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Spence hopes that Bianco will someday be given the opportunity to leave the cafe. "Every night I tell someone that we are so lucky to be sitting and listening to someone this talented," she says. "I would be blown away if he got discovered at the level he should be, and [got] off of that stage. If he stays in South Florida, he is limiting his prospects."
Bianco started playing guitar -- a six-string Harmony Acoustic -- at the age of thirteen. "I think I traded my cousin a couple of Beatle albums for it," he recalls. "It didn't have all six strings on it, only four, so I strung the last two strings with the yellow rubber cords from some Fisher Price pull toys." He played in bands throughout high school, attended the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston for two years, then hit the road with a disco outfit called the Blue Fox Band for five years.
In the early '80s, he lived in New Orleans and played with a seven-piece funk band called AM/FM. After enjoying the endless party that defines life on Bourbon Street, Bianco's energy began to fizzle. He moved to Los Angeles, where he was unemployed and played guitar only rarely. After several months he moved to Fort Lauderdale and didn't even look at his guitar for a year.
He took a job as a hairdresser and met his wife, Patricia, when she sat down in his chair. They eventually married and had a daughter, Chanelle, then spent a year in France. When they returned to Fort Lauderdale, Bianco picked up the guitar again. While playing merely for his own enjoyment, he began to turn his two-handed tapping technique into more complex fingerings. Bianco was soon approached by the booking agent at Now Art and asked to play originals at the cafe. Because of the New-Age atmosphere there, Bianco came up with appropriate compositions. Last year he quit cutting hair and began playing music full-time.
As Bianco takes the stage at the Now Art on a recent Wednesday night, there are only six people in the cafe. He begins the set with a gentle, Eastern-influenced tune. His playing is sharp and well-defined, with a repetitive bass line droning beneath the song's melody. After the successful test-run, Bianco switches to his seven-string Ibanez guitar.
"Welcome to the Now Art Cafe," he says in a deep, simmering voice. "How's everyone doing out there?" An elderly birthday boy named Barry screams out, "Play, 'New York, New York.'" Bianco responds with a casual, "How about if I wing it?" then plays the standard as if he'd recorded the original with Ol' Blue Eyes himself.
On standards like "Misty" and "Summertime," the depth of Bianco's talent surfaces. Melodic leads intertwine effortlessly with left-handed walking bass lines. Bianco switches his right hand to a six-string Fender Stratocaster propped up on a stand and wails out rapid-fire runs while continuing to play a strutting bass line on the Ibanez. He plays both guitars simultaneously without looking at either, eyes closed and head craned back.
Soon the bass and melody increase in speed. Bianco's fingers sail in every direction, one hand sliding across one neck, the other attacking the second neck. Barry screams "Thatta boy!" as Bianco loses himself in the song, ensconced in the comfort and security of home.
Michael Bianco performs Wednesday through Sunday, starting at 9 p.m., at the Now Art Cafe, 1820 Young Cir., Hollywood. Call 954-922-0506.