Let's Talk Cocktail Piano

Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/07/10 12:49 AM

Hello Cocktail Pianists of the Future,

This thread is a response to requests I've received from readers of the Let's Talk Weddings thread. I suggest we use it as a place to discuss the technical challenges of playing background piano in lounges, bars, and hotel lobbies.

Thanks to those of you who have read and mentioned my book. Piano Girl is not a technical manual, nor did I intend it to be one. I'm not a teacher (I barely know what I'm doing myself). My goal with Piano Girl was to provide a behind the scenes glimpse at the trials and triumphs of an often-ignored (but very noble) profession.

If I’m reading your requests correctly, you’re more interested in technical tips, right? Here’s what I can offer as a start: Pick a style of music you love and learn how to play four hours worth of it without the music in front of you. Memorizing what you love is one of the keys to success in this business. When the music is in your fingers, the fun begins.

If you love what you’re playing your listeners will love it, too. It’s pretty much that simple. I was never a good enough player to mimic other lounge pianists. I was eighteen, knew about ten songs (nine of them were Bach) and lacked any basic knowledge about what to do with a cocktail lounge full of people expecting to hear piano music.

The key to sounding good is to know when you sound bad, so I’ve tried to stick to simple things. This has paid off for me. I’ve kept it simple over the years, adding more complex harmonies as my musical personality has evolved. I have my own style. That’s the best piece of advice I can give you—find a style (you probably already have one)— and stick with it.

Make a list of songs YOU love and start learning them. Elssa is right—hire a chord doctor or a teacher who can help you with arrangements. Put the time in. Memorize the songs. Make set lists (which you will one day ignore). Learn how to improvise and stretch a two-minute song into a six-minute song. When you start out the hours will crawl by and at the end of four sets you’ll feel like you’ve run a marathon. Once you’ve done a few years (yes, years) of this, you’ll start slipping into the Piano Zone and time will fly.

Listen to yourself and enjoy what you’re playing. On many nights you will be your only listener. So it’s helpful to actually love what you’re doing.

Most important? Once you’ve got those four sets under your belt, find a gig that suits your style of music, because the only real way to learn how to play a solo piano cocktail gig is to play a hundred of them.

I'm hopeful others (more qualified than I ) will chime in here with actual technical tips. Looking forward to it!
Posted by: BDB

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/07/10 12:52 AM

I have one from a friend who has been there: Do not take drinks as tips. Best not to drink at all.
Posted by: cruiser

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/07/10 03:50 AM

Quote:
If I’m reading your requests correctly, you’re more interested in technical tips, right? Here’s what I can offer as a start: Pick a style of music you love and learn how to play four hours worth of it without the music in front of you.


Robin, thanks so much for starting this thread, which I'm sure will become just as popular as your "Let's Talk Weddings" thread smile

As for myself, I'd love to get into the "cocktail/lounge" style of playing and I think the advice you've given in the first post is great. My first question, related to the above quote is, can you - or anyone else - offer more specific guidance on how best to go about building a memorized set of pieces?

I've sort of given myself the goal of learning (memorizing) 20 - 40 pieces (standards, jazz, pop, classics, film etc.) within the next year or so, but I'm unsure of the "best" way to tackle this. Would it be advisable to concentrate on mastering the chord families (a huge task in itself!) and go the "Fake Book" route? Or to learn pieces as written from the many collections available (e.g. Hal Leonard)? Or a combination of these methods? I realize this largely depends on the individual (sight-reading skills, knowledge of harmony etc.) but as time isn't on my side (!) I would like to make progress as quickly and efficiently as possible. I'm prepared to work hard at this - a labor of love - and I don't want to waste a moment of my time in the process.

I'll be retiring from my regular job in January 2011 and I'd like to think that I could, perhaps, supplement my small pension from playing cocktail/lounge piano in the not-too-distant future.

...I've made a start with Cole Porter's "True Love", and "Autumn Leaves"
Posted by: josuff247

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/07/10 08:33 AM

This is great Robin. I fully intend to participate.
I am off to work now, but will write later. I read your first few chapters on my kindle and will be purchasing your book.
I follow your wedding thread and love it.
Hope this thread becomes as popular as the wedding one!
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/07/10 08:44 AM

BDB, that's excellent advice. Better to stick with the cash tips!

Cruiser, by all means get yourself a teacher who can help you master the chord family. (I like that name for it—the Chord Family, with their children Bea and Dee). I grew up with this knowledge, having had a classical teacher who also played jazz and made theory a major part of my lessons. So when I started playing jobs, I was able to read lead sheets. It's really fun to do this, and you can make your own arrangements out of the bare bones structures offered by fake books.

In addition, it's always nice to have a couple of show piece arrangements in your fingers. My goodness, I had this big bashy arrangement of McArthur Park that I played about a billion times back in the late seventies. (I can hear you laughing from this side of the Atlantic). But most of my sets included simple arrangements of nice little songs that I could fool around with.

Once you start learning chords, you'll start to recognize patterns and won't have to start from scratch with every new song.

One other thing—when I started out I sang while I played, about 50% of the time. I was never a great singer, but singing and playing was much easier for me than just playing. I could sing the melody and bang out the chords. Not particularly artistic, but it got me through the early years. I'm just bringing this up because, if you have any singing ability, now might be the time to use it and make things a little easier on yourself.

Greg Guardino, if you're reading this, I hope you'll chime in—Greg has a knack for explaining these things!
Posted by: Piano World

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/07/10 09:52 AM

I think we should all consider ourselves lucky that the girl who literally wrote the book is a member and more than willing to share :-)


At the risk of sounding like I'm shilling for the author (I'm not, I happen to love the book),
if you're interested in the business, get the book.
If you'd just like to be entertained, get the book, if you enjoy laughing (a lot), get the book.

That said I have a couple of observations of my own. Keep in mind I'm nowhere near the level Robin is at, but I
do play my share of parties and events.

~ Don't assume people will not like older (or newer) music. I once played for a group of senior citizens. At first I played
mostly older tunes (big band era, that type of thing). That is until a few of them came up and asked me if I knew
any rock and roll. Turns out many of them were fans of 50s/60s rock.
~ Robin is right about memorizing, but until you have a lot of tunes in your head, keep some
books handy. I filled in a couple of times for a pianist on a cruise ship. She had a laptop with her, loaded with tons of sheet music. It was her backup so she could play requests even if she didn't know the piece in her head (and trust me, she knew a ton of pieces).
~ It's true there will be times when you seem to be the only one listening to you. That doesn't mean there aren't
people enjoying your playing, they just don't feel compelled to come up and tell you. There's a big difference between
being the "featured entertainment" where people have come specifically to see/hear the music, and providing "background" music while people eat/drink/talk.

This thread is a great idea!
Hopefully others will chime in, and Robin will continue to share with all of us.


And if you're interested in the book, please use the link below (we are an Amazon affiliate)...

Posted by: josuff247

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/07/10 08:28 PM

Hi, hope to learn a lot from this thread and to offer what little help I can at the time. I am taking classical lessons for the past 1.5 years and hope to use that knowledge to help me toward my goals, which is to be a cocktail/lounge pianist. I just picked up a book called "Beginning Jazz Keyboard". I also have the Piano for all course. My current plan is to continue my classical lessons and learn cocktail piano on my own, on the side. My teacher knows my plans, and he already teaches me a lot of theory and chords. When I learn a piece, he explains what is going on (progressions, Chords, etc) rather than just how to play the notes. Hopefully he will be willing to teach me this style when I make the switch.

An tips on memorization, other than playing it over and over?

And Robin, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to start this thread as well as contribute. And to all the other forum members as well. It is nice to have a forum like this to discuss these things with other musicians.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/08/10 12:06 AM

Thanks, Frank Baxter, for your enthusiasm and support, not just for my book, but for for all things piano.

Frank makes some excellent points in his post. I particularly like the one about not "assuming" what people want to hear. Spot on. This is the thing: people really don't know what they want to hear. In most cases your music is a happy "accident" in the evening. They are at the venue to meet friends, talk, eat, drink—and the music is secondary. This is why I contend that you can guide guests into enjoying the music by playing things that you love playing.

Fact: Most people do not make requests. So don't be nervous about being able to play everything. A lot of musicians entering this field get hung up worrying about requests. Fear not.

Carrying a good fake book with you is nice for request emergencies. (The iPad is extremely hip for this, btw) I carried a fake book when I started out, but haven't done it for decades now. I know enough songs that if I can't honor a particular request I can come up with something else by the same composer or in the same style that will satisfy the guest. I've discovered over the years that the request is really just an excuse to talk to the musician, so if you're pleasant and engage the person in some sort of chit-chat, play something close to what h/she has requested, you'll make the person happy.

For example, if you love Cole Porter, then learn the whole songbook. If you're neutral about him, learn a couple of your favorite Porter tunes. That's enough. If someone requests Begin the Beguine (a bitch to learn because it has like a 132 bar form with slight changes in every section that make it almost impossible to memorize!) you can say: "Oh that's a great song. That one isn't in my fingers right now, but how about Night and Day (or whatever your favorite Porter tune is)?"

Old joke that only musicians laugh at: "Gee I don't know that song, but here's something with a lot of the same notes."

Mister Rogers and pianist Robin Spielberg both said to me at separate times: "You never know who is listening." I like the mysteriousness of that statement. Frank is right. But I believe that if you have high standards and you always play for yourself, then what you put out there will be beautiful. Playing music that doesn't "get in the way" but still manages to be music of substance is a tricky balancing act, one that can only be mastered with a lot of experience.

Note for those of you further along in process: Frank mentioned the difference between being the "featured entertainment" and background music. It's pretty crucial to understand this difference, and that anyone hiring you understands it as well. If they want a SHOW they don't want you (unless you know how to switch gears and do that). If they want artistic background music, then they're found the right musician. It's important to be very clear about this when booking the gig.

In the last decade I've started performing actual concerts, so when I get a call for a job, the first thing I ask is whether the client wants my concert program or my background music services. I am genuinely happy doing either of these things, although I really do prefer the cocktail gigs!

Okay, back to CP 101:

Memorizing? Really important, unless you want to spend twenty hours a week with your head in the notes. No fun. You'll miss everything that's happening around you, and believe me, that's one of the great fringe benefits of this work.

I had a, uh, strict teacher, who convinced me it was NOT COOL to play solo in public with music in front of me. I don't know whether he was right, but he did me a big favor by insisting I learn how to memorize very early on. I also have had serious acting training, and I know that playing with music is like acting with a script in your hand---there's only so far you can go if your eyes are glued to a paper.

How to memorize? Everyone has a different process, but I like to memorize the chord structure first. Patterns being patterns, this will be pretty easy if you have good theory knowledge. Then learn the melody. Then play the song a thousand times and and you'll start to hear an arrangement. If you're a pretty good pianist and have a few hours a day to devote to this process, I think you could memorize and arrange 3-5 tunes a week. Set a goal. If you have less time, make it 1-2 songs. Memorizing is like exercise--it gets easier once you're in shape.

Hope some of this was helpful!
Posted by: cruiser

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/08/10 01:25 AM

This thread is off to a great start - thanks Robin and thanks to you too, Frank (another sticky perhaps?) smile

Robin, I would like to clarify here that I am by no means a beginner. I've had several recent years of classical training as well as having had lessons as a child. Also, I already have a good knowledge of harmony and my chord knowledge which as you say is so important for this style of playing, is also quite good - at least in theory. Putting this growing knowledge into practice at the piano is the challenge. I am not a very good sight reader although I can read the melody lines from a fake book without too much of a problem. Anything else requires patient application on my part - you should know that it took me the best part of a year to learn Schubert's Gb Impromptu!

I make these points to put my earlier post, about the the most effective way to practice, in perspective. Your advice on memorizing has gone a long way in addressing my initial concerns - thank you!

I hope others will join us here, to take advantage of Robin's kind and valuable guidance.

EDIT: Robin, could you recommend a particular Fake Book (or series thereof)?
Posted by: Piano World

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/08/10 11:27 AM

I'll never forget the first time I played a Christmas Party , it was in a private home.

My only previous experience was playing in rock bands, so this would be my first "solo" gig.

I practiced some Christmas tunes, and brought along Christmas books and sheets. I knew the piano would be in tune because I was their tuner (that's how I got asked to play their party).

I sat down at the piano and began playing Christmas tunes, slow ones, fast ones, novelty songs.

After about 20 minutes are so of my playing, the host came over to me and asked "Aren't you going to play anything but Christmas music?".

I said I thought this was a Christmas party.
It is she said, but nobody wants to listen to Christmas music all night!

Houston, we have a problem.

I can either continue to play Christmas music, or play the keyboard part of the rock tunes I know (minus the rest of the band, which trust me isn't nearly as entertaining).

Luckily I only lived about ten minutes away.
I took my first "break" and sped home, grabbed some fake books, and sped back.

I survived the night and the guests seemed to enjoy themselves (helped no doubt by the drinks they consumed).

Lesson Learned!

Kathy and I went to a Christmas party for Palladium Theatre volunteers the other night (a local theatre in St. Petersburg where we volunteer).
After a 4 piece band played one set it was open mic/open stage for the rest of the evening.

I played, Kathy sang. We did Christmas music, we did rock music, we even did original music.

Nobody booed so I guess we did ok :-)
Posted by: apple*

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/08/10 11:38 AM

Parties are not quite cocktail lounges, but they are close.

I've always had delusions of grandeur. When I was about 23 I created an ad, a drawn picture of me holding a sign that said

"Piano playing at parties absolutely free! Grands preferred"

I sent it to the newspaper and they printed it for free. I got about 15 bookings.. 2 or 3 times a week for all of the holiday season. Every one paid me.

I really could hardly play.. I was playing Christmas music... fakebook songs and Chopin. I'd play Chopin backwards, forwards and upside down.

Once a very drunk lady sat down with me and started playing along. She was a good pianist but could hardly hold her balance and mostly leaned on me while she played.

(I'll have to find that pic)
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/08/10 01:23 PM

Great thread!! smile

Originally Posted By: josuff247

Any tips on memorization, other than playing it over and over?



Just to echo the great advice given here already about learning common chord progressions, if you learn the 'Ice Cream Progression'/1-6-2-5, for example, you'll have dozens of songs ready to play. thumb

Learn/memorize the Circle of Fifths/Fourths (BEAD GCF)

CIRCLE OF FIFTHS: http://www.angelfire.com/fl4/moneychords/circle.html
Posted by: Hop

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/08/10 09:14 PM

Originally Posted By: Elssa
Just to echo the great advice given here already about learning common chord progressions, if you learn the 'Ice Cream Progression'/1-6-2-5, for example, you'll have dozens of songs ready to play.


I've never heard this called the Ice Cream Progression, but I certainly recognize it from "Earth Angel", among many others. This week, I'm practing comping with this chord progression in all the various keys.

Robin,

Thanks for this thread. Many of us aspire to be Cocktail Pianists, and it seems like there is a void. I've looked for such in my area just for entertainment, and have found none. That's sad.

Hop
Posted by: Glock fan

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/08/10 10:54 PM

Thank you Piano Girl! This is just great. I got a copy of your book as a Christmas present last year, and I highly recommend it. You are the only professional musician/writer I can understand and relate to. Plus I admire you for striking out on your own and creating success.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/09/10 12:18 AM

Thanks, Glock fan! Very kind words from you.

Elssa, I was SO hoping you'd jump in here. Your advice will be very helpful to so many players.

Frank, your story is a riot! That's the thing about Xmas music. If you don't play it, they complain; if you do play it they complain. At this time of year I open and close each set with a Christmas tune. That seems to keep everyone happy. And thanks, too, Frank, for pointing out the huge difference between playing in a band and playing solo. Both types of playing have their challenges!

Cruiser, sounds like you have all the basics for a great start in the business. Put in the practice time and you'll be on your way. Glad to hear your teacher is cooperating.

Apple, I LOVE your spirit. What a great way to get started. Only a 23 year old could get away with this. At the risk of repeating myself, I'll say again, the only way to learn how to do this—once you have the repertoire— is to get out there and do it. Find a cocktail piano apprenticeship (that's something you won't see in the course listings of most college music departments) somewhere. Trombone Al volunteered at a nursing home, for instance (he is now ready to pitch a fit because they won't tune the piano, but that's another story). There are more opportunities than you might think. The trick is to turn a start-up training type of situation into a paying gig.

