RIP John Gill – a man who left a great signature on the sheet music of life

I was saddened to discover yesterday, accidentally, that local  busker-around-Perth and ragtime piano virtuoso John Gill had died in April. I obviously missed the news, because there was significant coverage at the time, and deservedly so.

John was one of those people who had been on the scene in Perth for so long that he was no longer a novelty when you saw him in Murray Street or Fremantle, or any shopping centre, but rather a comforting, familiar and friendly reminder of the warmth that comes when a stranger shares his or her talent with other strangers. It didn’t matter where I saw him, I always stopped for a minute and marvelled at his dexterity.

I remember years ago taking the time to read the loosely framed note he had attached to the side of his piano, the details of which I don’t recall exactly, other than they let the reader know that he was a world-renowned ragtime player, and he was raising money for yet another trip to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival, or some other get together of like-minded musicians.

More recently, the boys and I watched him perform a couple of times in the city and also, memorably, at the Royal Show in 2009 (we just missed his performance in 2010, much to our disappointment).  When he finished his set, based at the exit of the Agricultural Pavillion, the boys went up to him with our donation and Blondie asked him how long he’d been playing. With a smile John told him he’d started when he was 7, which Blondie told him was how old he was when he’d started. John encouraged him to keep practising. I remember saying to Blondie afterwards, “see, keep up the practice and you could play like that one day.” Blondie was inspired.

While I was looking for further coverage of the news of John’s death, I found this lovely piece from Lee-Ann Khoh who had written a piece about busking including John, just before he died, and she has two great video links on her post which will bring it all back if you would like a reminder of his talent.

I’d like to think that in some small, ongoing way through my donations, I helped John, along with thousands of others, to pursue his passion and no doubt inspire many others to keep at it, while bringing such simple joy to those passers-by who took a moment to enjoy the sound, that glorious sound.

And now I reckon he and Scott Joplin are banging out some fantastic duets somewhere. Oh, to be able to hear them.

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