Pianist honoured

WORLD-RENOWNED ragtime pianist John Gill, best known locally for tinkling the ivories in the Murray Street mall, is to be featured in a Museum of Perth exhibition.

Gill used to say that if he dropped dead, he wanted it to be in Forrest Chase, but in 2011 he suffered a fatal heart attack in a North Perth shopping centre aged just 57.

As a four-year-old, the young pianist wore fingerless gloves to stay warm while practicing in the family’s shed because his piano couldn’t get up the stairs of their London home.

A virtuoso, he became Australia’s only accredited Bosendorfer concert artist, a veteran of 16 US tours, and one of the most recognised musicians on the streets of Perth.

• Reece Harley with Joan Gilling. Photo by Steve Grant

• Reece Harley with Joan Gilling. Photo by Steve Grant

Cradle of ragtime

Gill’s hand is cast in cement in Sedalia, Missouri, known as the cradle of ragtime, but there’s no permanent memorial in his home town. Previous hopes of a statue or plaque were stymied by lord mayor Lisa Scaffidi, who said it was impossible to recognise all Perth characters.

But museum chair Reece Harley, who’s gathering material for the exhibition at Elizabeth Quay, says he’s also resurrecting the push for a memorial, but says he could turn to the pianist’s fans to get funding.

“A bronze statue doesn’t really capture a music man really well … we could perhaps activate a laneway or a forgotten space in the heart of the city for John,” Cr Harley says.

The exhibition will include posters, CD’s, photos and news clippings collected by Gill’s mother Joan Gilling, who says many of her son’s most prized possessions were lost after his death.

The pianist’s partner sold some of his large, eclectic collection, while the upright open-fronted piano he used to wheel into Forrest Chase also mysteriously disappeared after being put into storage by the council.

Cr Harley says he’ll be trying to track down the scattered memorabilia, saying the research project is a key part of the exhibition.

The exhibition is expected to be held early in 2017.

by TRILOKESH CHANMUGAM

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