"The black Liberace," Ricardo Scales' nickname, only tells part of the pianist's story. Like the real Liberace, he wears flashy attire on-stage when he launches into a set that showcases his incredible versatility. What the nickname doesn't tell you is that the pianist has a determination as tough as steel, and he needed every ounce of it to ever make it to the stage in the first place. Everything from his performance to his flash makes Scales' piano playing look fun and easy. And if you believed that, you'd be missing an inspiring story.
Although he plays like a master now, it wasn't always so. When Scales was 19 years old, an accident paralyzed his left hand. Severed cords left three fingers curling into his palm. The medical community, including physical therapists and physicians, told him that his dream of being a pianist, and the future he had worked and studied for from the age of five, were no longer possible. In fact, they all said he would never again be able to play the instrument. Unable to accept their prognosis, Scales devised his own therapy. He painstakingly used his right hand to re-teach his left hand to work the piano keys, concentrating on regaining dexterity and motion. At one point, with only partial success, he took work playing the piano for San Francisco State University's department of dance. The injury still plagued his ability to some degree, and class instructors informed him he would make better use of his time and abilities if he found a job as a house painter. Spurred on even more by the insult, Scales redoubled his self-devised therapy sessions. Eventually the pain and sweat paid off. Scales regained the use of his left hand, so much so that it is equal in strength and function to his right hand. He went on to release five CDs, including Straight From the Heart in 2001. For 14 years beginning in 1982, he performed in San Francisco's Clift Hotel, in the Redwood Room. He schooled himself in a variety of genres and now excels in jazz as well as classical, in gospel as well as R&B and funk.
Scales was a musically gifted child. His mother, Patience Scales, was a music teacher. When she saw her son's gift for music, she began imparting an education in music theory. She also found a miniature piano that was just the right size for her child. When he was seven years old, Scales appeared in a recital for the first time. He studied at his mother's establishment, the Parade of Youth Music School. Two years later, he began receiving instruction from Sir Jules Haywood. His performance during a recital when he was 11 caught the ear of San Francisco Conservatory of Music's founder, Lillian Hargehead. Scales studied with her and went on to win a San Francisco Conservatory of Music scholarship. At the school, he became a student of Beulah Forbes and Beatrice Beauregard. He also took part in workshops given by Milt Jackson, Herbie Hancock, and Bill Evans. ~ Linda Seida