Note: Please don't ever offer to play for free at a venue that is already paying a pianist (union or otherwise). Bad form, bad manners, and bad for business for all of us. But you know this.

If you're ready to go "pro," and you're investigating a place that already has music, talk to working musicians and let them know that you're available to sub. Over the years I've had to hire lots of substitutes and I've found quite a few of them this way. Enterprising and polite musicians who have handed me a business card or CD and told me they're available score big points with me. I also like when musicians send reminder emails to me every few months—it's keeps a name fresh in my mind and is not at all intrusive.

Something I didn't mention at the top of this thread, and I should have. You will never get rich doing this kind of work. From the beginning of time steady gigs have paid about 100 $ a night, give or take a few bucks. But, here's the thing, once you have a steady gig, you will begin to pick up private parties and (OH NO!!) weddings, which will pay much much more (then you hire the enterprising sub to cover your steady gig and go play the big bucks job). A few years of this, and all of the sudden you have a career.

So, what tunes are all of you learning this week? I am working on Keith Jarrett's "Country" and writing a new piece called "Castle Dance." In addition, I'm practicing for Sunday's big concert. I play cocktail gigs on Friday and Saturday this week, so I'll use that time to play through my program, in a cocktail-y kind of way.
Posted by: cruiser

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/09/10 01:21 AM

Well Robin, my embryonic repertoire (still in the learning stage) consists of:

1. True Love - (Cole Porter song from the show/film "High Society"). I want to learn it for my 84 year old father who, when he sings this song, sounds more like Bing Crosby than Bing Crosby! It was a favorite of his and my dear mother's, who sadly is no longer with us. A real labour of love this one, with some tasty diminished 7ths.
2. Autumn Leaves - but not in a too jazzy style.
3. Moon River - because my wife loves it and, since I love her...

I'm learning these three pieces more or less 'by the numbers' from a fake book, although a little improvisation/embellishment would be nice when I'm able.

Additionally I have a dozen or so classical pieces memorized (though not all are suitable for a 'cocktail lounge' situation I think).
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/09/10 03:03 AM

Great choices, Cruiser. Just keep playing them until they're in your fingers, then you can start to mess around with improvising.

I'm most impressed with your reasons for learning these songs. Way to go.

People will love your classical repertoire mixed in with the standards. Wonderful.
Posted by: Filibogado

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/09/10 07:47 AM

I love this thread, and had just 2 basic questions:

1. I find active memorization (like closing your eyes and meditating or mentally remembering) too burdensome - I wonder if passive memorization works just as well. By that, I mean if I play a tune while reading the chord symbols off a fake book a thousand times, will the constant repetition also burn the tune in your brain so you can't help but memorize it? I guess I'm asking if muscle memory by using your fingeers and your eyes substitiute for mental memorization, and

2. Is the IPAD screen clear enough for reading fake books by someone with prescription glasses for reading?

Thanks,

Fil
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/09/10 12:10 PM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
In the last decade I've started performing actual concerts, so when I get a call for a job, the first thing I ask is whether the client wants my concert program or my background music services. I am genuinely happy doing either of these things, although I really do prefer the cocktail gigs!


This piqued my curiosity, Robin; what is it about the cocktail gigs you prefer? It can't be the money, so maybe it's the reduced performance anxiety? But then again, you've been in the business so long that surely--maybe?--performance anxiety's not an issue any more?
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/09/10 01:45 PM

Hey there Monica! No, performance anxiety. Voice of Doom hasn't plagued me for a long time now, but I do suffer from performance exhaustion— a condition that arises from pressure and rehearsal and preparation. Call me a wimp, but I really do LOVE walking in the door, sitting down at a good piano and just playing for nice people for a few hours without any pressure. Yes, the money is much better with concerts, but I've come to the conclusion that I really enjoy being in the background. I like being part of the scene and contributing to the big picture, but I don't need to be the star, in fact I don't want to be the star.

Think about it, most of us got started playing the piano because it pleases us. Making music is a beautiful thing---it's therapeutic and wonderful and a way to express ourselves with art. When I think about my earliest experiences at the piano, I never fantasized about concerts or audiences or any of that. I just wanted to play. I feel the same way about writing. It's the process that I love, not the applause.

Does that make sense? Some of my friends need to perform for an attentive audience. I completely respect and admire that. But I think those of us who are successful as background musicians really enjoy being on the sidelines.
Posted by: Piano World

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/09/10 02:37 PM

I like to be on the sidelines.
As long as there is a spotlight on me and I have everyone's attention :-)
Posted by: RayzKane

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/09/10 02:51 PM

Michael/cruiser said:
1. True Love - (Cole Porter song from the show/film "High Society").
2. Autumn Leaves - but not in a too jazzy style.
3. Moon River - because my wife loves it and, since I love her...

I'm learning these three pieces more or less 'by the numbers' from a fake book, although a little improvisation/embellishment would be nice when I'm able.
================
Michael, I may have for you just what the doctor ordered! For about the same price of a book, you can own two fantastic instructional video on how to play all the beautiful runs, fills, and progressions that make cocktail piano what it is. Here is the link:

http://www.learnpianowithelssa.com/

Elssa is also a frequent contributor to this forum, even in this particular thread.

Moon River is covered in one of the videos. Autumn Leaves will probably be available in the near future.
She also has a forum that is dedicated solely to cocktail piano. It is free to those who buy even one of her vastly underpriced lessons. There are no monthly fees or any other ploys to try to more of your money.

If you join the forum, I will personally make you an arrangement of "True Love" in the key of your choice, complete with sheet music and a midi file of the tune.

I'm a 67 year old beginner to piano. I am affiliated with Elssa only as a deliriously happy customer and an admirer of her talent and hard work. I hope to see you there!

Ray
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/09/10 10:41 PM

Frank, spotlight (for those of us on the sidelines) should have an amber or rose-colored gel. Ha.

Regarding memorization—everyone has their own technique, and yes, playing the piece a bunch of times with the music in front of you will help your muscle memory, but as long as the notes are there, you will look at them, so I think it's best to get rid of them early on in the process. This will cause you to think about the harmonic structure of the piece and you won't be relying on pure memory as much because you'll be using your musical knowledge and intellect to guide you (assuming you've stayed away from the second glass of wine). In any case, this helps me a lot. I also find it useful to sit down with a piece of music before I ever attempt to play it—look at the structure and do a little pre-playing analysis.

Thanks, Ray, for your tips about Elssa. She is also a frequent contributor to the Wedding forum, and I've seen some of her videos. They could be very helpful to some readers here.

A friend of mine just sent me an email about his first cocktail piano job. He said he sat down at the piano at 5 p.m. and played and played and played, looked at the clock and it was 5:07. This happens when you start out. It takes about 12 hours for an hour to go by.

Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/09/10 11:20 PM

I just came back from a local Music Meetup (open mic)... I played Blue Christmas, Christmas Time Is Here, and Carol of the Bells. I even cajoled one of the guitar players there (who warned me he only plays by ear) to do a duet with me, but as usual, I was the only piano player. It's so wonderful to play for and/or with others, though. We don't have any venues for solo cocktail piano players around here, unfortunately.. (I've had to move about an hour above NYC in the past few years).

I'm definitely more of a background cocktail piano type player, too. Not too fond of the spotlight. frown But it's all fun smile
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/11/10 12:09 AM

I just wanted to add that I think cocktail piano music is the most challenging to play and teach, even more so than classical and jazz - less strict rules, more creativity but in the end the most rewarding. smile
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/11/10 01:07 AM

The late great Henry Mancini once approached my piano at the Hyatt in downtown Pittsburgh. I was eighteen at the time, and playing "Charade" in 5/4, which, being eighteen, I thought was extremely hip. Anyway, he was very nice. I didn't recognize his face, and I almost had a heart attack when I introduced myself and he told me who he was. I my have been young, but even then I knew that the last thing a composer wants to hear is a whacky version of his beautiful waltz in 5/4.

But to my point (to back up Elssa): He said to me, "My dear, playing in a bar is one of the most difficult things a pianist can do. Everything will seem easy in comparison. I've been listening, and you're doing a nice job."

As he was leaving I played "Moon River" (in the right time signature), but I don't think he heard me.

I'm sure I wasn't doing such a great job, and that he was simply being a gentleman and offering encouragement to an obviously young and unpolished musician, but those words of his have stuck with me over the years. And even though I'm not famous I still try to offer support to other players in this same situation, because I know that a few kind words go a long way.

You know, or maybe you don't, some concert musicians (classical and jazz and everything else) will snub you or look down on what you do. It happens. "Bar music," they might say. "How can you play when no one is listening?"

I've learned to say: "I listen to myself. And I like what I hear. That's enough."

Here was last night's first set:

Greensleeves (always nice at Xmas)
Bach Air on a G String
Legends of the Fall
First Snow (my song)
Over the Rainbow (request)
What Is this Thing Called Love
Night and Day
Lerbach Nocturne (my song)
Wonderful World of Amelie (I play several pieces from this movie but I don't know what they're called)
Water Lily (my song)
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

So that's that. Have a great weekend, everyone—
Posted by: apple*

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/11/10 08:13 AM

this is going to be another wonderful thread I see.

A cocktail lounge apprenticeship? Kansas City has so many wonderful blues and jazz musicians.. bands, singers and pianists. It is a mecca for serious musicians and people come from around the world to play here. Tho competitive, the musicians seem to all be friends and often play together whenever and wherever. I occasionally have been known to play along on the same piano.

I'm going to be a church musician forever. The ceiling is so high here.
Posted by: Piano World

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/11/10 10:22 PM

And now even Russian Premier Vladimir Putin it getting
into the cocktail piano act...

Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/12/10 02:27 AM

I think I ran into some of his friends last month at the castle. Cabaret Vlad---gotta love that. I wish he had played without his shirt on, though, you know, just to maintain that macho vibe.

I played a concert at the US Consulate in Düsseldorf a couple of years ago when Bush was still in office. It was a riot---I had to stand in a receiving line next to the Consul General with an American flag on one side of me and huge portraits of Bush and Dr. Rice over my shoulder. I said this in my program: "I am very honored to be here tonight, and relieved to know that if my cocktail piano career doesn't work out, I can always be Secretary of State." Got a big laugh.

Played through my concert program last night on my cocktail gig. I am ready for this evening, I hope.

Apple, I love that last line of your post: "I'm going to be a church musician forever. The ceiling is so high here." The writer in me perked up when I read that . . . it's a perfect thought on so many levels.

Tonight marks the end of a series of high pressure events this season. The concert will be followed by a champagne reception and a four course dinner. I'll be sitting at a table with ten of my good friends. And I'll actually be able to enjoy it since everything will be OVER. Next up is a series of cocktail Xmas gigs, but they will be fun, fun, fun!

A musician pal of mine (a great bassist) just played his first cocktail piano gig. He put a tip jar out and collected 25 $ for charity. What a great idea!
Posted by: RayzKane

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/12/10 05:09 AM

What's the different between a cocktail pianist and a modern
jazz quartet?

Answer: The cocktail pianist is all alone on the stage.
(s)He cajoles and brings forth from the instrument the most
satisfying harmonies and melodies the mind can imagine.
Everything is in tune with the machinations of the Universe.

The jazz quartet is four guys on stage, with each of them
playing a DIFFERENT song (sometimes in a different key)!

Ray
Posted by: josuff247

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/12/10 11:11 PM

I purchased "How to play from a fake book" by Blake Neely over the weekend.
I read it cover to cover first (it is only 95 pages and not wordy.).
It seems very informative about how to form chords,(up to 13ths), and different styles and left hand patterns. It comes with a lot of musical example to practice. I then started from the beginning doing the examples. I'm only on the first pages where you do block chords, and root and fifths in the left over a plain melody. That part was easy, but obviously I would not be able to get way with that for a performance. It is good however for learning chords and their inversions.
The book makes it sound so easy, but I can tell that in practice, it will not be.
After reading the book, I pulled out some pop full sheet music books I have, and studied what was going on. What do you know. It was all exactly as the book said!. Chord tones, arpeggios, block chords, inversions, etc.

In the other thread that this spawned out of, many people said One could play in this style pretty well in a year or two. It seems hard to believe, but then again, in the past 1.5 years I am playing some piece that looked impossible to me. I practice pretty much every day at least for a half hour. I plan to up that now, which shouldn't be hard because this new style is so much fun.
Posted by: bluespianofan

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/13/10 07:57 PM

I wonder if any extremely benevolent soul would be interested in taking a fake book piece and showing us their process in working up an arrangement.
Posted by: RayzKane

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/13/10 10:28 PM

Here is a very LONG thread on arranging Autumn Leaves from the ground-up!

A PDF file is available. It prints out several hundred pages on arranging this classic tune.

http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/1569787/1.html

Ray
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 09:40 AM

A great thread -- and I'm even mentioned in it! It reminded me how much I enjoyed your book, Robin, so I'm reading it again.

Here's a question for you, Robin: You noted that you knew mostly classical pieces when you went to Lino Tambellino's bar to practice. He heard you playing, and offered you a job.

Here's the question: what were you playing/practicing when he heard you? Classical, pop, jazz, or all three?
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 09:59 AM

Here's a tip: memorize not only some tunes, but memorize a "my top ten" set list.

I learned this when I sat down for an impromptu concert once, and sometimes couldn't think of what to play next. When I was done, I thought "Oh I should have played ____, one of my favorites." I vowed that that wouldn't happen again.

So what I do is memorize a set list of favorite tunes using the memory techniques of Harry Lorayne to have that list of songs always in my head.

For example, here's my current "solo top ten" list:

Til There was You
Have you Met Miss Jones
Pennies From Heaven
Days of Wine and Roses
Easter Parade
Afternoon in Paris
Ain't She Sweet
Blue Monk
Blue skies
If I only Had a Brain
Five Foot Two
Polka Dots & Moonbeams
Take Five
Tenderly
Linus and Lucy
Misty

And here's how I memorize it:

1. I picture myself trying to think of what songs to play as I'm standing in a garden, tilling the soil.

2. I think of a woman I know who's last name is Jones, and she's tilling the soil.

3. I picture Ms. Jones, who is quite buxom, leaning forward, and thousands of pennies are spilling out of her cleavage.

4. I picture tons of pennies falling out of the sky, and falling on wine bottles, breaking them.

5. I picture a herd of big drunken Easter bunnies in a parade (they are drunk from the wine).

6. I picture Easter bunnies jumping all over the Eiffel tower.

7. I picture people licking the Eiffel tower and finding that it is sweet.

Etc. You get the idea.

Using this technique, I played my first paid solo gig last week, and sat down with no music or notes, and played seamlessly through the list. It was great fun.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 10:10 AM

Originally Posted By: bluespianofan
I wonder if any extremely benevolent soul would be interested in taking a fake book piece and showing us their process in working up an arrangement.


I hope these help:



Posted by: bluespianofan

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 10:44 AM

Al, fantastic stuff--thanks!
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 02:04 PM

Thanks for the honorable mention of the very long running Jazz Study Group thread in the ABF.

I think the following lessons in there might be relevant here as they apply to solo piano style of playing.

Solo Piano 2 + 3 Voicing Lesson

Two hand Voicings - Practice Strategy This one is interesting because I broke out the two handed voicing as a pattern so you're hand just gets drawn to it.

I also tend to mix it up with what I call "modern stride" (I don't know the name for the actual style), where you pedal the bass root and then hit a rootless voicing above. I'll tend to do this when I'm improvising with the RH or just want to play a single line melody. But the difference with the regular stride is that the bass note is not always on beat 1, and often it is played only on every 2 or more chords.

Rootless voicings are also covered in that Jazz thread.

Typically I'd be mixing it up for interest.

Just in general, when playing solo piano, you really have to think "orchestrally" and pay attention to multiple registers. So often it is important to eye the forefinger/thumb of both hands and be aware of what harmonization can be done with them. In the simplest case, just think of harmonizing the melody in thirds ala Bill Evans.

