Eat, drink and pay tribute



January 07, 2007|By SLOANE BROWN

PERHAPS THE MARriott Waterfront Hotel ballroom has never been referred to as a clubhouse, but you could say it served as one for the recent "Dinner of Champions." That's because you could have sworn you were at a meeting of the Donald Fry Fan Club. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, was the recipient of the Hope Award, an honor bestowed each year at this National Multiple Sclerosis Society gala. As Fry celebrated four years at the helm of the GBC, his supporters lauded his ability to bring together and strengthen Baltimore's business community.

"I was on the board of the GBC for a long time, and I am here for Don Fry," said A&R Development President Theo Rodgers, explaining his presence.

Rodgers' sentiments certainly were reflected in the evening's turnout of several hundred Fry fans. "Club members" included M&T Bank President Woody Collins with wife Cindy Collins, Duane Morris senior counsel Wil Sirota, Duane Morris partner George Nemphos and wife Claudia, financial adviser Ann Fenwick, Smyth Jewelers' President Tom Smyth and wife Joan Smyth, Manekin LLC President Richard Alter and wife Rosalie, Children's Scholarship Fund executive director Paul Ellis and GBC Leadership assistant director Tricia Ellis.

First, guests mingled in the mezzanine for the cocktail hour. They nibbled on hors d'oeuvres and sipped drinks, but the big pastime was singing the praises of Fry.

Then, it was time for the meeting to come to order. "Club" president Rick Smith welcomed black-tie-wearing gentlemen and formally frocked women into the ballroom, which was decked out in red roses and white lilies. There, they would eat, drink, pay tribute to their friend and then dance the night away.



Ever wonder who that guy is playing the piano in your favorite hangout? If that hangout is the Explorers Lounge at the Harbor Court Hotel, he's Brent Hardesty. Baltimore born and bred, Hardesty has been a professional musician since he was 14. He teaches music at the Calvert School and writes jingles for local advertisements. Hardesty, 56, lives in Perry Hall with his wife, Susan. He has two children, Erin, 29, and Brandon, 19, and one grandchild.

How does someone end up playing piano in a fancy lounge?

Early on, I knew that classical music was not it [for me]. I was not going to be Andre Previn. But I could possibly be Oscar Peterson. I liked the sound of chords. I loved pop music. I started writing little songs when I was young.

And you're still writing little songs.

Still writing little songs. We are who we are when we're very young. We're now just in bigger bodies. I was very lucky to have very supportive parents. My father had a stall at Belair Market selling fresh fish. He took me to Peabody Prep to audition in his fishy clothes, with all these [fancy] people. It was like a scene out of a Marx Brothers movie. And we were the Marx Brothers. My father was what you see is what you get. He stayed right with me through the audition. Luckily, these people realized I had talent [and accepted me into the school]. They weren't snobs. I stayed there several years until I couldn't take [classical music] anymore. The box was too small. The kids there today have so many more options.

What is a guy sitting in a lounge playing the piano thinking while he's playing that piano?

There are nights I have to play a long, long time. ... It's important to be paying attention to what's going on in the room. ... You work with an audience. There's a group of people there, and you begin to play. You have no idea what's going to happen. You'll play a song that hits someone. Their head goes up and they look over at you. And you've made a connection. And that is what you try to do all night. From then, on it's like sliding down a big slide. ... You're basically scoring the moment. Every party is a little movie. It opens. You need music to meet the characters. Then, of course, there's the plot line. It has an arc. It reaches its peak, and then there must be a resolution, of course. At every party, there is a decompression time. ... People have come up and said to me, you know the music made the party. That's what you go for.

Do you have a theme you play every night?

I love all kinds of pop songs. But there's an old song I do, "Softly I Will Leave You, Softly," because I played it when I was 19. I do that every night before I leave. Some people get it. Some people don't. I usually play the Peanuts song at least once a night. ... I play anything I want at Harbor Court. Last week, Andy Snyder from Bath Fitter came in. I played that jingle [I wrote], "Bath Fitter, it's the perfect fit!" He got a big smile on his face.

How did you get into writing jingles?

In college, a friend and I were in a garage band together. He said to me, I think we could start a jingle business. He left and went to NBC out in California, where he wrote news themes. I stayed here and chose to get married and raise a family and live a "normal" life. ... So, I just kept at that business. Over the years, it's grown.

What's your favorite jingle you've ever written?

The first thing that comes to mind is when Cal Ripken retired. I did a spot for Esskay Meats that was called "We Were There for the Ripken Years." They're probably going to bring it out of mothballs this year [if] he goes into the Hall of Fame.

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