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John Moss: Memories of a charming pianist and teacher (and cook)

Posted by: under Music, Classical, Minnesota musicians Updated: June 13, 2012 - 11:23 AM
An old publicity photo of John Moss, who passed away in May.

By Tom Surowicz

The Twin Cities lost a great old character with the death in May of pianist, teacher, gourmet cook and Picasso-inspired amateur painter John Moss. Beating long odds as a young African-American growing up in Arkansas, Moss went from sneaking in and out the back door to study piano with white teachers, to headlining concerts and hobnobbing with music legends. Opera diva Marian Anderson took a particular shine to Moss after she sampled his cooking.

As a youth on the classical-music fast track, Moss studied with world-famous pianists Frank Mannheimer and Artur Schnabel. He attended several universities and music schools, including Michigan State, the University of Minnesota and MacPhail. Eventually, Moss married and settled here.

“John was a charming man, a very classy guy, a dapper dresser, great in social situations,” said his friend Ian Shapinsky (pictured at right), a concert pianist who will play a recital Tuesday, June 19, in honor of Moss at the Old Log Theater in Chanhassen, performing favorites by Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff. Showtime is 7:30 p.m., tickets are $25 and proceeds go to the American Composers Forum as a Moss memorial.

Shapinsky, who’s toured Europe and the United States for decades, met Moss in 1988 after moving to Minnesota. “Soon after that we became very close friends,” Shapinsky said. “We traveled together, plus he often acted as my manager and agent.”

A dynamo and a dazzler, Shapinsky has played such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York, but the Juilliard grad was equally happy to perform at Moss’ annual Christmas concert for his fellow residents of the Towers Condominiums in downtown Minneapolis. “I must have done 10 or 15 of those Christmas concerts, nearly every year.” At those gala events, the magnanimous Moss would cook for all his neighbors.

“I don't know if John was 96 or 103 years old, since they didn't keep great birth records in the black community in Arkansas back then,” Shapinsky said. “But I know I cried when I heard he had died.”

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