I'm not exactly sure of the difference in playing between jazz solo pianists and cocktail style, other than the fact that I'd be likely to be improvising an alternate melody.

Perhaps Robin can tell us. I'm enjoying Robin's book too thumb and finally took the plunge after reading this thread.
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 02:12 PM

Nice Al! You obviously spent a bit of time figuring those specific arrangements out.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 02:22 PM

Thanks, JW, I'm going to work on that. It would be nice to add some voicings to my quiver that include 5ths.

For the practicing of the 5ths, I'm guessing I should use fingering of 1 & 4, right?

It would be great if you could post a recording or video of you playing something strictly with these voicings. I'm having trouble seeing how to fit the melody note in there.
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 02:41 PM

BTW Al, I'm no different from you since I'm a relative newbie too.

Just to compare notes, I noticed you do a lot of rootless in the RH. I don't know what happened but I rarely do that now. Maybe because I'm always freeing the upper fingers for improvisation or for the melody. So I try to keep the harmonic structure below finger 2 of my RH.

I guess I was influenced a lot by someone in another forum who said "think 10 fingers rather than LH/RH".

I probably also tend to arrange less and play in a more standard way that I apply to multiple tunes and tend to improvise what I do more. So I'm impressed at how you vary what you do in your arrangements. I probably "wing it" more and rely on more general strategies for a harmonic base and rhythmic variations.
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 02:49 PM

Originally Posted By: TromboneAl
Thanks, JW, I'm going to work on that. It would be nice to add some voicings to my quill that include 5ths.

For the practicing of the 5ths, what fingering should I use, 1 & 5 or 1 & 4?


Did I not describe that in the lesson? Wow that's a big omission.

I personally use LH 5 2 and was taught to practice 1 2 5 in the RH (playing two fifths in a row). The reason for the RH practicing in two fifths was so that that the role of playing the fifth pattern can be done either with fingers 1 2 or 2 5 depending on melody position.

If you move to the later lessons where the extensions are added you will see why.

My "pedagogic" example for this style of two handed playing is probably All the Things You Are, because of the predominance of thirds in the melody so the RH is actually a shape for "3 7 3" and the LH is shaped for "1 5 9"

The reason for practicing in the fifth shapes was not because this is the only way to play but because it allows one to visualize the keyboard differently and you get the facility to mix it up more.

Not easy though....
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 02:50 PM

Quote:
I'm not exactly sure of the difference in playing between jazz solo pianists and cocktail style, other than the fact that I'd be likely to be improvising an alternate melody.

I think one difference might be that cocktail pianists tend to play more right-hand full octave-chords (playing the melody as an octave with one or more chord notes in between). smile
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 02:57 PM

Originally Posted By: Elssa

I think one difference might be that cocktail pianists tend to play more right-hand full octave-chords with the melody. smile


That's specific to jazz pianist Red Garland style. smile Actually he does a 1-5-8 pattern. So some jazz pianists do this a lot too to emulate Garland. But true enough, I don't ever do this.

The reason is that usually I'm reserving extra fingers for more harmony so I personally tend to avoid duplicate notes. So maybe that's one difference, jazz pianists tend to have more complex voicings.
Posted by: s_winitsky

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 03:27 PM

I think its all just music, some good, some bad smile

I sometimes like to point out its just as bad to accent bar lines in classical music as it is in jazz smile This was my first reaction when I was first taught phrasing in a jazz setting. I told my teacher its actually the same way in classical music (this is kind of a long story.) He did not disagree smile

b.t.w. Jazzwee you have put together some really good and helpful resources/notes in this forum.


Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/10 06:20 PM

Interesting how they call George Shearing's style "Cocktail Jazz": smile

http://batlyrics.com/george_shearing-lyrics.html

George Shearing (born 13 August 1919 in London) is a well-known jazz pianist and inventor of the famous "Shearing Sound": a form of smooth cocktail jazz characterised by block chords played on the piano along with similar chords played on the vibraphone.
Posted by: s_winitsky

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/15/10 10:55 AM

Yeah Shearing is really an excellent pianist. Among my favorite. He has some really excellent solo piano CD's. If I had to put a label on it, it would be just 'really good piano playing' smile

Originally Posted By: Elssa
Interesting how they call George Shearing's style "Cocktail Jazz": smile

http://batlyrics.com/george_shearing-lyrics.html

George Shearing (born 13 August 1919 in London) is a well-known jazz pianist and inventor of the famous "Shearing Sound": a form of smooth cocktail jazz characterised by block chords played on the piano along with similar chords played on the vibraphone.
Posted by: BistroBaron

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/15/10 04:36 PM

A couple of “lounging around” memories...while thinking I’ve played the wrong ones - -

Interrupted while playing Gershwin: “Do you know 'Jeremiah was Bullfrog?' How about 'Rollin’ on the River?' No, wait, I know! Do you know that song my father and mother like, the one from that movie? You know, the one that was famous back then? [hums an unrecognizable, out-of-tune bar of something] You must know THAT one!”

Working a (very) classy lounge: A drunk tries to sit next to you to “help” with 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow,' spills red wine on your white tux shirt, and you have to sit there for the rest of the night because the spare shirt you usually keep in the car is at the cleaners.

Having the next Carmen McCrea wobble up unannounced to the piano, begin to sing, and then stop and tell you in a loud voice you’re playing her favorite song in the wrong key.

Playing (once is enough, thank you) in a lounge where all sound has to run through a master so the manager can control both your piano and mic volume. Everyone’s a critic...

Cringing every other chord because the grand hasn’t been tuned since the day they bought it (probably 40 years ago), and improvising around all the flat/sharp/busted keys. “Oh, geeez, I need to transpose that one to Db for it to sound good?”

Having someone in management tell you in no uncertain terms not to hit on a certain cocktail waitress: the last musician that did was found at the bottom of a cliff. (I kid you not.)

Having Lola Falana and Lou Rawls walk in after their show for a drink while you’re playing 'You’ll Never Find' and stare at you without expressions on their faces until you finish the song. (They do, however, stay a while and also wave good night.)

Having the lounge manager ask if you’re taking all your things home that night or coming back in the morning. He seems strangely relieved to hear you’re packing-up and taking everything when you leave. The place burns down later that same night.

~BB
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/15/10 05:17 PM

BistroBaron, with stories like those (especially the last three! wow ), I sure wish you would de-lurk more often! smile
Posted by: DaleM

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/15/10 10:02 PM

Robin -- I loved your book, and think it's very generous of you to be chatting on this board with us.

I have a question that I was wondering while reading your book:

With your father, Mister Rogers and later your husband, you've been fortunate to have had ready-made contacts in the business.

I've wondered if these contacts have helped propel your career forward -- either by helping you understand what's required to be successful (i.e. how to polish your act, what to practice, etc.) or by actually helping you make contacts with people who've helped you get nice gigs?

By asking this, I am very aware that any help they've given you is only part of the equation. Certainly they weren't able to memorize that ton of music you've memorized, and they haven't drilled chords and scales for you. But, I wonder what sort of help those contacts have provided.

Thanks,
Dale
Posted by: RayzKane

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/15/10 10:57 PM

From some of the cocktail pianists, I would like to hear the definitive answer to: "What exactly is cocktail piano?"

www.dictionary.com

That link produces no results: "not found".

How would YOU describe it, in detail?

Ray
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/15/10 11:51 PM

Great question, Ray. smile I'll tack on another one.. Do most "cocktail pianists" know how to play by ear? I know the method inside and out that's taught by the two most popular play-by-ear online teachers, and it's a great help in my cocktail piano playing. I don't need to rely on sheet music or memorize anything most of the time.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/16/10 12:33 AM

Quote:
I know the method inside and out that's taught by the two most popular play-by-ear online teachers


Can you give us a brief synopsis of this method?
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/16/10 01:02 AM

This isn't an endorsement of any course, but just to give you the main idea of what they teach.. smile

http://www.articlesbase.com/music-articl...song-22725.html
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/16/10 01:25 AM

Thanks to all of the musicians who have added their technical expertise to this thread—I knew I could count on you. I'm sure many readers will find your posts helpful.

Dale, I loved your question for several reasons. I'll try to answer:

1. Although I loved music as a kid, and really enjoyed playing the piano, I never wanted to be a musician. I didn't think I was good enough, and didn't have it in me to put in the hours of daily practice necessary for any kind of a serious concert career. I had other ideas about what I wanted to do with my life.

2. Nobody sets out to be a cocktail pianist. Most of us who do this for a living have all bumped into the work by accident, driven by the desire to make a living doing something we actually enjoy.

3. I got my first job on Nantucket by accident, far away from home, my dad, and all of his contacts. You read the book--you know--he was mortified that his eighteen year old daughter had landed a gig in a bar that catered to drunken yachtsmen. Did he help me land that job or any other job after that? No. He stayed out of my way. Did he help me with suggestions and musical advice? Of course. The best piece of advice he gave me was to find my own style and not try to copy other musicians.

I spent a lot of time in bars and nightclubs when I was a kid. My mom would take us to hear my dad play, so I was around music more than the average kid, that's for sure. And I knew from my dad's stories what it was like dealing with customers and F&B managers and drunks and waiters. So yes, in a way I was more prepared than the average teenager.

Another interesting thing: My father was/is a very versatile musician. He could sub for the symphony, do studio work, AND go out and play in bars. I think I learned early on about the difference between performance work and background work. He told all those goofy stories about playing in nightclubs, but he always respected the art and craft of playing this kind of music. He NEVER copped an attitude about playing in clubs. He respected the people who were good at it.

Dad once had a gig at the White House, playing with Mister Rogers for Nancy Reagan. That same night he was at the Swissvale Elk's Club in Pittsburgh, playing on a makeshift stage with a Dixieland band for a Christmas party.

I think most successful musicians have these kinds of stories. Up-down-high-low.

Wait! Now that I think about it, Dad did introduce me to Pete Frank (possibly not his real name) an agent in Pittsburgh who ONLY sent me on horrible jobs, including one gig at the Oakdale Army Support Base where the client was expecting a Snake Dancer and got me instead. Thanks, Dad.

There was an entire "family" of people involved with the Mister Rogers program, including Don Brockett (Chef Brockett) who was also a theatrical producer of note in the Pittsburgh area. He knew me (because of my dad) and eventually hired me for several of his shows, first as a pianist, then later as an actor. He's in the book, too.

I never worked on the Rogers program, but I think Fred and his philosophy had a major influence on my family. Fred, some of you may know, was a pianist and composer of his own songs. In a way, I think he would have loved to have been a cocktail pianist himself. Nothing gave him more pleasure than sitting in the corner, noodling and playing the piano. On several occasions he showed up where I was working. You want some street cred at your cocktail piano gig? Have Mister Rogers hang out next to your piano.

He said to me one time; "It must make you happy to know you're giving people so much joy with your music."

I try to remember those words. Especially when I'm starting my fourth set, there's a feuding couple at the table next to the piano, the waitress is glaring at me because she wants to go home, I can't remember the bridge to one of my own compositions, and my bra strap is slipping.

Here is my definition of cocktail piano music. "Sophisticated music that enhances the evening without getting in the way."

You could also call it an "artistic musical backdrop to the evening."

Or you could just say: "It's there if you want to listen, it blends in if you don't."
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/16/10 03:57 AM

About playing by ear, after 1 year of playing piano, I played at a Christmas party at a friends house. I played every Christmas song by ear, and improvised a bit. My keyboard was an arranger so I just played LH chords and it took care of the rhythm section. You can imagine how horrendous my technique was at 1 year of playing. But heck, I could play anything they dished out (I could guess the chords).

So maybe that counts as a cocktail gig. I did get tips! (my only payment smile.

Looking back at what I can do today, that must have been an embarrassment. But heck I was just background anyway...
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/16/10 11:15 AM

Here's my problem when playing by ear. I can get the melody notes right 95% of the time, but I need at least 99%. Consider, for example, the second ending of On Green Dolphin Street:



Even if I know the song very well in my head, if I've never played it, I am not going to be able to reliably hit the notes pointed out by the arrows.

Can you do this? Is there any way to get better at it?
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/16/10 03:12 PM

Al, it may mean you don't really know the melody in your head, truly. It's what you think the melody is.

Green Dolphin is such a good example. There are alterations in the melody too (B section I think). Once I really learned the melody as it should be, I can play it by ear now. I remember my teacher correcting me on this exact tune.

I think the term playing by ear is sometimes a misnomer. Playing what's in your ear vs. what "should be" in your ear is different IMHO.

Fortunately each of these types of errors is learned only once. I bet you can play it perfectly now all the time. The other good news is that no one will notice.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/16/10 06:24 PM

Well, I can sing it perfectly, but although I've played it hundreds of times, I sometimes hit some of those notes wrong. I have to mentally remember what notes they are.

If you play it in another key, can you play it perfectly the first time?
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/16/10 07:37 PM

Originally Posted By: TromboneAl
Well, I can sing it perfectly, but although I've played it hundreds of times, I sometimes hit some of those notes wrong. I have to mentally remember what notes they are.

If you play it in another key, can you play it perfectly the first time?


I'm sure I'll hit some wrong notes if I do it blindly. But since I think jazz and soloing, I'd be looking at the changes (a transposed one if necessary) and I will be able to follow the melody as it fits the changes. It works for a LOT of tune fortunately. Even Green Dolphin.

But you do pick a hard one. When I'm doing a jam, I've avoided playing the melody if I don't know it well enough because there's too much to think about in a group situation. I can probably wing it but it's too much pressure. Maybe when I'm a seasoned veteran.

BTW - I don't have the skills to transpose a complex tune on the fly. Too much brainpower. I use my Iphone App to transpose and I just read the changes.
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/16/10 07:42 PM

Kinda OT a little, I now realize why it's difficult to play a melody by ear in a group situation. I can't hear myself too well in the middle of guitars, drums and bass. I'm a heavy ear player so it impacts on how I play a lot. Fortunately, this is not the case in a quiet Cocktail situation.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/17/10 02:27 AM

I have three cocktail gigs this weekend. Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday lunch. The lunch gig is always a little tricky, since the piano is in the dining room and we have many older guests who think I'm too loud before I even play a note.

Why, oh why, does the host always seat the oldest person in the room right next to the piano? I suspect a hearing aid makes a person super sensitive to music. Either that or they just like to complain. In any case, I take a lot of breaks on the lunch gig.

The Fri-Sat lobby gig in the castle is a DREAM. I can really play there, without ever having to worry about an overzealous F&B guy giving me the international sign for KEEP IT DOWN. How I love this job!
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/17/10 03:16 AM

Hi Al,
Originally Posted By: TromboneAl
Here's my problem when playing by ear. I can get the melody notes right 95% of the time, but I need at least 99%. Consider, for example, the second ending of On Green Dolphin Street:

PLAY BY EAR

Even if I know the song very well in my head, if I've never played it, I am not going to be able to reliably hit the notes pointed out by the arrows.

Can you do this? Is there any way to get better at it?

Absolutely. Read the article again:

http://www.articlesbase.com/music-articl...song-22725.html

You need to match the long melody notes with the chords. Most long melody tones are chord tones. Practice with a simple song like Silent Night, then go on to more complex songs. smile
Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/17/10 03:29 AM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
I can really play there, without ever having to worry about an overzealous F&B guy giving me the international sign for KEEP IT DOWN. How I love this job!


LOL! Can you illustrate that? (for accuracy) smile
Posted by: dpvjazz

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/17/10 12:36 PM

[quote][Piano Girl RMG] I suspect a hearing aid makes a person super sensitive to music.

