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Interactive Piano Changes the Sound of Music

2/27/2013, 12:17 p.m.

The piano can teach intelligently, and change the way children with disabilities are taught, said Shadd. "It's taking lessons to the next level. It's a workshop."

Shadd is also a third-generation musician who toured with celebrities, including jazz icon Wynton Marsalis and the late Grammy Award-winning artist Shirley Horn who also happened to be his aunt.

During his youth, he played drums in jazz concerts through college at Howard University. He also played piano, performed at past inaugurations and on Broadway. Following his father, James Shadd, a technician, pianist and band leader who founded Shadd's Piano Hospital Service in 1941 in Northeast, the younger Shadd also tuned, repaired and rebuilt pianos for various clients.

In 2002, he founded Shadd Inc., a manufacturing company, and it's taken him about 10 years to see the fruits of his labor.

In November 2012, he sold the first African-American manufactured acoustic piano to the Setai Hotel in New York City. The Shadd piano #001 is in the jazz lounge, Bar On Fifth, he said.

Even with what's been called a 24th century invention in the 21st century, he faced difficulties he felt were due to his skin color - unable to get a patent attorney until the sixth attempt; unable to secure funding for the prototype; and setbacks in the competitive world of piano manufacturing.

"It was a nine-year grind of daily obstacles but I had to persevere," he said. "Trying to create something that's never been done, I had to have unbelievable strength and resilience as you get smacked down every day." Shadd's pianos cost anywhere between $6,000 and $275,000.

Shadd wants to put pianos into public schools around the country. So far, Ellington is the first and Pullens is hoping for another.

"We're getting our building renovated this year and with that will come more Shadd pianos," he said. "Every artist should be so lucky to have at least one."