Wasting Time With…Colin Huggins, The Piano Man

If you’re a New Yorker, no doubt you’ve crossed paths with my friend Colin Huggins, otherwise known as the crazy piano guy who plays and transports a 400-pound, 88-key upright piano in subway stations and public parks.  Huggins’ desire to bring live music into the everyday routine of New Yorkers demonstrates his amazing character.  We had the privilege of wasting time together and discussed everything from Manhattan Mini-Storage to ballerinas.

1. What’s a typical day out on the road performing like?  Can you tell us what your schedule entails?

Well, my schedule changes every few months. Currently I’m in Washington Square Park all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday. If more than one day is rained out or if something simply goes wrong, I might work in a Thursday or Monday. And each day is a little different but usually it involves playing by myself for a while, with other acts during the day then my own music act at night.

2. What made you decide to become a musician?

Hmm.. All sorts of things really. My brother played guitar. So I picked that up when I was 12. Then when I was 15 I started to get piano lessons to just learn more about music. But by the time I was 16 I was only listening to piano music. I suppose it appealed to me mostly because I was an intense kid and classical piano music can be really intense.

3. Tell us more about your training as a musician.  Where did you go to school?  What was it like? Are you trained in jazz and classical?

I bounced around a lot. I studied in Germany and with different teachers in Atlanta where I grew up. I never had any serious formal training. I’d be interested to see what one of the teachers at Juilliard or MSM [Manhattan School of Music] would think of me.

4. Can you tell us about your experiences with American Ballet Theatre and Joffrey Ballet?  What did a typical day entail?

Blegh.. sure. Well it entailed imprisoning myself to a bunch of attractive skinny girls with emotional problems.  Ha, it was alright. I would play for their classes and rehearsals. I honestly got pretty damn good at it. I was the music director at Joffrey and hired all of the musicians there and played for the Company at ABT [American Ballet Theatre] almost every morning. But I want to perform and write music. There aren’t that many opportunities for that sort of thing there…

5. How do you decide where you play?  Do you have a favorite place to perform?

It changes. Usually I get in the habit of playing somewhere then go there all the time. Currently Washington Square Park is my only location. But I’ll be changing that in the fall more than likely.

6. What has been your most gratifying experience while out on the streets playing piano?

Hard to say. There was one night in Washington Square where I got probably close to 300 people singing Bohemian Rhapsody. I think I was high from that for at least a week afterward.

7. This seems to be the question on a lot of people’s minds…how do you get that piano around town?  And where do you keep it?

I keep in Manhattan Mini-Storage. They actually sponsor me so I can keep them there for free. other than that I just take em down the street on piano dollies. I had to make some modifications to the dollies, but that’s pretty much it.

8. There’s been talk that the cops have a problem with you, hence, why you are no longer performing at the 14th St Union Square train station.  If possible, could you tell us what happened?

MTA cops aren’t too crazy about street performers down there. Getting into trouble with them is almost impossible to avoid. I spent some time fighting it. But honestly, it’s nice to be outside. So I’m not going to bother with it for a while.

9. What are some of your other favorite bands/musicians/composers? Any upcoming ones we should be on the lookout for?

Man, there’s so much out there, I sort get overwhelmed. There’s so much out there. You never know when you’ll stumble upon something great that no one knows. That being said, I generally like all the big boys of piano: Debussy, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Brahms to name a few. As far as pop music goes, I like stuff here and there; anything from Jay Z to Micheal Jackson to the Beatles to Soundgarden.

10. What are some of your favorite places to eat/drink/hang out in NYC?

Angelica Kitchen, Souen. I can be sort of a health food junkie. I honestly don’t do a lot of hanging out. If a hot girl is involved I might actually hang somewhere. But, again. Piano always appealed to my meticulous and even some what reclusive nature. I really feel like I need to change that though… but not too likely any time soon

11. What are some of your favorite films or TV shows?

Don’t have a TV but some of my favorite movies are True Romance, Laurence of Arabia, The Right Stuff and most of the Pixar stuff.

12. What do you love most about the city?

I like the diversity. I like how there are so many people here from all over the world constantly. It’s like I can travel without traveling. I also love how street performing can be done and support a modest living. And how it enables people to knock down the walls that separate their cultures or simply break the ice in a way.

13. What’s your favorite way to waste time?

Hmm… not sure I really “waste” time per se. But when I do have time, and it’s nice out, I’ll usually go for a long walk through the city and think a lot about all sorts of things. Anything from what I’m dong with my life to what I can do to help solve world problems to what I need to do before I die so I can really feel like I did everything I wanted to do.

Friend Colin on Facebook here.


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