.
He spun right back around toward the keys and set quickly to work, spinning a beautiful, brooding variation on the dark melody of “Jõulutaadi Ootel.” The tune started out familiar enough. But soon we were far away, comforted by the place we came from but enticed by the impossibility of knowing what would happen next.