Hey Robin with an aging population I am encountering more times when there are people with hearing aids in the audiences and the hearing aids are problematic at best. Unless they have real the expensive hearing aids they do not have much control over how musical sounds might affect them. There is this elderly gentleman who I know has been a singer for most his life but in the last two years he has lost his hearing and uses a hearing aid that he can never get right and music just does not sound the same. In fact he has said on several occasions depending on how loud it gets it can be very irritating. Plus the sounds they hear are garbled and some times do not feel or hear the warmth of the music. Here a web site dealing with this problem plus a few quotes check it out.
http://www.hearingaidforums.com/showthread.php?t=1956
[quote][Peter McC]
Post SURVEY: Feedback control and Music.
Please contribute, especially if you are a musician!
The purpose of this thread is to try and rectify the lack of public knowledge about how different aids handle music when feedback control (FBC) in is operation.
Obviously the best approach when playing a CD or attending a concert is to use a dedicated music program, with no FBC. However for general purpose automatic programs there are advantages in FBC, and when music crops up unexpectedly one doesn't want to have to stop driving or washing dishes just to change programs for a minute or two.
It is well known that the FBC algorithms used in different aids are not the same, and give varying results for music. What is NOT well known is which aids manage this well and which don't.
I am a musician with BTE aids and moderate hearing loss. I have tried the approach of turning off FBC in all my programs, with tighter earmolds, etc, and I don't enjoy the result. Obviously FBC will have some effect on music, but I would like to find an aid where I can enjoy a relatively open fitting (necessitating FBC), and where the FBC music artefacts are reasonably subtle.
[quote][ZCT]
You are quite right Peter, music is a real pain for most hearing aids. Aids are designed to enhance speech, and that pesky music people like to listen to confuses the aid into thinking it is feeding back. It then makes a series of unnecessary and annoying adjustments, which are almost as annoying as feedback would have been.
Starkey are claiming to currently have the world's most advanced feedback canceling system, according to their literature. The latest information they sent me shows it beating five top aids in blind comparison tests. But then, I guess they would tell me that!

In all seriousness, I have seen a significant improvement in the way that aids are handling music, as the chips inside get smarter and faster, they are capable of performing more sophisticated real time analysis of the sounds going into the aid, and better at handling feedback versus a sound you really want to hear. I believe Starkey tracks 16 different frequencies looking for evidence of feedback. That's quite a lot more than most aids do.
I have patients who are musicians and they have shown good results with the Destiny line of products. And I've been especially impressed with the latest anti-feedback technology.

I thought COCKTAIL PIANISTS SHOULD BE AWARE of this when playing in restaurants.
DpvJazz
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/17/10 04:17 PM

At the nursing home, they sat everyone far away from the piano, and made me keep the cover closed.

Here's a related "too loud" story from an old drummer friend. He was playing in a big band, and the conductor kept telling him to play quieter. So, in rebellion, he finally just pretended to play the drums with out actually touching them. At the end of the tune, the conductor said "Perfect!"
Posted by: Studio Joe

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/17/10 04:47 PM

Originally Posted By: TromboneAl
Here's a related "too loud" story from an old drummer friend. He was playing in a big band, and the conductor kept telling him to play quieter. So, in rebellion, he finally just pretended to play the drums with out actually touching them. At the end of the tune, the conductor said "Perfect!"


I've played with drummers like that. Meaning it sounds better if they don't play.
Posted by: Ken.

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/17/10 05:28 PM

LOL, that was funny.

About missing any notes of the melody, usually the notes I get wrong are when there is a large interval or there is a key change. Whenever I learn a new tune, I practise the melody by ear and refer to the lead sheet only when necessary. If you keep on doing this for every tune you learn then you should get better at this. Use both your ear and mind when learning a tune by ear, for example work out the interval of the note you got wrong from the previous note as well as hearing it.

But maybe you're doing this already since you say you get 95% of it right.

Practising various intervals ascending and descending in whole tones, chromatically, major scale, or minor 3rds etc may also help.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/18/10 02:28 AM

The international sign for "keep it down" involves the F&B guy waving his arms at you from across the room--like the man in the orange suit parking airplanes on the tarmac of your favorite airport--alternating the sweeping up and down movement with his arms with the standard "shush" motion (finger in front of lips). The exaggerated movement always creates a ruckus and causes everyone in the room--even the guests who have been enjoying your music---to also assume you are playing too loudly and you are thus screwed for the rest of the night.

It has taken me DECADES to figure this out, but I now have my room managers and staff trained to come to the piano and discreetly tell me if there's a problem and to discreetly point out which table is complaining. Then I can handle the situation in a constructive way. Nobody teaches this in F&B school, so it's up to us, ladies and gentlemen of the cocktail piano trade, to educate our co-workers.

Thanks for clearing up the hearing aid confusion, DPV. I knew it was something like this. Maybe this is another point for discussion with hotel managers. I honestly think (in my case) they seat the older people (those likely to have hearing aids) close to the piano because it's the shortest distance to walk from the entrance. I will talk to management about this.

This brings up a good point. If you're lucky enough to have a steady job, make sure you make it known to your co-workers that you want to be part of their team. It makes a huge difference in the way you're treated.

Studio Joe and Al: "You have to be a helluva a good drummer to be better than no drummer at all." This is the first line of my novel (Rhythm) and it's a famous Chet Baker quote.

I once had a man come up to me after I had played for lunch in the castle. He said: "Your music is wonderful. I can hardly hear it." Then he took a business card and contacted me three months later to play for his wedding. So there you go. Quiet works.

Hey, here is a nice YouTube video posted by a photographer who used my music. I'm linking because it's a good example of what I play on my gigs. Composition is Winter Lullaby from my Songs from the Castle album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wd6OwbBETBo


Posted by: Studio Joe

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/18/10 02:51 AM

Absolutely beautiful, Robin! The video and the music are both excellent.
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/18/10 09:17 AM

When I saw this comic in yesterday's paper, my first thought was "This is perfect for the Cocktail piano thread!" laugh

Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/18/10 10:20 AM

Love this, Monica! Thank you for posting. People actually do ask for the strangest things. Not all that long ago I had a request for a Tom Jones song called BLACK BETTY, the lyric of which is something like "oh black Betty bam bam a ram." So that should give you an idea of what the tune must sound like and how wildly inappropriate it is for solo piano.

I'm of to the castle for another round of "guess how many Xmas songs they want to hear."
Posted by: offnote

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/18/10 04:32 PM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
Love this, Monica! Thank you for posting. People actually do ask for the strangest things. Not all that long ago I had a request for a Tom Jones song called BLACK BETTY, the lyric of which is something like "oh black Betty bam bam a ram." So that should give you an idea of what the tune must sound like and how wildly inappropriate it is for solo piano.


so are you saying you cannot do bam bam on the piano? laugh
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/19/10 01:29 AM

No. I do not do bam-bam. I can do bling-bling, tinka-tinka, or la-di-da. But I draw the line at bam-bam. I'll leave that to he youngsters.

On the other hand, Tom Jones, is what, like 75? And he can do bam-bam. But he has those swivel hips and tight pants—he has no choice.
Posted by: player99

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/19/10 06:57 AM

Interesting thread! smile I've been learning some easy listening pieces
myself recently, and was wondering if there were any other cocktail
pianists like this guy here making their music available online:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-zFKCpZsLI
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AS_VZXPVMiw

Fabrizio is a pianist on a cruise liner, and even though his pieces
sound quite sophisticated I can play some of them fairly decently myself, even
though I'm only around intermediate level. Also I think it helps you to improve
faster if you come across some great music you like, as you want to put more
hours in to learn it properly smile
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/19/10 11:05 AM

Welcome to the forum, Player99.

I transcribed and learned the arpeggios in Fabrizio's Autumn Leaves, but I can't play them reliably enough for public consumption:

Posted by: RayzKane

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/19/10 10:02 PM

Did you use a program like "Transcribe" from Seventh String
Software to do this?

Ray
Posted by: s_winitsky

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/20/10 12:33 PM

You know I have always interpreted this thing as an arpeggiation of a really nice voicing.

For me I hear this as left hand plays root and fifth, right hand plays 3rd 7th and 3rd (doubling the 3rd and in this case arpeggiating the 3rd and 7th) I don't know if that's actually what he is doing, maybe I should listen more closely smile this voicing seems to work for me on minor and major 7th chords were the melody is the 3rd. Really its a very simple voicing but has a nice open/clean sound.

I find if I come across a really nice voicing, it sounds nice if I arpeggiate it quickly, slowly or not at all.

I often like to arpeggiate upper structure style voicings on dominant chords for example. Though in general I like to stay clear of these virtuoso style tricks and I hate practising arpegios and things like that smile

Originally Posted By: TromboneAl
Welcome to the forum, Player99.

I transcribed and learned the arpeggios in Fabrizio's Autumn Leaves, but I can't play them reliably enough for public consumption:

Posted by: jazzwee

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/20/10 02:46 PM

Yes apparently he's doing 5th shapes starting the 3rd. This is exactly the shape I was discussing in the two handed voicings I was talking about. He confirms it in his comments.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/20/10 07:56 PM

Although I have Transcribe! now, I transcribed it before that. I probably slowed it down with Audacity.

Yes, you have it right -- arpeggiated 3rds and 7ths.

Here it is the way that I play it, played very slowly. The first three notes are at half the tempo (by mistake):

http://www.box.net/shared/2mzo75cgvz
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/22/10 01:05 AM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG

Hey, here is a nice YouTube video posted by a photographer who used my music. I'm linking because it's a good example of what I play on my gigs. Composition is Winter Lullaby from my Songs from the Castle album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wd6OwbBETBo


This is so beautiful/dreamy, Robin.. Were you always this creative with music? Very inspiring! smile
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/22/10 01:19 AM

Originally Posted By: player99
Interesting thread! smile I've been learning some easy listening pieces
myself recently, and was wondering if there were any other cocktail
pianists like this guy here making their music available online:





Thanks for posting this, Player 99. smile I really like the way he plays it (Autumn Leaves) first through in a cocktail piano style (lots of arps), and then more jazzy (walking bass). thumb
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/22/10 01:54 AM

Originally Posted By: player99

Fabrizio is a pianist on a cruise liner,

That would be my dream job. thumb

Carol Cocktail Piano



http://elssa1.blogspot.com/
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/22/10 09:38 AM

Quote:
That would be my dream job. thumb


Be careful what you wish for. I think he plays for hours and hours with no one listening at all. I've heard that the cruise line gigs can be grueling. But I think I'd kind of like that job too.

Is that "Carol Cocktail Piano" person someone you know?
Posted by: Piano World

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/22/10 10:03 AM

Originally Posted By: TromboneAl
Quote:
That would be my dream job. thumb


Be careful what you wish for. I think he plays for hours and hours with no one listening at all. I've heard that the cruise line gigs can be grueling. But I think I'd kind of like that job too.

Is that "Carol Cocktail Piano" person someone you know?


Depends on where you are on the ship, and if you can do more than play. I sat in briefly a couple of times for the girl playing the piano on a cruise. She could play anything, but she could also sing, and often led the crowd in singing all the standard stuff.

On another cruise (Royal Caribbean), we met David Curtis Mutter. He plays, he sings, and he does a running comedy routine interacting with the crowd.
Literally standing room only every time he performs.

So I'd say yes, if you just play the piano there will be times you will be playing just for yourself, still not a bad gig if you get to travel on a cruise ship free.

And there was a pianist doing just that on the same cruise with the girl I mentioned earlier. She was in the "piano bar", he was playing the piano next to a bar in the main atrium.

But it you can sing and interact with the crowd, you will pull in a lot more people. It's sort of in the middle between cocktail pianist and primary entertainer.

More than background music, less then headliner.

I thought about trying to get a gig on a cruise ship, but they require a minimum 90 day commitment, some of them require 6 months. And you get very little time in port.

In other words, you gotta love it.

Now if Kathy (my girlfriend) could join me as the singer (she has a great voice), that could work :-)
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/22/10 03:26 PM

Originally Posted By: TromboneAl
Quote:
That would be my dream job. thumb


Be careful what you wish for. I think he plays for hours and hours with no one listening at all. I've heard that the cruise line gigs can be grueling. But I think I'd kind of like that job too.

Is that "Carol Cocktail Piano" person someone you know?

No, I found her videos in a YouTube search I did for "cocktail piano music". I was just reading her posts, though, and I think she said she does four 40 minute sets a night, so I take back what I said about "dream job".. I don't think I'd have the stamina to do even half that. eek
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/23/10 01:04 AM

Four forty-minutes sets is a pretty typical job, especially once you enter the "piano zone" and your brain kind of detaches itself from what your hands are doing. It's a cool feeling. Not that I've experimented with drugs (who, ME?) but it's a little like being high. I think it might be similar to what a runner experiences a few miles into a marathon. Hard to describe, and it doesn't happen on every gig, but when it does, you'll know it.

I've never done a cruise ship gig. This creates a big hole in the Piano Girl resume, because I know these gigs are a huge part of the lives of many working musicians. Frank, I have always had the same problem—the few times I've been contacted for these jobs, the contracts were for six months or longer. And I didn't want to leave my Manhattan piano job for that long to cruise around the Greek Islands, tempting as it sounded. I think those offers always came from the Peter Duchin office.

Another confession: I suffer terribly from motion sickness. In one of the Marriott chapters of PG I describe having to play occasionally in the revolving bar overlooking Times Square. It was AWFUL for me. For years after that, whenever I was offered a job, once of the first things I would ask was whether or not anything was rotating or spinning in the room. I just can't take it. So maybe it's better I've stayed off the ship.

Anyone playing Christmas cocktail gigs? Anyone figure out yet how "Carol of the Bells" ends? That piece is always fun to play at first, but then it starts feeling like water torture and then I can't figure out how to get out without sounding ridiculous, so I keep playing thinking something will occur to me, but then it never does.. Death by Carol.



Posted by: Hop

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/23/10 10:53 AM

Originally Posted By: Piano World

Depends on where you are on the ship, and if you can do more than play. I sat in briefly a couple of times for the girl playing the piano on a cruise. She could play anything, but she could also sing, and often led the crowd in singing all the standard stuff.

On another cruise (Royal Caribbean), we met David Curtis Mutter. He plays, he sings, and he does a running comedy routine interacting with the crowd.
Literally standing room only every time he performs.


I've been on two different cruises where I have seen this too. Four weeks ago, I cruised on the Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam, where David Seering was playing, singing, and jousting with the audience. At 9 PM when he started at the piano, there was about a 4 minute gap between empty and full in the bar piano room. Very talented man from Destin, FL. Sort of a Frank Sinatra type voice, but lots of range and capability. The best I have seen on any cruise.

About 3 or 4 years ago on the Princess line we were entertained by a young Phillipino (Arnie G) who had a Johnny Mathis type voice. Excellent singer, good piano player, and very entertaining. He still performs on Princess.

I won't mention the name of the mediocre player we heard on the only other cruise we took.

But two out of three, right?

Hop
Posted by: player99

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/24/10 12:36 AM

Quote:


But two out of three, right?



Two out of three ain't bad! (That's what Meatloaf tells me anyway.) smile
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/24/10 02:34 AM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
Anyone figure out yet how "Carol of the Bells" ends? That piece is always fun to play at first, but then it starts feeling like water torture and then I can't figure out how to get out without sounding ridiculous, so I keep playing thinking something will occur to me, but then it never does.. Death by Carol.



Well, here's my arrangement of "Carol of the Bells".. This is definitely one of those songs that puts me in that good "piano zone" you mentioned. I type for a living, about 6 hours a day (medical transcription), so actually, guess I could handle that cocktail piano schedule - but playing the piano would be so much more fun! smile Anyway, for the ending of Carol... I just did a little echo run up/arpeggio and then plunked down on that chord a couple times.. Simple - but it works. grin

Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/24/10 01:00 PM

Originally Posted By: Elssa
[quote=TromboneAl]
Quote:


Is that "Carol Cocktail Piano" person someone you know?

No, I found her videos in a YouTube search I did for "cocktail piano music".


Well, in that case I can say this (I hope it's OK): a video like that makes me feel that there's hope for me. That is, although Carol has much more facility at the piano than I do, I think she sounds terrible. She's taken a beautiful song (When you Wish Upon a Star), and turned it into this corny, clunky, schmaltzy, yuck.

My hope is that although I don't play as well as she does, I can get a better sound. But who knows, perhaps most people wouldn't notice the difference.

Hope I don't sound too judgmental!
Posted by: Hop

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/24/10 04:41 PM

Originally Posted By: TromboneAl
My hope is that although I don't play as well as she does, I can get a better sound. But who knows, perhaps most people wouldn't notice the difference.

Hope I don't sound too judgmental!


Al,

You have identified something that I too have noticed. I have seen or heard some cocktail piano players that I thought were extremely talented, but who don't produce a pleasing or satisfying experience. Too many showy arps (which I'll never be able to do like they can); too many other flourishes which I don't really care for. Some jazz piano players also seem to be overly self-indulgent: they digress melodically to the point that I forget what the tune is!

Perhaps this is just my own lack of sophistication, but I wholeheartedly agree that enjoyable piano listening can be ruined by some extremely capable players. Odd, isn't it?


Hop
Posted by: Piano World

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/24/10 05:42 PM

Years ago I was chatting with a guitarist who played some of the most
beautiful music I had ever heard.

He obviously had the capability to play just about anything, and his fingers
could fly if he wanted them to. But he chose to play tastefully rather than
trying to impress people with his technical prowess.

I mentioned to him how much I enjoyed his playing and how I was impressed
with the wonderful sounds he produced, without needing lots of flourish.

He said "The note's you Don't play are as important as the ones you do".
Good advice.
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/24/10 06:23 PM

Originally Posted By: TromboneAl
Originally Posted By: Elssa
[quote=TromboneAl]
Quote:


Is that "Carol Cocktail Piano" person someone you know?

No, I found her videos in a YouTube search I did for "cocktail piano music".


Well, in that case I can say this (I hope it's OK): a video like that makes me feel that there's hope for me. That is, although Carol has much more facility at the piano than I do, I think she sounds terrible. She's taken a beautiful song (When you Wish Upon a Star), and turned it into this corny, clunky, schmaltzy, yuck.

My hope is that although I don't play as well as she does, I can get a better sound. But who knows, perhaps most people wouldn't notice the difference.


Well, I guess the term "cocktail piano music" encompasses a variety of styles, a real bouncy one like this (Carol), jazzy, or a more flowing, classical style (which I tend to favor and which Robin does so beautifully). smile Depends on the song, of course. I wouldn't play Ain't Misbhavin" in a flowing ballad style, for example. laugh Good to be able to play all styles to some degree.

I also enjoy a few nice arpeggio runs thrown in when playing ballads. To me it just sounds boring without them and, if they're played smoothly and not overdone, adds a lot to the flow and overall interest of the arrangement. They may sound difficult but are really E-Z to play, not schmaltzy at all (but a little schmaltz never killed anyone either). LOL!

I tried taking lessons recently from a jazz piano teacher who would yell at me every time I tried to throw in a little arpeggio run. I dumped the teacher and kept the arps. As Robin says, you have to find and play the style(s) that you really love. thumb
Posted by: Hop

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/24/10 08:52 PM

Originally Posted By: Elssa
Well, I guess the term "cocktail piano music" encompasses a variety of styles, a real bouncy one like this (Carol), jazzy, or a more flowing, classical style (which I tend to favor and which Robin does so beautifully). smile Depends on the song, of course. I wouldn't play Ain't Misbhavin" in a flowing ballad style, for example. laugh Good to be able to play all styles to some degree.

I also enjoy a few nice arpeggio runs thrown in when playing ballads. To me it just sounds boring without them and, if they're played smoothly and not overdone, adds a lot to the flow and overall interest of the arrangement. They may sound difficult but are really E-Z to play, not schmaltzy at all (but a little schmaltz never killed anyone either). LOL!

As Robin says, you have to find and play the style(s) that you really love. thumb


Elssa,

I agree that arps can be used tastefully in cocktail music. One of my favorites is an ending for Misty which is an Ebmaj7 arpeggio, starting on D in a high register (the tune is in Eb). It just seems to wistfully end the piece. I also agree with you that each of us needs to play what appeals to us; that's the only way we'll please ourselves and hopefully others.

Edit Addition: I just listened to your Autumn Leaves. I like the way you use Arps in that tune.

Hop
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/25/10 10:24 AM

Originally Posted By: apple*
When I was about 23 I created an ad, a drawn picture of me holding a sign that said

"Piano playing at parties absolutely free! Grands preferred"

I sent it to the newspaper and they printed it for free. I got about 15 bookings.. 2 or 3 times a week for all of the holiday season. Every one paid me.

I really could hardly play.. I was playing Christmas music... fakebook songs and Chopin. I'd play Chopin backwards, forwards and upside down.


Hi Apple, I just realized this might be a great idea for me. I know it was a while ago, but can you tell me what the gigs/pianos/people were like? Was this in a large metropolitan area? How often did you run the ad?

Thanks!

Al
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/25/10 10:44 PM

Al, you win the Enterprising Pianist of the Year award. Good for you. As I've mentioned several times, the only way to get good at this type of work is to work. Practicing at home is critical, but the real learning takes place on the gig.

Yesterday: Played two gigs at the castle, each of them two hours long, one at lunch, the other at cocktail hour. The lunch gig featured very cute dancing children and several very elderly folks who braved the ice and snow to come out and celebrate Christmas with family. And dogs. This being Europe, dogs are often guests in the main hall and bar of the castle. My husband was playing downstairs with a jazz duo (piano/bass); I was upstairs playing solo. We met on our break for coffee. Fun. And really easy.

Last night was a little different. there are two ancient leather Chesterfield sofas next to the piano, in front of the fireplace. The first group to sit there loved the music, and the gig almost turned into a concert situation. They finished their champagne and left to go to dinner (there's a Michelin 3-star gourmet restaurant off of the main hall). Fine. Merry Christmas, everyone was happy. Within minutes a Dutch family of eight swooped into the recently vacated sofa area. They were beautiful, really beautiful-looking people in that perfect Dutch way. Blond and rosy-cheeked and perfectly dressed. But the perfume! I think they must have bathed in eau de mega=fleur before arriving at the castle. Holy cow. My eyes were watering and my throat was starting to itch. Then I started to sneeze. They really weren't listening the way the first group had listened, but that's okay, I'm used to switching on and off from listeners to non-listeners. They ignored me, I ignored them.

But I couldn't ignore them, because of the over-powering fumes wafting in my direction. Lily of the valley mingled with, what? Cloves.

Fine. I kept playing, and they began their gift exchange. I kept one eye on this activity, because I'm always curious what people give each other.

One guess.

Perfume. Which they began spraying on each other's wrists to sample the new scents. I felt like I was on the first floor of Saks Fifth Avenue. They sprayed. I played and sneezed my way through "Angels We Have Heard on High", "Hark the Herald," and a few other angel-related tunes (I keep myself entertained by putting together ridiculous medleys with central themes that only make sense to me).

I don't know why I'm posting this story, except it's a good example of a typical gig. Nothing happens, everything happens. I show up to play the piano. Dogs bark, little girls dance, and I find myself in a cloud of over-priced cologne playing songs about angels.

I'll be back at the castle today.
Posted by: Tr@iL of TEARS

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/25/10 11:53 PM

Nice stories. I just played a gig today at a senior's residence centre. Had to be the easiest one ever done. The bar/lounge was 3/4 empty as most people were with family or waiting to go out.

Had 3-4 people stay for the hour. I started playing all the usual holiday songs but then ditched it for some jazz standards. They didn't seem to mind. Ended with Somewhere over the rainbow and called it a night.

It was a very well paid gig as I negotiated a premium for coming out on Christmas!!


And I agree with the comments above about that lady cocktail player, she totally ruined the song.

It does seem like some players have that disconnect with the piano, they like to "bang" away, mistaking technique with musicality. I've seen this with several classical and jazz "virtuosos".

They are lacking the restraint and touch.

This guy's version of Wish upon a star is pretty good, and he ain't "too bad":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu3w3zjefW4
Posted by: apple*

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/26/10 12:06 PM

Originally Posted By: TromboneAl
Originally Posted By: apple*
When I was about 23 I created an ad, a drawn picture of me holding a sign that said

"Piano playing at parties absolutely free! Grands preferred"

I sent it to the newspaper and they printed it for free. I got about 15 bookings.. 2 or 3 times a week for all of the holiday season. Every one paid me.

I really could hardly play.. I was playing Christmas music... fakebook songs and Chopin. I'd play Chopin backwards, forwards and upside down.


Hi Apple, I just realized this might be a great idea for me. I know it was a while ago, but can you tell me what the gigs/pianos/people were like? Was this in a large metropolitan area? How often did you run the ad?

Thanks!

Al


I need to find the ad.. it was so naive and cute. I live in a metro of about 2 million people (Kansas City). There was a section in the Sunday magazine of the newspaper called 'serendipity', that featured up and coming businesses. They printed the ad once - it took up 1/2 the page. I was booked by rich people who gave holiday parties in their mansions... except for one booking that was in a humble abode. (that actually was a fun one). The millionaires were the only ones with pianos to play who would have the idea to have piano playing at a holiday party.

I had to turn down a few bookings because I was already reserved. all in all, it was fantastic. The only thing I regret is that it infringed on legitimate pianists who advertized throughout the year.. but I really didn't know any better. I just thought it was a good idea. I dressed in a white satin, fancy shirt with a black velvet skirt.

Posted by: Mike A

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/26/10 12:11 PM

Originally Posted By: Tr@iL of TEARS
...And I agree with the comments above about that lady cocktail player, she totally ruined the song ... Wish upon a star ...


+1.

Worse: her "My Funny Valentine" (starts at 3:30 in the video).
Posted by: Tr@iL of TEARS

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/26/10 01:43 PM

Originally Posted By: Mike A


+1.

Worse: her "My Funny Valentine" (starts at 3:30 in the video).



Ouch! I didn't get that far the first time, but oh boy.... Turns a sad poignant song into some quasi-waltz.

Maybe we should start a thread of "bad cocktail players"... I've seen a few on youtube.
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/26/10 09:04 PM

.


Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/27/10 01:04 AM

Please, let's stay away from the thread for "bad" cocktail pianists. Everyone has a different style. We're all just out there trying our best, occasionally getting it "right," sometimes completely missing the mark. Lots of people like the the way I play, lots of people would prefer to hear something more conventional. There's enough room for all of us! My suggestion is to keep this thread focused on the positive and avoid any kind of musician bashing.

I shudder to think what might have happened if YouTube had been around when I started out.

Apple, you have a point about your innocent sales ploy upsetting working musicians. But my guess is the people who hired you were NOT going to hire any live music for their parties until they saw your ad and were charmed by it. That said, my dad—a card-carrying union musician—would have pitched a fit if I had done something like that when I was starting out. He told me never to play for free, so I didn't. I see things a little differently now. Times have changed, and everyone (artist or not) needs to be creative to get started in any kind of business. I do draw the line, though, at infringing on a working musician's territory. Not cool. But if you create a job in a place where there was formerly no music, then you're on to something.
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/27/10 03:35 AM

Robin, I agree with you. I really enjoyed Carol's style with some songs, just also agreeing with some folks here that a little more variety might be nice sometimes. I do think she's very talented, though, and that's one of the reasons I posted her video. I'm sure most people find her playing fun and enjoyable. Yes, I don't like it when people/teachers, etc say "no, you shouldn't do that - it's not right", etc. Didn't you say Marian McPartland said "It's All Music" (or something like that). thumb
Posted by: casinitaly

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/27/10 04:09 AM

On a slightly different note (couldn't resist). I received Piano Girl, a Memoir for Christmas and have already devoured it. What a fun read! Complimenti Robin!
Posted by: apple*

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/27/10 12:27 PM

thought you all might enjoy this neon picture from Kansas City.. (why I'll never be a cocktail pianist in this city).

Posted by: Mike A

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/27/10 01:05 PM

Originally Posted By: Elssa
I really enjoyed Carol's style with some songs, just also agreeing with some folks here that a little more variety might be nice sometimes.


For what it's worth: The point of my comment wasn't a lack of variety. But, enough said. This is Robin's thread, and I respect her intent with it.

I do think that YouTube videos -- in particular, the ones posted by piano professionals as representative samples of their work -- provide a great learning opportunity for aspiring performers, both by positive example and by negative example. They're certainly fair game for critique.
Posted by: Tr@iL of TEARS

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/27/10 03:31 PM

Perhaps the "bad cocktail piano" thread idea was harsh. But I think most of the musicians here can recognize "good or bad" music.

Ok how about this then, everyone go on youtube and find a clip or 2 of solo piano that they like and say why. I'll start:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaCq0RKtjEA


This guy knows how to play delicately and swing, within the same song. He changes the mood of the music well, and uses just enough harmonic dissonance. His version of Misty is good too.

Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/27/10 10:12 PM

FWIW, I think anyone who plays cocktail piano music for a living is overworked and underpaid. Whatever they're paid ??, it's not enough!
Posted by: Tr@iL of TEARS

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/28/10 01:05 AM

Originally Posted By: Elssa
FWIW, I think anyone who plays cocktail piano music for a living is overworked and underpaid. Whatever they're paid ??, it's not enough!


The hourly rate can be quite good but it's not a 9-5 job in that you can't book an 8 hour gig.

Most gigs are 1-3 hours, I charge between $100-150/hour for right now. Because it's the holidays and new years people are willing to pay. Come January forget it.

I don't think anyone in my city plays cocktail full time, there simply isn't enough work. Most hotels go through agencies with 10-20 pianists and rotate them. The few proper jazz bars here have weekly artists.

I'd say 99% of them have a day job.

For me I just consider it fun, a chance to play and earn some pocket $.
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/28/10 02:06 AM

Quote:
I charge between $100-150/hour for right now. Because it's the holidays and new years people are willing to pay. Come January forget it.


What's the average rate in your area during the year? I know of a great jazz/cocktail piano player/teacher who played at a Nordstrom's in southern NY for many years, and I don't think he made even $20.00 an hour, and it was a regular five day a week job. Not sure about any benefits, though. Now, all of the Nordstrom' players (at least here) were let go, unfortunately. frown

Nordstrom:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2004041287_nordstrom29.html

http://getsatisfaction.com/nordstrom/topics/nordstrom_benching_its_piano_players




Posted by: Tr@iL of TEARS

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/28/10 02:49 AM


I don't think there's an average rate. Basically each musician can charge what they want and see who is willing to pay.

I've seen music students advertise for $30-50/hour on craigslist up to professionals who ask over $200.
Mind you, people know they will pay a premium for Christmas, New Years or wedding events.

I have a friend who's jazz trio rates are just over $200, split 3 ways and that's $60-70 each.

For the agencies standard rates seem to be around $100/hour, but the agency takes a cut.

I've also heard of well known jazz players who can ask over $1000 for a private gig. Very rare though.

I couldn't imagine getting under $20/hour to play at Nordstrom. They are good and steady jobs but in all honesty that is peanuts! Even my teaching rate is more than double that.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/28/10 04:02 AM

I use a two tier payment system.

The hotel pays me a generous hourly rate for my steady gig. I've been playing at Schlosshotel Lerbach three days a week for the last ten years. This gig gets me lots of private parties, because the venue is well-known and a respected hang out for people with money.

My rate for private parties is substantially higher. Some private parties (weddings, business dinners, etc) are easy, some are a huge pain in the neck, with a bunch of phone calls and meetings and unnecessary conversations about stupid things (see the Let's Talk Weddings thread). Many of my private parties are at the same location as my steady gig. Some of them are in a different location. I charge for travel costs if the gig is more than 15 miles away from home, and insist on a hotel room if it's a late night job more than 90 minutes away from home. In the event the job is in a piano-less venue, I refer the client to a piano rental firm that provides a grand piano I'm comfortable with. All of this can get very expensive, but most people who call me are aware of this in advance. Depending on the season, I usually play between 2-8 private gigs a month, plus my steady job, which I sub out if there's a more lucrative private party to play (the hotel is cool about this—I have a few subs who they like).

I could get away with it, but I do not charge extra to play for the super-rich. I can't bring myself to do it. Not fair, in my opinion. That said, I also do not charge less for people who try and barter with me. My rate is my rate. End of story.

NOTE: I will, on occasion, play for free for friends or charity events. I have this theory that you should either work for your full rate or work for free—anything else is icky.

I have three recordings that are fairly popular in this area, and many of my party clients first heard me on the radio, the stereo of a friend, or on the sound system of some fancy store and tracked me down from there. I often sell multiple copies of my recordings to the client to use as party favors. This works well on many levels. I have my own record label, so I actually make money when I sell a CD. Plus, it exposes a new bunch of people to my music. One of last month's clients bought 62 copies of Songs from the Castle, for example. When this happens II sign the CDs and my daughter runs the gift wrap department. I'm very "small potatoes" compared to a big business, but one note at a time it all adds up, and I'm happy doing what I love. It feels right.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/28/10 10:46 AM

The rates in this town are pitiful. My trio has been playing in a nice restaurant for $25 each plus dinner. Since it's a 60 mile (RT) drive for me, I lose money every time I play.

I told the restaurant owner "The money isn't as important to us as a good audience, and being treated right. If you treat us professionally, we'll work hard to help you create a good atmosphere in your restaurant."

Then I called him last week, and he told me he was canceling our next two scheduled gigs, saying they are reconsidering having music. They were gigs that we had both committed to.

So, so much for being treated with courtesy. If he'd said "We'll stand by our commitment, but after that we're done," I wouldn't have had a problem with it.

I try to follow Robin's dad's advice: "Don't take it personally," but this stuff always bugs me.

But anyway, my point is that perhaps sometimes if you don't charge enough, you aren't treated with respect.
Posted by: apple*

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/28/10 10:57 AM

sorry to hear that Al. don't feel to bad.. they would pay me NOT to play.
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/28/10 01:23 PM

It's such a shame.. They're trading the great ambience live music provides for saving a few bucks. bah

I'd always get paid $100.00 for a one hour service as a substitute church organist and I was very happy with that. Of course when you consider the hours of practice and preparation, it's not that hot.

I also used to perform cocktail/jazz music on electric organ (with pedals) for free at local clubs and other places. The electric organ is much easier to play than piano, I think.
Posted by: Mike A

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/28/10 07:25 PM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
... I've been playing at Schlosshotel Lerbach three days a week for the last ten years....


Elegant!
www.schlosshotel-lerbach.com/en/hotel-koeln
Posted by: Tr@iL of TEARS

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/28/10 11:43 PM

Originally Posted By: Mike A
Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
... I've been playing at Schlosshotel Lerbach three days a week for the last ten years....


Elegant!
www.schlosshotel-lerbach.com/en/hotel-koeln



Nice castle! I couldn't find any pics of the piano there. Do you have any photos of you playing Robin?
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/29/10 01:20 AM

Yes, it's a very nice castle, ToT. Parts of it are 900 years old (the fireplace and the floor). The place was dismantled and moved up the hill in the late 1800's so the "new" exterior is a bit more modern than what one might expect from a castle. The property is owned by the von Siemens family. The last member to live in the house was Anna (von Siemens) Zanders and guess what? She was a pianist. Her husband Richard was an excellent violinist. Anna's portrait hangs over the piano in the hall.

Piano is a very good Yamaha C7 (7 foot grand), which, ironically, was exactly what I played at the Marriott Marquis (in Manhattan) for seven years. I like this piano a lot. It survives the draft in the hall, the heat of the fireplace, the abuse of being moved several times a month for concerts, etc. The instrument stays in tune and has nice action. Management has it tuned about once a month, which also helps. I am happy.

The same instrument at the Marriott started out as a great piano but turned into a disaster when management put that horrible contraption on it that made it play by itself (don't get me started, I'm still upset about that). They kept the piano "on" constantly, the pedal mechanism got screwed up, and the action was never the same. Plus they never had the piano tuned. Horrible.

Photos of me at the castle? I think there are some on my Facebook page. I'll check and post a link. All of the photographs for my CD Songs from the Castle were taken there. The place is a photographer's paradise!

Al, I'm really sorry about what happened with your gig. Sadly, in the business you will be dealing with F&B people who have no clue how to treat musicians (or instruments) with respect. I have been struggling with these people most of my life. Don't let them get to you. there IS a place out there for your music, you just have to find it.

In your shoes, I would call the offensive manager, and tell him you won't be playing there any longer, and that you've had other offers. The money is not enough and there is obviously no respect. You will find another gig where the conditions are better. Hang in there and stay pro-active.

Elssa, even if we were paid 1000 $ an hour it works out to less than minimum wage if you factor in all the hours of practice that have gone into making that one hour of music! My husband and I often joke about this when one of the two of us has a particularly lucrative job. Brings you down to earth to consider what the hourly wage is after 35 years of practice.

There's an old joke about musicians having to save up for the gig.
Posted by: Tr@iL of TEARS

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/29/10 02:58 AM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG


Piano is a very good Yamaha C7 (7 foot grand)




I'm surprised that being in Germany they'd choose a Yamaha! I thought they'd get a Steinway or Bosendorfer, Grotrian, Bechstein... ah...I do enjoy German products, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Bosch, Braun, Miele.... Something about their engineering.

Well the yamahas have become ubiquitous over the world, they do a nice job.

I've learned to try and separate the music and business ends of playing. I think we'd all play regardless of the $, I know I will till my fingers can't move. Music is one of those things that really is priceless.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/29/10 10:46 AM

Quote:
Al, I'm really sorry about what happened with your gig. Sadly, in the business you will be dealing with F&B people who have no clue how to treat musicians (or instruments) with respect.


Thanks. I did call and tell him we're no longer interested in playing there. It's a bummer, because it's the only restaurant around here that has a piano. But I felt good because I made him understand, in a firm and unemotional voice, that it's OK to decide not to have music, but it's not OK to not honor your commitments. I told him that the price tag of his integrity is $75.

Quote:
turned into a disaster when management put that horrible contraption on it that made it play by itself


That was the problem with the nursing home piano. Pianomation device.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/29/10 11:27 AM

Oh boy, lots to comment on here.

Yamaha has a stellar sales force, and this seems to be the case worldwide. If there's anything I know about hotel F&B people, it's this: They will take the path of least resistance when it comes to a purchase like a piano. Yamaha seems to have radar about new hotels and who needs what, and they make great deals.

I play a lot of Bechsteins and Bösendorfers on jobs in restaurants and hotels. Most of the Steinways I play are in private homes.

Would I love to be playing a Steinway B on my steady gig? Yes. Do I adore the Fazioli concert grand that I get to play sometimes in Bonn? Yes. Am I happy with the Yamaha? Yes. One of the benefits of spending decades playing questionable instruments is that I am SO grateful when the piano is on the good side of average. Thrilled!

Tip of the hat, though, to the hotel where I work for maintaining the piano. This has a lot to do with the condition of the Yamaha. It started out as a good instrument, but the hotel deserves credit for keeping it that way.

I think I stepped on some toes here when I first got involved in the PW forums and I trashed the player piano machine. Installing one of these things seems like a good idea to F&B people, but then, because they don't sink the money into proper upkeep, they end up killing the instruments. (and a fair number of jobs, as well) There's a chapter in PG called Crash Testing, about how I was replaced by a machine and a dummy. It is excerpted somewhere here on one of these threads. Read the story and weep (but maybe you'll laugh a little bit, too).

Al, good for you. You get the PG medal of honor for standing up for yourself. Bravo.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/29/10 10:11 PM

I found the post about the Piano-corder machine, which involves some heated discussion with people who seem to sell these things. I'm not so anxious to jump back into that mud pit again (obviously professional pianists and the sales teams for player-piano devices are at odds when it comes to placing them in hotels and restaurants) but if you're in the cocktail piano biz, you have to know what you're up against! The "Crash Test" excerpt from PG is about halfway down the page.
Being replaced by a dummy
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/01/11 01:37 AM

Great new Year's Eve gig last night! Thought about all of you. I have a long history of New year's Eve jobs. For seven years I had to fight my way through the Times Square crowds to get home from the Marriott. I always got out of there at 9 or 10, when the dance band took over, but the streets were just crazy.

Last night I was finished at 11:30 and managed to get home before the real fireworks started. The Germans go nuts with fireworks on New Year's Eve. In my opinion pyrotechnics and alcohol do not mix. Every year when I arrive home my neighbors are all out on the street with rockets pointed down the hill at my car. Last night I made it home at three minutes before midnight.

Easy enough job last night, except for a very elderly woman wearing white satin hot pants (not kidding, she must have been eighty or so) who kept coming to the piano and massaging my shoulders. Yikes.

Happy New Year!
Posted by: BDB

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/01/11 03:19 AM

My New Year's Eve show was over for me about 3:30 this afternoon, before the load-in, but it probably was fun. Lavay Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers, Casino Royale, JP and the Rhythm Chasers, Mr. Lucky and the Cocktail Party, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang Burlesque, and the Girl in the Fishbowl. It would have been too crowded for my wife, who is recovering from surgery.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/01/11 08:41 AM

Yeah, BDB, you should have stayed for the show. I particularly like Girl in the Fishbowl. That's how I used to feel on one of my NYC gigs. Which one of these acts had the piano?

My husband played an actual jazz concert at a real bordello last month. Pretty crazy. It's a long story and completely OT so I won't go into it here. Suffice it to say that he called me from the "employee cafeteria" a few minutes before show time. (jazz guys never turn down free food) I am perhaps a bit cooler about this than most wives would be, since my dad played in the band in Burlesque theaters when I was a kid.

Hey, we could start a thread called "Gigs Where Someone Is Naked." It would probably attract a lot of attention.
Posted by: apple*

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/01/11 09:38 AM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
Y
Hey, we could start a thread called "Gigs Where Someone Is Naked." It would probably attract a lot of attention.


if I remembered my sock puppet's name and login, I'd start that for you Robin.
Posted by: BDB

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/01/11 12:38 PM

In nearly 30 years tuning there, I have only seen the Girl in the Fishbowl once. I know Lavay Smith uses the piano; I have tuned for them several times. Somebody else had to use the other piano.
Posted by: Tr@iL of TEARS

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/01/11 07:04 PM

Happy new year everyone!! Great to hear your NY gigs. I just played my first last night at a formal event in a 5 star hotel. Was quite unique.

They rented out an entire floor of conference rooms, opened them all up and had a "theme" for each one. There were 2 DJ's, a solo sax player, and I played piano near the main foyer. By 10:30pm, the DJ and his massive speakers were going full blast right across me. I could barely hear my own playing and pretty much gave up.

Funny lots of people wanted pictures next to the grand piano, it still is elegant furniture.

There was another party going on one level down in the restaurant. We could see everything cause it was a glass wall partition. They had a full jazz band playing tunes. Good times.

Piano Girl, that bordello gig sure sounds intriguing!

Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/02/11 01:30 AM

ToT, Congrats on the New Year's gig. Too bad about the DJ. I am constantly in battles with these guys. Once a DJ gets cranked up, you are screwed. The only thing you can try is diplomacy and see if he'll work alternate sets with you. It helps if you if you get the boss involved in this discussion. A DJ certainly isn't a musician, but he is a human being, and once he realizes he'll have more break time if you alternate sets with him, then he might go along with the plan.

I think I must be in about a billion really bad snapshots of Uncle Frank and Aunt Betty standing by the grand piano. It's one of the hazards of the profession.

I am more and more intrigued by Girl in a Fishbowl. BDB, I was so hoping you would tell me she was the one who used the piano!
Posted by: BDB

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/02/11 02:45 AM

Well, the fishbowl is not especially big. It is behind the main bar, and measures perhaps 30 inches wide and 15 inches tall. There is not much room for a piano there. The club will be celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, beginning on Market Street, and moving to its present location in North Beach in the early 1950s.

The only time Dolphina has been there when I was there was a Halloween show, where she was billed as Dracula's Daughter. (Performers included Larry Vuckovich, who has a great accent for a Halloween show, Richie Coles, and the Club Foot Orchestra. Nina Hartley danced on the stage, but she was not on the bill, nor in the fishbowl, for that matter.) Dolphina was not there for Tease-o-Rama, where I overheard the memorable line, "I feel like I am over-dressed and under-made-up."
Posted by: Tr@iL of TEARS

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/02/11 03:40 AM

Everyone was dancing to the DJ's music so it was no point in asking him to stop. I was supposed to be soft jazzy background music but the placement of the piano wasn't the best, and there weren't any other spots.

Wasn't a complete loss, I mingled lots and saw everyone in the festive mood and still got paid.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/02/11 12:02 PM

Anyone have trouble with music from the kitchen? This was a big problem in a restaurant I played in with a trio. Mexican music from the kitchen despite repeated efforts to get it turned down.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/03/11 01:51 AM

Mexican music coming from the kitchen is something I have not yet encountered. Good grief. Maybe the best way around this would be to explain to the kitchen staff that playing music while you're trying to play is like you setting up a grill in the lounge while they're cooking. They sell food, you sell music. I'm guessing management would have to be involved in this discussion.


Is this the place where you just quit?

BDB, how does the girl get inside the fishbowl if it's that small? Is she a dwarf? Or does she only put some parts of herself in the fishbowl? Or is the fishbowl merely a prop? Maybe I am asking for too much information, but my writer brain is stuck on the Girl in the Fishbowl.
Posted by: BDB

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/03/11 02:39 AM

The Girl in the Fishbowl appears through the miracle of mirrors. She, along with the Camera Obscura, are the two great optical illusions of San Francisco. (Either them, or Carol Doda.)

Many years ago, the Girl in the Fishbowl was a city councilmember in Richmond.
Posted by: Tr@iL of TEARS

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/03/11 02:49 AM

what's this "Girl in the Fishbowl" thing? Is it a musical act?
Posted by: BDB

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/03/11 02:57 AM

Well, it is if you believe A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody!
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/03/11 01:54 PM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG

Easy enough job last night, except for a very elderly woman wearing white satin hot pants (not kidding, she must have been eighty or so) who kept coming to the piano and massaging my shoulders. Yikes.

Happy New Year!


Yikes, indeed!!! I would make a note to myself not to wear satin hot pants in my 80s, but seeing as I don't dare wear satin hot pants now, it's probably not necessary.

How do you handle nice but clueless customers who don't realize that it's counterproductive to massage the shoulders of a pianist while she's playing?!?
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/03/11 02:01 PM

To be honest, Monica, it was a five hour gig, and, well, creepy as Ms. Hot Pants was, the shoulder massage actually felt kind of good. This doesn't say much for my character, I suppose, but once I get into set #4 all my values go out the window.

My best defense (when I'm in a normal state of mind) is to just stop playing and take a break. This usually gets the message across loud and clear. I used to deal with border-crossing customers a lot back in NYC---here people tend to keep a healthy distance.

So let's make a pact, Monica. No hot pants or Dolly Parton hairdos once we're in our eighties. Deal? deal.
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/03/11 03:19 PM

Deal! (The entire 56,014 membership of PW draws a simultaneous sigh of relief. laugh )
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/03/11 04:39 PM

Originally Posted By: Tr@iL of TEARS
Happy new year everyone!! Great to hear your NY gigs. I just played my first last night at a formal event in a 5 star hotel. Was quite unique.

They rented out an entire floor of conference rooms, opened them all up and had a "theme" for each one. There were 2 DJ's, a solo sax player, and I played piano near the main foyer. By 10:30pm, the DJ and his massive speakers were going full blast right across me. I could barely hear my own playing and pretty much gave up.


I play a few big-budget "corporate" gigs where we (maybe just me on solo piano, maybe a complete production show) are merely a side-show, adding colour to the occasion but not set up in a way that makes it possible to be given attention. The pay's generally OK though!
Posted by: dpvjazz

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/03/11 10:11 PM

Mexican music from the kitchen? Being a Mexican and operating a Mexican food restaurant yes I agree that can be a problem. Trying playing some Latin jazz.
DPVJAZZ
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/04/11 04:49 PM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
Mexican music coming from the kitchen is something I have not yet encountered. Good grief. Maybe the best way around this would be to explain to the kitchen staff that playing music while you're trying to play is like you setting up a grill in the lounge while they're cooking. They sell food, you sell music. I'm guessing management would have to be involved in this discussion.


Is this the place where you just quit?


This was a weekly gig that I played with someone else's trio (piano, bass, sax). It was the kind of thing in which you heard the bass from the kitchen. Management was aware of the problem, and spoke with the kitchen crew, but the problem never went away completely. Because our pay included a dinner at the end of the gig, we didn't want to push it too far (can you say "secret sauce?"). It was annoying.

The other problem with that gig was that we would order our dinner ahead of time, but it was never ready on time. So: drive 40 minutes, set up, play 2 hours, take down, wait 30 minutes for food, drive 40 minutes.

That wasn't the gig that I quit recently.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/07/11 03:00 AM

Yeah, you don't want to upset the kitchen guys. They have weapons back there. Iron skillets, a multitude of knives, and as you mentioned, Secret Sauce. What do we have? An extension chord and a fake book.

I don't have to deal with kitchen problems at my current job. The kitchen is a Michelin 3-star kitchen (I think there are only 80 of them in the entire world) and it's like a church in there. Super quiet and very concentrated.

That said, I spent decades dealing with colorful kitchen personnel, so I hear you.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/10/11 11:37 PM

I am going through gig withdrawal. This happens to me every January. I play a billion jobs all the way through New Year's Eve, and then the hotel where I work closes for three weeks and it's silent night. I always look forward to this break, but a week or so in, I actually start to miss the job. So I'm playing a lot here at home, which is nice, except I miss the distractions. Maybe I'll have my daughter fire up the blender while I'm practicing, or get some of the neighbors to come in and talk loudly through the ballads.

Anyone else experiencing the January lull?
Posted by: Jeff Clef

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/10/11 11:59 PM

My January has not been in a lull. Numerous doctor appts, two hospital stays. PT appts, phone calls and visits. But let it just try. I have a pile of music biographies to immerse myself in, a stack of Music Theory workbooks to mow through, and the library has an expensive biograpy of Scriabin that I would like to order at the local branch.

Driving is not allowed for awhile. Plenty of chances to do things at home for awhile
Posted by: cruiser

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/11/11 01:31 AM

To return to the "nuts and bolts" of playing cocktail piano (The original concept behind this thread that got me so excited grin):

I'm currently learning John Barry's "Somewhere in time" (from the Hal Leonard "Love and Wedding piano solos" collection) but it's taking me what seems like an eternity to memorise it (I've been at it for over two weeks already!). Please tell me it's not my age (almost 60 shocked ) and that I can learn to memorize more effectively - any tips? I'll never get my fledgling 'repertoire' up to take-off speed in a year - my goal - at this rate frown
Posted by: s_winitsky

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/11/11 12:54 PM

You know a trick I have been using for quite a few years is to memorize the music with the score in hand away from the piano. I think its a trick anyone can learn, though a bit hard to describe the details in a few words. I think you could be surprised by how much and how quickly you can learn to memorize using this trick, and at least in the classical world, its used extensively.

All this being said, developing your musical memory, is something that takes time and practice. I spent quite a bit of time learning ways to memorize music quickly, and then find ways to store them in long term memory. Strictly speaking knowing a bit of modern/jazz/pop harmony and having some knowledge of arranging helps, but not required. I spent a lot of time learning to memorize things like Bach fugues as quickly as I can.

I also think that taking your time is not necessarily a bad thing. Generally speaking, if you memorize something too quickly, you will forget it quickly. I personally like to take my time, focus on quality, and have time to work on other things like existing repertoire, sight reading, arranging.

That being said I am no cocktail pianist myself. Like most I just like to play for fun.




Originally Posted By: cruiser
To return to the "nuts and bolts" of playing cocktail piano (The original concept behind this thread that got me so excited grin):

I'm currently learning John Barry's "Somewhere in time" (from the Hal Leonard "Love and Wedding piano solos" collection) but it's taking me what seems like an eternity to memorise it (I've been at it for over two weeks already!). Please tell me it's not my age (almost 60 shocked ) and that I can learn to memorize more effectively - any tips? I'll never get my fledgling 'repertoire' up to take-off speed in a year - my goal - at this rate frown
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/11/11 01:47 PM

Quote:
I am going through gig withdrawal.


Same here, all Oct, Nov, and Dec I was desperately working on new songs for the nursing home and other gigs. Now I've got nothing coming up.

This has meant a radical change in what I practice. I'm still memorizing a few new songs, but now I'm working on basic things like drop-2 voicings, stride (lite), and some classical. This is a good thing.
Posted by: bluespianofan

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/11/11 01:51 PM

Don't feel too bad. At least you're good enough to do gigs!
Posted by: Teclasgirl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/11/11 03:13 PM

Thanks Robin and Elssa

Robin, I've purchased your book in Amazon these christmas. I'm still reading it but I think it's very funny and interesting.

And thanks Elssa I've just downloaded your videos. They are usefull and very pedagogic.

I am a classical pianist, thinking about the Liszt's Year, but now I`m discovering a new and completely different world.

Happy new Year!
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/11/11 10:49 PM

Good tips from S. Winitsky about memorization. I can't stress enough how important it is to understand the chord structure of the piece you're working on. That's something you can "practice" even when you're not at the piano.

Also, as SW pointed out, memory is like any other part of your body--the more you use it the better it gets.

Cruiser, Somewhere in Time is a lovely piece. I recorded it on my first CD, which is called Somewhere in Time! I still play it on gigs and it's my go-to piece when I'm nervous. I also played it on Marian McPartland's show, because she heard it on the CD and requested it. Hang in there, you'll be happy to have it in your repertoire.
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/12/11 12:55 AM

Originally Posted By: cruiser
To return to the "nuts and bolts" of playing cocktail piano (The original concept behind this thread that got me so excited grin):

I'm currently learning John Barry's "Somewhere in time" (from the Hal Leonard "Love and Wedding piano solos" collection) but it's taking me what seems like an eternity to memorise it (I've been at it for over two weeks already!). Please tell me it's not my age (almost 60 shocked ) and that I can learn to memorize more effectively - any tips? I'll never get my fledgling 'repertoire' up to take-off speed in a year - my goal - at this rate frown

Yes, this advice to look at the chord structure and chord progressions is great. I love the way this song starts right out with a major seventh chord (Cmaj7), as do songs like "Misty".. Gives it such a dreamy sound.

Lead Sheet: http://www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtd.asp?ppn=MN0075892
Posted by: cruiser

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/12/11 07:05 AM

Thanks for your advice re memorization everyone! I'm going to pay a lot more attention in future to the harmonic content of the pieces I learn.

Robin, I will certainly hang in there as you advise. The journey, though at times frustrating, is one I wouldn't give up for the world.

Elssa, I agree with you wholeheartedly about the opening CM7 harmony in Somewhere in Time - hauntingly evocative. John Barry certainly knew what he was about when he composed for the film of the same name starring the late, great Christopher Reeve.
Posted by: s_winitsky

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/12/11 10:07 AM


It must have been quite an experience to play on the Marian McPartland radio show. One of my favorite radio shows. I loved listening to your interview on her show. Really an inspiration for many piano players. I heard some really nice/tasteful playing.


Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG

I also played it on Marian McPartland's show, because she heard it on the CD and requested it.
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/12/11 01:04 PM

Originally Posted By: Teclasgirl
Thanks Robin and Elssa

And thanks Elssa I've just downloaded your videos. They are usefull and very pedagogic.

I am a classical pianist, thinking about the Liszt's Year, but now I`m discovering a new and completely different world.

Thanks again, Carmen! You probably noticed many of the techniques I teach are borrowed from the classical world (e.g. the Ballad Style was inspired by a Chopin etude). BTW, there are lots of free PDFs, sheet music, etc of the runs & fills and other stuff to download in my forum.

Happy New Year to you and everyone, too! smile
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/12/11 02:51 PM

SW: Marian's show was one of the highlights of my career. I've written about it for the next book, and it's one of the stories I plan to excerpt here as the publication date draws nearer.

BTW: Marian related to my book because back in the day, she played a jazz cocktail gig of sorts at New York's Hickory House—I believe she had a seven year run there. Marian has (like everyone else in this business) a million crazy stories. For now, just let me say that she is every bit as witty and gracious as she sounds!

Carmen, good for you. That classical training will come in handy as you dive into this new world.

Cruiser, you might also check out John Barry's Music of Goodbye (from Out of Africa). It's drop-dead gorgeous.
Posted by: cruiser

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/12/11 04:15 PM

Thanks Robin, I certainly will check out John Barry's "Music of Goodbye" - I'm a great fan of his music anyway, which so enriches the films he writes for.
Posted by: jotur

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/12/11 08:15 PM

(Happy birthday, cruiser)

Cathy
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/12/11 10:02 PM

Originally Posted By: cruiser
Elssa, I agree with you wholeheartedly about the opening CM7 harmony in Somewhere in Time - hauntingly evocative. John Barry certainly knew what he was about when he composed for the film of the same name starring the late, great Christopher Reeve.

One of my all-time favorite movies, with that beautiful song (and the Rachmaninoff in there as well).

Happy Birthday! smile

Somewhere in Time

Movie: http://www.last.fm/music/Sergei+Rachmaninoff/_/Somewhere+in+time

Posted by: cruiser

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/13/11 08:49 AM

Cathy and Elssa, thanks for your birthday wishes which mean so much to me, especially since it was my 60th smile
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/13/11 10:55 AM

Happy Birthday, Cruiser! Hey, this means you can learn 60 tunes this year.
Posted by: cruiser

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/13/11 04:46 PM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
Happy Birthday, Cruiser! Hey, this means you can learn 60 tunes this year.

....at least! thumb

Thanks for the greeting, Robin!
Posted by: josuff247

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/13/11 07:34 PM

I took my first step toward cocktail piano playing. I had my teacher switch the style of my lessons from Classical to fakebook playing.

Only problem is I have to play "Oh when the saints"
Seems like a step backwards, but I guess you need to start somewhere.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/14/11 12:39 AM

I'm not a teacher, but it seems to me that since you can already play, even the very first piece you work on in this style should be something you actually want to play. Go through the fake book, find something you like that's relatively easy (just a few chords).Tell your teacher this is what you would like to work on.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/14/11 04:11 PM

Originally Posted By: bluespianofan
At least you're good enough to do gigs!


Where did you hear that? smile What I say is this: I'm trying to get better before people realize how bad I am.

Here's a photo you might enjoy (post bike-ride napping -- check lower left).

Posted by: bluespianofan

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/14/11 04:20 PM

I like it! Looks like me after my long bike rides. Cool that it was a piano book that put you to sleep...
Posted by: DF12

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/14/11 04:35 PM

Greeting! My first post here.
I don't know if this guy has been discussed before, his name is Antonio Castillo de la Gala. He was the pianist at the hotel belair for years. Here is a great article about him in the LA times. A great read.

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-hotel-belair29-2009sep29,0,3745983.story

He does have an arrangement of "Somewhere in Time" on you tube. He makes it his own. Check this link
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9UJKxiDW7U&feature=related
Posted by: josuff247

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/14/11 08:59 PM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
I'm not a teacher, but it seems to me that since you can already play, even the very first piece you work on in this style should be something you actually want to play. Go through the fake book, find something you like that's relatively easy (just a few chords).Tell your teacher this is what you would like to work on.


Yeah, I agree. At the time I brought it up, I had nothing in front of me but a book "How to play from a fake book" and thats the tune it started with. I have a Beatles fakebook and am considering either "Rain" or "Yellow Submarine".

By the way, I am most of the way through your book. excellent and inspiring read!
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/16/11 01:54 AM

Al, you made my day (maybe even my month) with that photo. THANK YOU! To be someone's pre-nap reading is the ultimate compliment.

Josuff, glad you're reading my book and getting something out of it. Hope you move on to a tune you like, although maybe your "How To Play from a Fake Book" techniques book has some tips that merit your attention. Absorb the tips, then start on one of those songs that attract you and apply them there.

Al, I love your quote---"Trying to get better before some realizes how bad I am . . " I think I mentioned before that the trick to sounding good is to know when you sound bad. If you stay within your limitations you'll be okay. That's not to say you shouldn't stretch and try new things---you should! But you'll know when you're ready to go public with those new tricks. That's exactly what I'm doing right now in my down time. My jazz guy husband has given me some lovely new things to work on, so I'm practicing and trying to get them in my fingers before I return to the trenches next week. Fun!
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/17/11 10:31 AM

Welcome to the forum, DF12! smile And thanks for the link to that article; it was a wonderful story. 12 years as the hotel pianist probably is some kind of world record; I was sad to hear that they had to let him go when the hotel closed for renovations. And I can't imagine having a 2000-song memorized repertoire! wow
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/17/11 11:30 PM

Yes, DF12, welcome! Thanks for the post---very appropriate for this thread. That's a lovely arrangement of SIT. That piece, though, sounds just as good small as it does big. So don't let all of those arpeggios intimidate any of you who aren't as technically advanced as the musician in the video! This guy can play a lot of notes, and it works beautifully for him, but it might not work for many of us. When I play that way (or try to) I'm always afraid the arpeggio police will swoop down on me and put me under arrest for stealing someone else's style.
Posted by: DF12

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/18/11 03:39 PM

Robin, yes, one has to watch one's arpeggios. It is easy to over do it.
I emailed this guy when the story first broke. I was curious about how he could learn so many songs. He said it was just a natural ability. He also said he had a hard time remembering names. I found that interesting. Anyway, we all have our different strengths. And as a friend of mine reminds me, "play to your strengths".
Below is a link to a radio interview that was done with him by npr. Thanks.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113316274
Posted by: JerryG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/19/11 07:57 PM

I don't know if this question was asked previously so please forgive me if that is the case.

I was wondering if pieces should be memorized in the key shown in a fake book.

I can play directly from a fake book and do some minor improvisation on the fly. I am having trouble memorizing pieces as I aged. However, I would also like to play for others particularly starting at a Senior Center.

Should I stay in the key written or possibly transpose into the key of C which would simplify things. As I said I can play in any key a piece is written in but it might make memorization a little easier in C.

Any responses from those who play for others will be greatly appreciated to give me the proper direction.
Posted by: jotur

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/19/11 08:24 PM

Originally Posted By: JerryG
I don't know if this question was asked previously so please forgive me if that is the case.

I was wondering if pieces should be memorized in the key shown in a fake book.

I can play directly from a fake book and do some minor improvisation on the fly. I am having trouble memorizing pieces as I aged. However, I would also like to play for others particularly starting at a Senior Center.

Should I stay in the key written or possibly transpose into the key of C which would simplify things. As I said I can play in any key a piece is written in but it might make memorization a little easier in C.

Any responses from those who play for others will be greatly appreciated to give me the proper direction.


I can't really answer your question, except my personal experience, and I'm not really a cocktail pianist - oh dear.

But I do play for seniors about 3 x a month, and have for the last year and a half. I memorize many of my tunes - Tuxedo Junction, It had to Be You, and that ilk, and I memorize the printed sheet music pretty much. I have some tunes I've learned from a lead sheet, and I play them in the lead sheet key, because many of those I play with a band.

I'm not sure, if you're not playing with others, or you don't play for singers, that it makes any difference. What *does* make a difference is the performance experience. The more the better. I played a solo paying gig last Sunday, and the year and a half of playing solo for seniors made, literally I think, all the difference in how well it went. I could have played them all in 7 flats and the diners wouldn't have cared, but if I hadn't been able to fake my way thru the mistakes, keep the tune going, nod when they talked to me (I'm not yet able to talk back), and had about 17 tunes - some played more than once - for an hour and a half of actual play time - it would have been a real fail. As far as I can tell I could have used sheet music if I'd wanted to and no one would have cared. But the performance experience itself was mandatory.

FWIW. The cost for the advice was $0, of course laugh

Cathy
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/20/11 12:31 AM

Well said, Cathy! Performance experience is everything.

Jerry G, most good fake books print the songs in their "standard" keys. If you're going to the trouble of learning something, I think it's a good idea to stick to the standard key. Sit down for a moment and analyze the harmonic structure of the piece. Practice some scales and arpeggios in that particular key. Get you fingers used to three flats or four sharps or whatever the case may be. Ultimately this will be a more rewarding musical experience for you than sticking to one key.

Cathy is right. Unless there's a musician in the audience, no one is going to know or care what key you play in.

Regarding singers: You can be pretty much certain that whatever key you've learned the song in will be the wrong key for the singer. Transposing on the spot is challenging to say the least. But most amateur singers (in nursing homes and at most parties) don't know anything about key signatures and will gladly squeak or growl along with anything you play. After identifying the problems you can figure out a better key and transpose for next time. It's a thankless job, but good for your theory and general training.

