Because of “the evolving experience in the stores” (aka live music is too expensive), after 27 years of playing the piano at Nordstrom in the Tacoma Mall, Juan Perez was let go in January.
Perez remembers his audition at Nordstrom, one morning in January 1986.
“There were five of us. Four beautiful young ladies, and me. They were carrying music books.”
They were dressed, he said, as if they had shopped at Nordstrom. He was not. They were carrying sheet music. Perez did not, and does not, read notes. He plays by ear.
“I was the first one to play,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting they would hire me, and I was dressed in a regular shirt. I started playing and playing as the store opened up. I didn’t even have an application.”
After playing, he drove home.
“My wife said, ‘They called. They want you to start tomorrow.’ I almost cried.”
Perez arrived in the US with $300 to his name and through hard work at the piano, has put seven of his children through college, with two more currently in college and one more attending private high school. (via brooks review)
Update: Here’s a quick update on Perez. After leaving Nordstrom, he quickly got some other gigs, including one at an upscale steakhouse and another at the Space Needle, but was also diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo surgery.
On that last Sunday in the store, Perez ended with “Piano Man” and “How Great Thou Art.”
And “Unforgettable” was the first song he played following a five-surgeon, 10-hour surgery last July to remove a tumor tangled near his heart.
A round of radiation followed surgery, and Perez has continued playing at El Gaucho, and at the Space Needle, Bellevue Square, the Bellevue Hyatt Regency, the Tacoma Yacht Club, Tacoma Golf & Country Club, the Old Cannery in Sumner and the Weatherly Inn and Narrows Glen retirement homes in Tacoma.
Recently, the management and co-workers at El Gaucho decided to help Perez with medical bills and other expenses. Management would donate half the house receipts one Sunday night, and the servers and other staff would offer all their tips.
Total raised: $31,000.
A co-worker established an online funding request.
Total raised: Nearly $12,000 at the time this story was written.
Last year, Perez returned to Nordstrom for a final performance, which was attended by the three co-presidents of the company and hundreds of his fans.
“I’ve known him for 25 years. He’s a beautiful man,” said George Lund, a 40-year Nordstrom employee who is now retired.
“Juan was the face of this store. He was the personality of this store. He could be the mayor of this city,” Lund said. “It was a magical time for a lot of customers. He made them feel comfortable, relaxed.”
After 20 minutes of greetings, of hugs and embraces, Juan returns to the piano. Four friends gather behind him and sing along to “Edelweiss.”
Then Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.”
The crowd fills the aisles between women’s shoes and fine jewelry. Shoppers ascending on the escalator look down and smile.
“He is a blessing,” says Patricia Reynolds of Steilacoom. “He is helping people with his music.”
Perez shifts from a swift boogie-woogie riff into “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel.
“He just brings such beauty into people’s lives,” says Maria Fleischmann of Tacoma.
“I don’t even have words for this,” said Juan and Susan’s daughter, Agnes.
Then, “The Way You Look Tonight.”