By Stacy M. Brown
From churches and especially symphonic tunings, Warren Shadd said he understood that the piano had a disadvantage.
"In terms of the pianists especially being able to hear themselves play, because in church you're in total competition with the Hammond B-3 organ or the pipe organ, the drums, the bass, the percussion, the choir, and the congregation," Shadd, a jazz drummer and the world's first African-American piano manufacturer, said in an earlier interview with NPR.
"They would put microphones in the piano, but they weren't placed right to give you the most opulent sound of the piano… my first notion was enhancing the volume of the acoustic piano by itself, without any kind of electronics," Shadd stated, explaining why he decided to manufacture pianos.
He studied, researched, and wrote a dissertation. He also experimented with the soundboard of some of the pianos that he had previously restored.
"One day, I was tuning a piano at this old man, Mr. Tucker's house," Shadd stated in the lengthy 2014 NPR interview. "As I'm tuning his old upright piano, he started whimpering. I said, 'Mr. Tucker, what's going on?' He said, 'It's all right, Shadd, it's all right.' So I go on tuning the piano, then he really starts crying a lot. 'What's wrong, Mr. Tucker?' He said, 'Shadd, see that piano? See the name on the front of it? That should say, Shadd, because you're the only one!' I said, 'OK, Mr. Tucker, I've got these ideas, I'm gonna go back and study.' He pretty much planted the seed."
That seed has blossomed.
Earlier this year, the Shadd was named the official piano of the Vatican – yes, the Pope has regular access to a Shadd!
The Shadd also became branding partners with Rolls Royce. The automaker rarely advertises as a brand but is sold mostly on its reputation among the wealthy.
The popular television music competition show, American Idol, uses the Shadd as its stage piano, and it's the official instrument of the blockbuster television show, "Empire."
"As a diversified musician and technology enthusiast, I can appreciate the advent of fusing the acoustic piano with electronic keyboards, synthesizers, sequencers, computers, and their accessories as well as incorporation Internet access," Grammy Winner Herbie Hancock said in a statement.
"The Shadd piano allows me to perform the gamut of genres in their original form, from Maiden Voyage to Rockit and beyond," Hancock stated.
Keyboardist, music director, and composer Michael Bearden, who has worked with Lady Gaga, Usher, Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, and others, said the Shadd piano has helped bring modern-day musicians into the new century.
"I can use the Shadd piano in everything from traditional jazz settings to cutting edge techno," Bearden noted in a statement.
"As I must adapt to many different playing and compositional styles, I need an instrument that can cover a lot of ground. The Shadd piano affords me the opportunity to play a real acoustic piano as well as utilizing up-to-date computer technology and sounds at my fingertips. Once musicians get to experience the versatility of the Shadd piano, I believe it will become industry standard – whether on tour, in the studio, or at home."
William Shadd is a second-generation piano technician and third-generation musician.
He has performed and toured worldwide in every aspect of live and recorded music with hundreds of celebrities, according to his official biography.
On drums, at the early age of four, he played his first of many jazz concerts and was proclaimed a child prodigy. From high school through Howard University, Shadd performed with numerous icons like Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Duke Ellington Orchestra, Lionel Hampton, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nancy Wilson, his biography states.
As a piano technician, Shadd has tuned, repaired, or rebuilt pianos for countless major performing artists, concert halls, churches, schools, and institutions worldwide. He's tuned and rebuilt pianos for Tony Bennett, Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin, George Duke, and many others.
In 2003, he founded Shadd Pianos USA, a Piano, and Keyboard Manufacturing Company.
"I do know there's a responsibility with this, to make the best piano – not one of the best – the best piano, period, in the world, and that's what I believe I've done," Shadd has said.
"I'm a perfectionist, so every nuance that goes into this piano has to be very best."