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home : features : features February 05, 2016


2/6/2013 10:01:00 PM
Pianist puts his whole self into playing
Courtesy photoRoss Martinie Eller performs a “Piano Pumpin’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue” Saturday at the Elks Opera House.
Courtesy photo

Ross Martinie Eller performs a “Piano Pumpin’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue” Saturday at the Elks Opera House.
Karen Despain
The Daily Courier

Ross Martinie Eller does more than sit down at his piano and play.

No, not this guy. "I play with me feet. I stand on the piano. I jump on the piano," he said. "But I've never set a piano on fire."

And, he added that the piano is his instrument of choice, because "I can't do this with a keyboard."

Eller will show off his piano gymnastics at the Elks Opera House on Saturday, Feb. 9, when he performs in Lonely Street Productions' "Piano Pumpin' Rock 'n' Roll Revue." The show starts at 7 p.m., with ticket prices ranging from $22 to $25. To get tickets, call the Elks box office at 777-1370 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday or log onto elksoperahouse.com.

Eller, who hails from Bloomington, Ind., is currently touring Arizona, doing concerts with the Lonely Street Band from that state, which includes Eric Brown on guitar, Ron Kadish on bass and Tom Berich on drums. Alex Flores, who is part of Lonely Street's Arizona ensemble, joins the group on saxophone

Eller grew up listening to oldies on the radio, he said, with a bit of the Beatles catching his ear, too. "These were my formative musical influences." More than this, rock and roll and rhythm and blues flow naturally through his finger, he said.

Long before he took up the piano, though, Eller was a drummer, but when he graduated from high school and went to college, his direction changed. He found he had ready access to pianos, so, with that, he put down the drum sticks. Besides, he said, a drum set would not only have been hard to accommodate in a cramped apartment, but also he faced the strong possibility that beating on the instruments may not have "been appreciated" by those around him.

But "there was always a piano hanging around," he said, so, he taught himself to play and gravitated toward rock and roll and rhythm and blues. In time, he discovered these genres "come to my hands naturally."

For Eller, music is an outlet His mission in life is working with victims of poverty and advocating for social justice.

This, he said, "is my real passion. I'm my own boss. Making money is not my priority."

His college degrees reflect this predisposition. He has an undergraduate degree in religious studies from Indiana University and a master's in the history of religion from the University of Chicago.

Today, he operates a house of hospitality, a community shelter for homeless adults, in Bloomington. He and his wife, Andrea, and two young children live in the home caring for this needy population. Eller compared his hospitality house to Quixote's Garage in Prescott.

This commitment does allow him time for his music however, and audiences will find him playing with the "123s" band in Bloomington.

And, if he has a gig in the center of town, which happens to be within a mile of his home, Eller can take his own piano along with him.

"I play a $100 spinet that I found on Craigslist," he said. To transport it, he rigged up a rolling piano cart that he can roll to wherever he's playing, if it is within that mile and "weather permitting." The mobility of his piano "opens a lot of doors," he said.

Saturday's show will bring back the 1950s and 1960s for the audience, including the songs of Ray Charles, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis.

"We cover a lot of bases," he said, offering his promise that "I can rock out those old-time Jerry Lee Lewis tunes."






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