Chiffon began studying classical piano at age twelve, "kind of old to do a career in music," she says. But she loved it--and she excelled. "I did seven years' worth of lessons in two years," she says. "I can go to any city any time and get a job playing piano immediately. I am talented." And that's true. Her aptly titled, self-produced CD Moods reveals a pianist with a flair for drama--most of the songs have an ocean or rain-shower background--and a delicate, if somber, style.
This praise is echoed, albeit begrudgingly, even by those who feel Chiffon has done them wrong. "She is good. Too good," says Ann Williams, who let Chiffon stay at her apartment off and on for several months. "She would play my answering machine without my knowing it and steal gigs from me. But at least she always did a good job."
Williams teaches piano and is about to receive her master's degree in piano pedagogy from the University of Denver. She began studying classical piano at age four in San Francisco, a city she loved but left to come to Denver. Chiffon was the first friend she made in town.
They met in February 1993 at the Firefly Cafe, which at the time offered a free meal and a bottle of wine to anyone who played the piano for two hours. One night while Williams ate her dinner, she heard Chiffon playing Autumn Leaves. "I realized later that I had heard her play it before," Williams says. "I asked her if she'd ever played at the Brown Derby in Los Angeles, and she said yes. I couldn't believe it--my father had taken me to hear her play. I'll never forget her version of Autumn Leaves."
Williams says she and Chiffon hit it off immediately because of their shared music background. Since they knew some of the same people, they ran into each other frequently, but it wasn't until an unexpected snow hit in September 1993 that they became real friends. "It was freezing out, and Chiffon called me, crying," Williams recalls. "She said that she was out in the street with no place to stay, and she asked me if I could loan her some money. I told her I didn't have any money, which certainly was true, but that I did have a couch."
That time Chiffon stayed for five days, but gradually she moved in. "Chiffon is a whirlwind," Williams says. "She would be there for a few days and then I wouldn't hear from her for a week." In February 1994 Williams decided to buy a house with her fiance, and Chiffon said she wanted to take over the lease on the apartment. Not long after, Chiffon signed another lease, the one for the International building, and moved into its basement. It was then that Williams got a call from the phone company.
"Chiffon had stolen my Social Security number and used it to get a phone set up at a succession of apartments--places I've never lived at. She had the bills sent to a mail pick-up place on Garrison, so I never saw them. She ran up $1,700 worth of phone bills, and the phone company never got paid. But my name was on the bill, so they came after me," says Williams, who has since filed charges of criminal impersonation against Chiffon. "Now my credit rating is screwed."
When Williams confronted Chiffon about the charges, Chiffon wrote her a check for $450--on a closed account.
Today all Chiffon will say is that Williams gave her permission to put the phone in her name. And Williams admits that she agreed to let Chiffon put the apartment phone in Chiffon's name when Williams bought a house. But that's all she gave her permission to do, Williams says. "She knew I was going to use the lines," Chiffon reiterates. "She is going to get her money. First, though, I have to get some."
Money wasn't always such a problem for Chiffon. She was born July 27, 1934, on the island of Martinique, a French territory in the Caribbean, to an American father and a French mother. There is no mistaking the French nose--long, aristocratic--but the remnants of her once-harsh beauty have softened into sixty-year-old skin and the paunch of childbirth times four.
She comes to an interview the day after bonding out of Denver County Jail on first-degree-forgery charges--she served eleven days and managed to have her bail reduced from $5,000 to $2,500 because she is homeless--with three people. Randy Wren, a public-relations specialist for area fundraisers, is there as a character witness. He says that "Chiffon is generous to a fault. She is one of the finest entertainers I have ever known and, for that matter, one of the finest human beings. She is an asset to this state." Burt Weir, a friend of Chiffon's for many years, obviously is there to protect her. He says he finds the fact that Westword is doing a story on Chiffon "appalling." He has been identified by several people as Chiffon's "gofer," but both he and Chiffon deny that he has ever done any of her dirty work. The third person is Robert Allen, an attorney who may or may not defend her in the Fort Collins case--he's not telling.