Who was that playing and singing at Elton John’s piano for the legend’s farewell concert at Dodger Stadium on Sunday night?
The pianist had a moment in the spotlight when Elton and guest Kiki Dee reprized their 1976 smash “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” before millions of worldwide viewers.
Turns out it was the same guy who, as a teenager in the late 1970s and early 1980s, pounded the piano and sang Elton John hits like “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” and “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies” Bleeding” to his classmates at Miami Beach Senior High when he was a member of the school’s famous Rock Ensemble.
From Miami Beach to the end of the world
Adam Chester, 59, Miami Beach High Class of ’81, got the gig of a lifetime Sunday. He was tapped to basically be Elton John at the piano for one song so that the star could stand center stage before more than 50,000 fans at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for the final date on the North American leg of the Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour. The concert was livestreamed to millions on Disney+ and remains accessible to subscribers.
Given the momentous occasion — Elton’s last North American concert tour date — the star brought out guest artists Brandi Carlile and Dua Lipa separately to sing two songs with him. But for “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” he wanted to leave the piano and sing side-by-side with Kiki Dee, his original duet partner on the Bicentennial year No. 1 hit. Dee, Elton told his audience, first sang the tune with him from that same venue in October 1975.
But “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” has a main piano part and backing harmonies. Because Elton would be otherwise occupied and his main band busy with their own instruments, Adam Chester was the best man standing. Or sitting.
Chester has been Elton John’s rehearsal pianist since 2005 or, as he’s called it, “Surrogate Elton John,” after he was hired for the “Captain Fantastic” 30th anniversary tour.
Chester is the guy who sits in for the star with the Elton John Band — including guitarist Davey Johnstone, drummer Nigel Olsson and percussionist Ray Cooper who have backed Elton since the early 1970s. Chester gets the musicians stage ready for live shows, does sound checks, and practices with the band so that Elton just basically has to show up and perform on show day. Chester has also written arrangements for live renditions of Elton’s songs like the choir arrangement for “Home Again.”
“It was absolutely joyful in that moment right before I got to walk onstage at Dodger Stadium,” Chester told the Miami Herald. “I couldn’t believe I was getting to play Elton’s piano on one of my absolute favorite Elton John songs ever with Elton and Kiki singing it live in front of me.”
Chester, who, during the COVID-19 lockdown posted streams of live solo concerts he’d hold inside and just outside his home in Los Angeles, sometimes with his neighbor Johnstone sitting in, only found out he was going to be doing more than playing behind the scenes on Saturday.
Who is that guy backstage?
“I rehearsed Brandi and Kiki for their songs the day before and knew there was a chance I’d be playing piano for ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.’ Things didn’t get absolutely confirmed until the day before the show!” Chester said.
Chester wasn’t the only one to get a surprise. There was another, shall we say, intimidating presence backstage during Sunday’s final US tour concert.
“I was sitting next to Joni Mitchell and some of her friends backstage right before I was to go up to play on ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.’ I knew they were all wondering who the heck I was and why I felt free to sit down next to them all,” Chester said. “After playing the song, I ran back off stage and Joni was there all smiles and we high-fived each other. That was so surreal! It was like she was thinking,NOW I get why you were here!’ “
Miami in LA
Chester wasn’t the only Elton fan from South Florida to make the date inside Dodger Stadium.
Abby Goldstein Feilich, 65, says she has seen hundreds of Elton John concerts from South Florida to California ever since her first one at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, New York, circa 1971. She flew to this Dodger Stadium show from her home in Hollywood , Florida. She’s identified with Elton’s voice since she was given her first album, Elton’s double-vinyl “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” as a teen.
Sitting inside Dodger Stadium as the last notes on the closing “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” faded into history, Feilich, who had worked 18 years for the Miami Herald as an advertising sales rep, clearly felt sad songs say so much.
“It was so bittersweet because I knew it was going to be the last show in the USA and probably the last time I would see him in concert,” Feilich said. “After the concert ended, I sat in my seat and watched all of the credits roll and tears were streaming down my face. I’m so happy for him because he’s going to be able to spend time with his kids and husband, and he deserves it after so many years of making so many people happy. He was the soundtrack of my childhood and adulthood.”
Feilich had good reviews for “The Surrogate Elton,” too.
“I was so impressed by Adam’s ability to act as the surrogate for Elton John playing the piano. He’s an amazing musician,” Feilich said.
Chester and Feilich had not met in person but messaged each other on Facebook. Chester had used Facebook to livestream his online COVID concerts and take fan requests for Elton cover songs.
“People were locked up for so long. It was wonderful that he was doing this and bringing music to people who were depressed and needed happiness and joy,” Feilich said. “We would message him requests, and it was so fun. It was keeping him busy and making a lot of people very happy.”
This story was originally published November 22, 2022 3:45 PM.