Life would be so do-re-mi simple if only Dax Johnson played the harmonica.
“I could stuff it in my pocket and pack it around. No problem,” says the 20-year-old Spokane resident with a laugh.
Trouble is, Dax is a die-hard piano man.
For a street musician, such an instrument is a cumbersome obstacle. But not an insurmountable one.
Dax bought a trailer to haul his vintage 450-pound Wurlitzer upright to the pedestrians. He built a special ramp that allows him to ease the bulky piano to a spot outside the Bon Marche on Main and Wall.
From there, the world is Dax’s concert hall.
With a street musician’s license taped to the scarred black piano and a cup for tips, Dax gives all who pass a wide array of original sidewalk sonatas.
“People come up and ask me to play a certain song, but I don’t do that,” he says. “Instead, I ask them what their favorite mood is.
“Anger, joy… I’ve experienced every mood. When they tell me I just start playing.”
You can tell a lot about a city by the quality of its street music. With Dax on the scene, Spokane just rose several points on the old Cool Meter.
His confident fingers glide over the keys, producing lovely and complex melodies. The music is neo-classical with a sprinkling of jazz - very reminiscent of Dax’s idol, New Age pianist George Winston.
Mouths open when Dax confesses he’s self-taught and has played by ear only six years.
“He’s the best,” says Kelli Elwell, who happened by on Wednesday afternoon. “To drag a piano down here is astounding.”
Dax could cop out and go high-tech. Maybe buy a compact keyboard synthesizer. Plug it into a lightweight, battery-powered amp.
Would it have the same panache?
Not on your Steinway.
Besides, Dax likes the full weight and sound of banging on the real ivories.
He made his downtown debut a several weeks ago. Already it’s paying off. He says he averages 12 bucks an hour in tips doing what he absolutely loves.
“The last job I had was janitor at a pizza place,” he says. “That paid $5.50 an hour and wasn’t much fun.”
This kid has some stage presence.
His sharp, handsome features are framed in long straggly black hair. Two silver hoops pierce his left eyebrow. Bare feet stick out of faded jeans.
Tattooed arms stick out of an aged San Antonio Spurs tank top. A dragon on his left shoulder. Chinese lettering on his forearms.
The letters, he says, spell out his favorite Bible verses. “I’m a Christian,” he adds with a grin. “Can’t you tell?”
Dax plays perched on a lawn chair. Underneath, his dog, Zuriah, dozes content and oblivious to the music.
Besides tips, Dax says there are fringe benefits to being a street musician:
No union dues. The city license is free. No time clock to punch….
A woman who works in the Bon Marche building was so taken, she hired Dax to play at her wedding in September. Another fan offered him a gig in a coffee house.
He recorded a tape and plans to sell it. Dax is taking his Wurlitzer on a road trip next month down the coast to California.
The Dax Man - coming to a sidewalk near you.
So far he’s had only one negative encounter. Some ornery woman walked up and began carping at him.
She wasn’t about to tip him. A kid his age shouldn’t be wasting his time. He should be out trying to make it in the cold, cruel world.
Music critics. Mozart probably heard the same line.
Dax the Christian turned the other cheek.
“But I was thinking to myself, like, ‘Hey, lady, what do you think I’m trying to do?”’
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo