Robin Meloy Goldsby
composes songs, plays the piano and writes books about music. Robin grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before moving to New York City in 1980, where she spent fifteen years performing in many of New York City's leading hotels. Piano Girl: A Memoir
(Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard) made its hardcover debut in spring, 2005. A giddy mixture of droll hilarity and pathos, Piano Girl
is an entertaining and enlightening memoir of music and life as a cocktail pianist. The book provides a rare glimpse into the comedies, tragedies, and mundane miracles witnessed from the player’s side of the grand piano.Piano Girl
received a prestigious “starred review” from Publishers Weekly
and was honored as one of the picks of the summer by Book Sense
, the leading organization representing independent bookstores in the United States. Goldsby’s many radio appearances include NPR’s All Things Considered
, The Leonard Lopate Show
in New York City, and several appearances on Marian McPartland’s NPR Piano Jazz
An excerpt from Piano Girl
(graciously provided by Backbeat Books) is at the bottom of this post.
Goldsby's long awaited fiction debut, RHYTHM: A Novel
was published in October 2008. Told in the voice of drummer Jane Bowman—Rhythm
traces a young musician’s artistic and emotional development over the course of fifteen years, as she builds her career and learns to cope with her mother’s death. With humor and passion, the heartwarming story reveals the tragic beauty of human resilience, the restorative power of love and laughter, and the way one girl’s music—steady, solid, and courageous—helps to mend her shattered heart.
Robin’s three solo piano recordings—Somewhere in Time, Twilight, and Songs from the Castle
—have garnered glowing reviews from a small but loyal group of music fans from around the globe.
Goldsby’s one-woman concert performance includes readings from her two books, along with her original music for solo piano. In addition to Robin's frequent performances at Schloss Lerbach in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, she is also a cultural ambassador for Amerika Haus
, presenting her one-woman evening of literature and music to audiences interested in a European-American cross-cultural exchange.
Robin Meloy Goldsby is a Steinway Artist.
She lives with her family outside of Cologne, Germany, but travels frequently to the USA.
For reviews, photos, press kits, music samples and blog entries, please visit Robin's website: www.goldsby.de
To listen to Marian McPartland's interview with Robin go to: National Public Radio: Piano Jazz
All of Robin's books and CDs are available worldwide at Amazon. Digital recordings of her piano music are available from iTunes and eMusic.
For booking inquiries in Europe, please contact:
For booking inquiries in the USA, please contact:
What the critics say:
"Goldsby has a wicked sense of humor and a keen eye for the absurd. Piano Girl
is bighearted, funny, truly eye-opening memoir."Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
is certainly one of the funniest books I’ve ever read!" Marian McPartland, NPR host, Piano Jazz
“Goldsby quicksteps from bumptious to bawdy to trenchant with impeccable timing in this hilarious, truth-telling memoir. Piano Girl
had me howling with laughter at 4 a.m., humming along with the piano girl's songs at dawn. Brava!”Betsy Burton, The King’s English, Salt Lake City, Utah
"Goldsby has seen it all from her piano and she dishes it up with a true storyteller’s gusto. As refreshing as a frozen daiquiri!"Jeff Yanc, Book Sense Picks and Notables
“Be it a ballad or an up tune, this plucky lucky lounge pianist arranges her memoir-medley for us and plays it in the key of life.” Cheryl Hardwick, Saturday Night Live musical director, 1987–2000
"Robin Goldsby has a singular and life-embracing voice."
Bill Brent, Author's Den
“Goldsby, who marries the pathos of her plot line with the whimsy and near-magical-realism of her characters, deserves comparison with John Irving, a modern master.”Marion Winik, NPR commentator and author of First Comes Love
conveys the magic of sound plus the transformative power of music, and the words—like a well-played melody—ring true.”Peter Erskine, drummer and author of Time Awareness for All Musicians
“Told with great passion and a marvelous sense of humor, Rhythm
illustrates the obstacles a woman encounters in the male-dominated world of jazz.”Karolina Strassmayer, saxophonist WDR Big Band
is a beautifully written story, alive with the sound of drums and various percussion instruments.”Amanda Richards, Amazon Top 50 Review
erSongs from the Castle
is one of the most beautifully played collections of solo piano I've ever heard. Robin Meloy Goldsby has got a magical gift, the ability to stir memories and emotions with those 88 keys."Rebecca Kyle, Amazon Top 100 ReviewerPIANO GIRL: A Memoir
c 2005 Robin Meloy Goldsby, All Rights Reserved
Reprinted with permission of Backbeat Books
IntroductionLife from the Other Side of the Steinway
It’s not always a Steinway. Sometimes it’s an ugly-looking, beautiful-sounding white Bösendorfer concert grand or a Yamaha conservatory grand with a high-gloss mirrored surface, so polished that I can see the mood of the evening staring back at me. Sometimes the instrument I play barely qualifies as a piano. Sometimes it’s an Army-surplus spinet made by a firm that is a subsidiary of a toy company. Sometimes it’s a beat-up upright piano with four broken strings—and when I press a key I can hear several distinct tones fluttering together and laughing at me with their out-of-tuneness. Sometimes it really is the perfect Steinway Model B, a seven-foot grand with a sound warm enough to make me stay at the piano forever, just listening. I play. I make music. I am the tall blond woman in the strapless cocktail dress, and I sit in the corner and play the piano.
I didn’t set out to be a cocktail pianist. But here I am, wearing something black, a little eyeliner, a little lipstick, high heels. I’m not Shirley Horn, or Diana Krall, or Marian McPartland, or Bobby Short in a blond wig. Not even close. But I work all the time and I’m pretty good at what I do.
There are many terms for my profession. I am called a cocktail pianist, a bar pianist, a hotel pianist, and a lounge pianist. I perform background music that enhances a dinner, a lunch, a chilled prosecco; or atmosphere music meant to embellish a business meeting, a wedding, an illicit affair—without getting in the way. I play music that is comforting, gentle enough to pacify, melodic enough to nudge my audience into the folds of their own memories.
I’ve spent many years underestimating the validity of my job. I’m not really a bar pianist, I tell myself, because I want to be more than that. I’m a student. I’m an actor. I’m a writer. I’m a composer. I’m a single woman living in New York City standing on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I’m a citizen of the world. I’m happy. I’m a mother. I’m a wife. I’m all of these things, true, true, true. But I’m able to be all of these things because playing the piano in a hotel continues to pay the bills. Now, with the wisdom of a maturity that was bound to catch up with me, I realize that being a cocktail pianist is a lovely way to make a living. It started out as a way to earn money for college. It ended up being my profession for thirty years and counting.
I play medleys of great songs and obnoxious songs and make them all sound, well, nice. Plus I’ve been questionably blessed with the ability to be polite, to smile, and to remember the first names of the customers who stray into the joints where I’m playing. These days, some of the joints are castles in Europe. I’ve traveled a long way from the Nantucket Club Car and the Redwood Motor Inn on Banksville Road in Pittsburgh where I had my first steady gigs as a teenager, but basically the scene is the same. Fancier clothes, slightly better piano, same ratio of lunatics to normal people. I play.
Sometimes I’m treated like visiting royalty from a mysterious land, flown to the job in a private jet, showered with roses, fine wine, and compliments from people whose pashmina socks cost more than my entire wardrobe. Sometimes I feel like a frazzled waitress with eighty-eight keys strapped around my neck, taking orders from drunken shoe salesmen who would prefer to see me go-go dance in a green fringed bikini on top of the piano rather than make any sense out of the instrument in front of me.
Every job presents the chance to be a musical fly on the wall—providing a piano score for life as it’s served, straight-up with a side of olives, to the droves of people who pass through the world’s bars and restaurants. Over the years I’ve been appalled, attacked, blown away by kindness, cajoled into fits of giggles, and moved to tears by the tiny dramas that unfold before my eyes and ears. I cry. I laugh. Laughter is a kind of music—the best kind. I’ve always wanted to write the score for a film. But maybe this is better. I’m writing and playing music for life, as it happens. It’s like recording live on tape, without the tape.
One day I’m eighteen years old, sitting down to play my first job. Startled, I wake up on a bright spring morning and realize that I’m forty-six, and that my entire adult life can be documented by a series of forty-minute sets and twenty-minute breaks. I fret about missed opportunities—how I’ve spent the peak years of my life behind an instrument that fights back more often than it complies with my wishes—and the way real time slips away from me like runaway triplets at a children’s piano recital.
I have moments of artistic satisfaction. Many of them. On a typical night—in between requests and idle chit-chat with guests from, say, Helsinki, or Bogata, or Hackensack—I play the music that I want to play, the way I want to play it. I feel peaceful, exhilarated, and sure that I’ve chosen the right profession. It’s almost a magical feeling, and I allow it to sweep me away. Then some drunk-on-his-ass sales rep from a surgical supply company sends me a cocktail napkin with a request for “Memory” from Cats, a twenty-dollar bill, and—as an afterthought—his room number. I check out the man who has sent the note. He is sprawled on the burgundy velvet banquette, smoking a cigar and drinking a brandy. He looks like a cross between a sloth and a walrus. I play the song, keep the money, and make sure a taxi is waiting for me at quitting time.
I go home, slightly amused, a little disgusted. But I come back the next day to play again. In fact, I look forward to it. The smells of cigarette smoke, grilled steak, and too much Chanel No. 5 waft in my direction like a big cloud of fairy dust blown in from a distant yet familiar planet. I sit at the piano. The customers briefly acknowledge my presence, then resume talking. It’s time for my first set. I place my hands on the instrument, not quite sure what to play. I never know what the first song will be until exactly this moment. In front of me is a maze of ebony and ivory, but I don’t see the keys anymore. I see the faces of 30 years of guests, friends, bartenders, and waiters morphing into an impressionistic canvas of something remarkable.
So I play a song to remember.