Every day from 9 a.m. until sunset, Nathan Pino can be found at his piano playing classical pieces by Gershwin, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin on Venice Beach Boardwalk. Pino talked with Off Ramp’s Mukta Mohan about the bands performed with, why he plays on the boardwalk, and shares some of his own compositions.
Pino, the child of Italian immigrants, grew up in San Francisco and started playing piano at seven years old. “I was playing pipe organ in the church, and my mother wanted me to play the piano," he says. "Because she thought the organ was too funeral sounding."
Before playing on the boardwalk, Pino was a professional musician. He played keys for psychedelic rock band Iron Butterfly on their Canadian tour, and was a session musician. However, that felt too much like a job for him. Pino says he prefers to have creative freedom. "I try to play things that are unusual. I don’t want to be a ballroom piano player, or somebody that’s just doing it for a job," he said.
When a teenage Pino saw Venice's boardwalk peformers, he vowed to come back if he ever fell into financial straits. Now you'll find him playing his wooden piano in front of The Sidewalk Café every day with a cat named Baby Girl at his side.
Things have change since he first arrived. He says the environment has become oppressive and that he has received several tickets for playing the piano after dark. “It seems like they’re trying to save the financial situation of Los Angeles by giving all these tickets out in Venice.”
When asked about being successful, Pino replied with, “Success is an elusive thing. As far as financially, no I don’t think I’m successful. As far as being the pianist that I want to be, yeah, I’m always happy when I’m playing - as long as there’s fire in the furnace!”
Pino says as long as he’s happy, he'll continue to play on the boardwalk. “Some people come every year. They want me to know that they come just to hear me play. That’s very flattering, especially when they’re musicians themselves," said Pino. "As long as it remains that way, I’ll still do it.”