“I’m not stupid and blind, I’m not stupid and blind,” Gordon Kent calls out to a collared-shirt doofus who just requested Billy Joel without putting a bill into the tip jar.
The guy drops a five-spot, and Kent leaps into “Only the Good Die Young.” From any other musician, it would be obnoxious. But when Kent—who, yes, is blind—finishes belting out the third chorus and abruptly switches from mashing piano keys to jockeying a saxophone, it’s both obnoxious and breathtaking.
The man’s repertoire extends to Prince, Amy Winehouse, Santana, and Ray Charles. Between songs, his fingers glide over a laptop, which queues backup tracks that he meticulously assembles himself, recording every element of every song from the backup vocals to the electric guitar. There’s about 380 songs programmed in there, and Kent says he probably knows about a thousand.
Kent plays four nights a week, including weekends, at Banana Cafe’s upstairs Piano Bar (500 8th St. SE), and he’s got a new unplugged act Sundays at Pap & Petey’s (421 H St. NE). He’s not fussy about taking requests, but there are rules: $10 for “Sweet Caroline”; $20 for “Free Bird.”