When Aldo Garibaldi moved to Petaluma 11 years ago, he quickly traded in his piano hiatus for daily finger exercises needed in order to stay in shape for his new gigs around town.

We caught him in between songs at Petaluma Coffee and Tea on Second Street where he plays 2-3 mornings a week, part of the eclectic cast of characters that create a particularly unique tableau. Aldo shared a bit of his story along with a few ultra special nuggets of wisdom mined from a long life full of experience with music at it’s core.

A classically trained pianist that started music lessons at 10 years old, Aldo has almost always been a working musician. As a teen, he played in a band getting paid a modest $8 a night for gigs. He played in the Catskills, New York and New Jersey piano bars, and his claim to fame, as he says, was playing the Waldorf-Astoria (for free for the Italian Society.)

In another chapter of his life he worked at Gimbel’s Department Store in the piano section. He laughed as he confessed he was the only salesman on the floor that could actually play the piano. When you bought a piano at Gimbel’s, you would receive a package of piano lessons, which Aldo taught, and over the course of a few years, gained a critical mass of students.

He speaks passionately about teaching music.

“I learned so much about life from the people I taught,” Aldo told us, visibly moved by the experience. “I connected to people through music.” and from what we can tell, he still does. It is clear that the lives of his students deeply shaped his own and the music has so often been the connective tissue of his most meaningful human relationships.

He shared a favorite quote of Lily Tomlin’s with us, “We are all together, alone.” which captures a sad existential truth about life along with the beauty of human connection and seems central to his philosophy about life.

Petaluma Coffee and Tea has become a creative safe space for Aldo where he relinquishes all sheet music and plays from the heart.

He played one last piece for us before we said goodbye, a beautiful rendition of Duke Ellington’s jazz standard, Satin Doll. We could tell by how he played that this particular song had been a soundtrack to his life more than once.

He did, and so did we.