The piano, which first came up for sale in June 2008, was clearly Elton John's.
This is how it was marketed: "SIR ELTON JOHN'S STEINWAY NO.426549 GRAND PIANO, (CIRCA 1972)," along with a lone footnote describing the instrument's origins: "Completed in New York, June 9th, 1972 and sold to Elton John at his Beverley Hills address, subsequently housed at Lockwood House." Sir Elton even signed the piano, on the gilded cast-iron frame. In permanent black ink, he wrote, "Enjoy this as much as I have, Elton John."
And that was it. This was all Curtis Schwartz knew about the piano when he bought it 13 years ago, and as far as he was concerned at the time, that was plenty. The longtime engineer whose name can be found on albums by Siouxsie and the Banshees, Lush, Cutting Crew, the Bee Gees and Yes simply needed a new piano for his studio in the English countryside, something to replace his longtime Yamaha that was "banged up" from decades of studio use. And if this Steinway for sale was good enough for Sir Elton, well, it was good enough for him, too.
"I was only happy it was a great piano," Schwartz says now. "I just assume Elton John would have a piano in every city, and this was just one of his, like, 122 pianos."
Except, no. This wasn't just another one of Sir Elton's pianos. Far from it.
A decade after he'd bought the piano, which is one of many landmark items featured in Heritage Auctions
' July 16-18 Entertainment & Music Memorabilia event, Schwartz says he received a phone call from an attorney who identified himself as John's archivist, who wanted to know if he owned the Steinway bearing the serial number 426549. Schwartz said yes, at which point he was informed that this piano had been the very one the singer-songwriter used during tours in the 1970s well into the 1990s.
As Schwartz would learn, the Steinway was initially a loaner for one of the company's most famous clients. Three years after its completion and delivery, John bought it and finalized its customization, which meant "re-weighting the keys to provide a very light and responsive touch." That's according to an April 2021 report from Steinway & Sons London Technical Services Manager David Widdicombe.
Indeed, only recently Schwartz has learned the whole story behind this piano and it has a novel's worth of tales to tell.
Once the engineer learned that this was John's touring piano and his only one, at that he began doing some sleuthing, and reached out to Steinway for confirmation that this was indeed The Real Thing. Widdicombe confirmed in his report that "this customer was Elton John who used the instrument as a touring piano throughout the 1970's and 80's."
Indeed, this is the very Steinway seen in the iconic photos of Sir Elton at Dodger Stadium during two sold-out gigs in October 1975, when he played to more than 100,000 people including his parents. Widdecombe also noted in his two-page report that it was clear the piano has once been painted white, which only provided further proof that this was the very piano John played on stage. In time Schwartz would come to learn that this Steinway had been played during hundreds of gigs spanning two decades, culminating with 91 concerts during its final year of use in 1993.
It traveled the world and even shared stages with two Beatles. Sir Elton played it that November 1974 night at Madison Square Garden when John Lennon showed up to pay off a bet and play three songs, among them their hit single "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night." It was Lennon's final live show. And Paul McCartney used that very Steinway during "Let it Be," the Live Aid finale witnessed by some billion viewers worldwide in 1985.
It was also been used by Freddie Mercury during Queen's "A Day at the Races" tour in 1977. In fact, the piano is accompanied by an email from Peter Hince, Queen's road manager at the time, in which he notes that the singer had been frustrated with the endless buffet of mediocre pianos that showed up on the road, and asked to borrow John's for the '77 tour. Wrote Hince, "No doubt having the same quality piano ever show gave Fred more confidence in his playing and of course the sound quality too.
Schwartz makes no secret about why he's selling the Steinway: a divorce, simple as that.
"Otherwise ..." He laughs. "I mean, it's lovely. I love playing it. Everyone who's ever played it, including Yes' Geoff Downes, loves playing it. It's like driving a Bentley."
Yes, one that Elton John sat in for 20 glorious years while entertaining the world.