WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Tickling the Ivories for a Silent Film

Sep 25, 2013

David Drazin is an acclaimed piano player in numerous genres, including jazz, classical, and the blues.

But it’s his work as an accompanist to silent films that truly sets him apart.

Drazin estimates about there are currently only about 50 piano players in the world who accompany silent films, but he believes it is not a dying art.

Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last"
Credit silentlocations.wordpress.com

“There’s always going to be someone to discover it, I think,” Drazin said. “It’s never disappeared.”

Drazin brought his talent to Western Illinois University to accompany the 1923 comedy classic Safety Last. Even though the film is 90 years old, actor Harold Lloyd’s antics and stunts kept the audience of mostly WIU students entertained and laughing throughout.

Drazin said he usually improvises the score when he accompanies a film. He said he played to films for 10 years before it occurred him to watch the film before performing with it.

“I never even thought of that. And then one day I got the opportunity to do that … (and) so I now I’d say about 75% of the time I can see things ahead of time or they’re movies that I’ve already seen and done in the past,” Drazin said.

Drazin has played at numerous festivals and has been the staff accompanist at the Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute in Chicago since 1985. He also accompanies ballet and modern dance classes in the Chicago area.

David Drazin at WIU
Credit Rich Egger

Drazin said he started accompanying films when he was in high school in Cleveland, Ohio.  There was a piano where The Mark of Zorro was being shown. He asked for a chance to accompany the film and was given the go-ahead.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing but I knew that I wanted to do that,” Drazin said.

And he’s been doing it ever since. 

He said his background in jazz piano helps him improvise to the action on the silver screen.