If you sing yourself---which is always helpful at these singalong events—just put the song in your key. At least you'll sound good!
Posted by: JerryG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/20/11 04:44 PM

To Cathy and Robin,

Thank you very much for your replies. I thought this was the direction I should be taking; learning from fake book in the key it was written in. Robin, I like your suggestion to map out the piece regarding the chords. I will do that in the future (determining if it is the I IV V chord etc.) which I have on occasion done in my head when I have tried to transpose on the fly.

Are there any suggestions from anyone as to how to go about memorizing a piece.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/23/11 01:52 AM

Maps are good things, Jerry. Maybe someone will come up with a GPS system for musicians to help us find our way through a song! Until then, you can do the work in your head. It's helpful to know where you're going before you start to play.

There are some good memorization tips earlier in this thread.

Oh my, at last night's gig I had to do battle with a Dixieland band, complete with tuba. They were in the back parlor, but still, they were quite loud. Luckily they were only engaged for a twenty minute set. I thought of you all, though, because I was right in the middle of my very delicate version of "Somewhere in Time," when "Limehouse Blues" started blasting out of the back room. Usually I'm aware of other musicians in the castle, especially of there's a tuba involved (it's a small place), but these guys were hiding so they could jump out and surprise the birthday boy. Naturally management didn't mention this to me. Scared the wits out of me! An excellent first night back after a peaceful three week break . . .
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/23/11 02:06 AM

My very favorite college music professor played the tuba (classical). I couldn't believe it when I found out what he played.. just the nicest, most quiet gentle guy ever. You never know. Sounds like a very challenging but interesting night, Robin. grin
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/23/11 07:57 AM

Originally Posted By: JerryG
I don't know if this question was asked previously so please forgive me if that is the case.

I was wondering if pieces should be memorized in the key shown in a fake book.

I can play directly from a fake book and do some minor improvisation on the fly. I am having trouble memorizing pieces as I aged. However, I would also like to play for others particularly starting at a Senior Center.

Should I stay in the key written or possibly transpose into the key of C which would simplify things. As I said I can play in any key a piece is written in but it might make memorization a little easier in C.

Any responses from those who play for others will be greatly appreciated to give me the proper direction.


C is the HARDEST key to play in - there are so many wrong notes to hit, and no landmarks! Play your instrumental pieces in any key you find comfortable. But have a thought for the vocal range if you're hoping to provoke a sing-along. BTW, the fakebook key is not always the "right" key. Songs are performed and recorded in the key that suits that particular singer's range, and (unlike the majority of fakebook versions) this won't ALWAYS be C or Eb :-)
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/23/11 12:42 PM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
My jazz guy husband has given me some lovely new things to work on, so I'm practicing and trying to get them in my fingers before I return to the trenches next week. Fun!

Can you give us an idea of what they are? Thanks! thumb
Posted by: josuff247

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 01/24/11 10:51 PM

I am working on my first "real" Song. Dock of the bay.
Basically my left hand is doing a rythem of Dotted quater note/eigth not/half note, repeating through the verse in each chord. My right hand is just plaing the melody.
I am also playing up one octave.
I try to add chord notes under the melody, but it seems to not really fit for this song.
Not bad for my first attempt, but I want to fill it out more.
Any suggestions?
Posted by: josuff247

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/05/11 03:28 PM

The above method seemed a bit much, so I chaned it to just adding the chord to the first downbeat per measure on the right hand, and arpeggiating the chord on the left hand in a rhythmic patter. This sounds better. This is way harder than I thought.
How's everyone else doing?
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/13/11 02:42 AM

Hello everyone! It has been a busy few weeks.

Thought of all of you last week—I had quite possibly the world's best cocktail piano gig in Berlin. The client flew me in for the job---a one hour event for a bunch of VIPs (ambassadors, ex-presidents, etc.) All of that was fine—a party is a party— but what made the gig so wonderful for me was the fabulous piano (1960 Steinway D, recently refurbished). There were 400 people at the party, but the acoustics were such that I could hear myself through the whole event, even though the guests were babbling and chattering like crazy.

Lots of gigs this past week, including many Valentine's Day events. Busy! Big difference from last year. I do believe the improvement in the economy is finally trickling down to musicians. At least here in Germany that seems to be the case.

Recording a new CD next week, so I am in practice mode, both on the gig and here at home. Added a few new pieces to the cocktail line-up!

What music are all of you working on?
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/14/11 12:53 AM

Wondering how many of you will be playing "My Funny Valentine" this evening? People in Germany generally do not recognize this song, but I play it anyway, just on principle!
Posted by: jotur

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/14/11 01:00 AM

I learned "Let Me Call You Sweetheart (I Can't Remember Your Name)" - well, that second part was added by my brother - for two senior gigs tomorrow - an Alzheimer's unit and an adult day care center. If I get lucky they'll waltz smile

I have a 45-minute set at a fundraiser in two weeks, too. Yikes! I've been doing 45-minute sets for a year and a half, but this is a bigger deal.

No real cocktail piano yet here. But "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" isn't strictly from the sheet, and I'm hoping to do a tune a month with more and more improvisation.

There's hope for us rank amateurs yet smile

Cathy
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/15/11 11:59 PM

Good luck, Cathy! This is how to learn the trade--one gig at a time!
Posted by: ivorycanary

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/16/11 03:24 AM

This is a nice little corner of the PW forum.. can I join? I usually lurk on the technician's forum with all the old men wink

My romantic song of the week is "it's been a long, long time." I love that old song. It takes me about 15 minutes to learn/memorize a tune but about a month or two of diligently remembering to throw it into my repertoire to keep it!

Piano Girl RMG, you were on Marian McPartland's show? Wow! I will have to see if that is amongst my collected podcasts laugh
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/16/11 11:51 AM

Hi Tea Girl—
Welcome to Let's Talk Cocktail Piano. No need to lurk, just jump right in. I like those guys over on the Tech Forum. I've been known to lurk there myself.

Sounds about right—15 minutes to memorize, two months to work it into the rotation. Although I sometimes go the other way around. I am so crazy about the new piece that I play it way too often. Then I get tired of it and have to remember to work it into the line-up. Whatever works, right?

Here is a link to my show with Ms. McPartland:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100033265

Marian is my hero. She loves cocktail pianists. She gets it.
Posted by: ivorycanary

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/16/11 08:59 PM

@ Piano Girl RMG

Yes, if I get excited about a tune I will play it at the very start and then then end of my gig since the people have usually changed over by then! If anyone noticed, I could just say 'it was a request!' lol.

I loved the piano jazz episode! Thanks for the link. I can't wait to read the book.

If you are ever interested, I believe I know of a certain 6* cruise line that loves to have special guests like you on for a week to play a few featured shows and talk about your book!
Posted by: josuff247

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/17/11 12:06 AM

I am now working on Friends and lovers, But Glori Loring and Carl Anderson.
SInce I am new to this, the arrangements are taking time, but man is it fun!

To help my memory, after I practice, I enter my arangements of the measures I practiced into Finale Notepad. This helps with memory, and helps me remember my arangement, incase I forgot what I did the next day. Also, helps me see if it sounds right.

Thanks for the tips, They really help.

Now I just started to learn ear training, hopefully this will help me further.
Posted by: cruiser

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/17/11 02:51 AM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
Sounds about right—15 minutes to memorize, two months to work it into the rotation.


FIFTEEN MINUTES TO MEMORIZE? shocked ...A NEW PIECE? shocked

...why am I bothering? frown
Posted by: jotur

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/17/11 11:03 AM

Originally Posted By: cruiser
Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
Sounds about right—15 minutes to memorize, two months to work it into the rotation.


FIFTEEN MINUTES TO MEMORIZE? shocked ...A NEW PIECE? shocked

...why am I bothering? frown


Beat me to it cruiser laugh for me it's the other way around - two months to memorize, 15 minutes to work it into the rotation - and I often do that part before it's ready laugh It would *never* be ready if I didn't just do it.

May be why I'm not a pro - tho I sure have fun. Yikes! A 45 minute set coming up in a couple of hours, and I bet I bobble my latest!

Oh well -

But I found this to be really good information - I don't feel quite so slow.

Cathy
Posted by: mikf

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/17/11 11:19 AM

I no longer play gigs, but I still have an 'exercise' that I love to do because its still challenging and satisfying, and great training for playing solo all evening in a bar or lounge. I wonder if any of you do something similar. I sit down at the piano, pick a well known composer, or musical, or vocalist, or part of the world or other topic(like say westerns) then try to play as many songs as I can associated with that topic without stopping, making them flow together and trying to give each one a suitable arrangement. Other than maybe the first tune, I dont plan what I am going to play, but try to do it all on the fly. You have to think while you play, plan what's next, hear how you are going to slip into it, all without stopping. You really learn how to develop those little harmonic in-fills and key changers that buy you time without anyone noticing that you are really trying to think what's next. It can get difficult after the second or third song, but its tremendous training for playing by ear, arranging on the fly, and quick recall. Sometimes I astonish myself at how good it all comes out and sometimes I get lost and have to stop, but either way its fun.
Mike
Posted by: jotur

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/17/11 12:35 PM

Ooo, Mike, another project! Just what I needed laugh - as if I'm not overwhelmed with projects right now. But what a great thing to aspire to!

And now I'm out the door - let's see if I can remember a dozen pieces -

Cathy
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/17/11 02:52 PM

Cathy, you can do it! Just remember, when you think the song is over, play another two choruses. Stretch it out. It may sound long to you, but the audience won't mind.

Mike, I do this ALL the time. This little exercise of yours sums up my professional life. Lots of fun! Good idea for aspiring cocktail pianists . . . or working ones.
Posted by: ivorycanary

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/17/11 07:31 PM

Originally Posted By: mikf
I sit down at the piano, pick a well known composer, or musical, or vocalist, or part of the world or other topic(like say westerns) then try to play as many songs as I can associated with that topic without stopping, making them flow together and trying to give each one a suitable arrangement.


I do that too.. sometimes I will pick an old broadway show and try and play as many songs as possible from it that I can. Even if I don't know it I will try and make my way through slowly. I feel like an absolute geek trying to make my way through the entire score of "my fair lady" but it makes me happy.. not sure if anyone in the room notices the connection between the songs or not!

Sometimes I will be thinking about what to play next and be looking around the room for an inspiring idea that will help me remember what songs I know. Despite my efforts it doesn't usually work out for me. "Palm plant? no... Green.. no.. ceiling fan? no.. chandelier?... nope.." Then I just pick a key and try and play whatever song I associate with that key.
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/17/11 07:35 PM

And there's always the alphabet game...
Posted by: ivorycanary

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/17/11 07:59 PM

Originally Posted By: cruiser
Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
Sounds about right—15 minutes to memorize, two months to work it into the rotation.


FIFTEEN MINUTES TO MEMORIZE? shocked ...A NEW PIECE? shocked

...why am I bothering? frown


It's not like memorizing a whole classical piece with a million notes in the right order..

This is just going though a song, to which you probably already have the melody in your head, and confirming what you already know, figuring out what you don't know (what chord does it go to there, how does that B section end) and then running what you don't know over at high speed (maybe not warp speed but certainly not performance speed) The point is just to get the melody and chord progression down so that you can go to the gig and play it like a lead sheet from your head crazy

If I was to learn a proper rag, which I have been meaning to for months now, it would be a different story!
Posted by: jotur

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/17/11 08:15 PM

Well, I played 13 pretty nice tunes and flubbed faked my way thru two more laugh Improvisation at its, um, most necessary. It's a good thing I don't have much ego involved in this! I got applause on several tunes, so I didn't bore them entirely to death. But I also got a request for - Mozart. Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. I might have to take my baby Mozart book and read from it next time smirk

The neatest part, tho, was that someone had left a hymn book open on the piano, with one of my favorite old Baptist hymns looking at me, so I sat down and played it first. A little luck there.

Robin, sorry to hear you were sick. Hope you're feeling better just in time, as you say, to go back to work.

Cathy
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/18/11 03:03 AM

Hi Robin,

Quote:
My jazz guy husband has given me some lovely new things to work on, so I'm practicing and trying to get them in my fingers before I return to the trenches next week. Fun!


Can you share the fun, or is it too "technical" to explain? smile
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/19/11 01:35 AM

Hi Elssa,

Yeah, maybe too technical for me (a non-teacher) to explain. I have this piece I've written called "Waltz of the asparagus People"--same title as the book-- and it's a light little waltz that originally that started with a bit of a Satie feel to it, and then opened up with the left hand playing running eighth notes. I'm pretty good at this style, plus the sound of it actually pleases me, but it has been known to send my bass-player husband running from the room. (Bassists, understandably so, do not much like pianists with bust left hands).

Anyway, old dog, new tricks. He suggested I keep the feel but lose most of the notes in the left hand. At first it sounded very empty to me but now I am really enjoying all the space in the music. (I'm trying to do this in life, too!)

I'm okay with this open style for the composed part of the piece, but I tend to panic and revert to old habits when I improvise. We'll see what happens in the studio--I'm usually pretty calm in there, it's a nice environment and I really trust my engineer.

What's funny to me is that I've had to practice being silent, or playing LESS. You'll hear this piece and think, she had to practice THAT? It sounds so simple! But sometimes simple can be very difficult--no pyrotechnics to hide the flaws.
Posted by: BDB

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/19/11 03:24 AM

I just heard a program on one of the local radio stations about accompanying oneself on the piano. I thought it might be useful to some of you. The program information is here: Voice Box. The show can be heard on KALW's media player for the next week.
Posted by: VillageOrganist3

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/19/11 09:07 AM

What a wonderful thread this is -- and with something for everyone to learn, whatever their field of music.

Good stories, and excellent ideas for improving our own keyboard skills.

Many thanks. I was particularly interested in techniques like: echo runs and fills; waterfall runs; half-stage progressions. And I had to look up on the internet for meaning of Shell Voicing (it's all new to me!)

A different adventure for someone like me who is in their mid-70s.
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/19/11 11:24 AM

Originally Posted By: VillageOrganist3
I was particularly interested in techniques like: echo runs and fills; waterfall runs; half-stage progressions. And I had to look up on the internet for meaning of Shell Voicing (it's all new to me!)

A different adventure for someone like me who is in their mid-70s.


Don't worry - I'd never heard the term "shell voicing" either, though I think I've been doing it for nearly 50 years :-)

Anything that stops pianists plonking down close-position triads in the LH is good by me! Those auto-accompaniment tous on home keyboards have a lot to answer for :-)

ANd beware of "waterfalls" and other filigree. A little goes a long way. Too much is what gives "cocktail piano" a bad name!
Posted by: ivorycanary

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/19/11 01:35 PM

Whoa, I've never heard of any of those! ..But I can imagine what they are.
Posted by: Silverwood Pianos

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/20/11 10:48 AM


Originally Posted By: Tea Girl
This is a nice little corner of the PW forum.. can I join? I usually lurk on the technician's forum with all the old men;)

Hey Tea Girl,
I see you over there……I resemble that remark! Now Leigh and I will definitely have to attend your high tea gig there…..requesting My Fair Lady tunes……
Posted by: ivorycanary

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/20/11 11:30 AM

Originally Posted By: Silverwood Pianos

Originally Posted By: Tea Girl
This is a nice little corner of the PW forum.. can I join? I usually lurk on the technician's forum with all the old men;)

Hey Tea Girl,
I see you over there……I resemble that remark! Now Leigh and I will definitely have to attend your high tea gig there…..requesting My Fair Lady tunes……

Be careful what you wish for!
Posted by: josuff247

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/22/11 07:36 PM

Are there any copyright issues with playing songs in public?
I'd Imagine, technically yes, but no one bothers?
Posted by: jotur

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/22/11 07:53 PM

The venue which presents the live music usually, and should have, has a contract with ASCAP or another performance/royalty-collecting entity. It's not a "copyright", it's a "performance" right. Generally it's not the pianist that pays the performance fees smile

If you were going to record a piece for a cd you'd need a "mechanical license."

If you're copying the sheet music you need permission from the copyright holder.

At least that's my understanding, in a nutshell.

From what I've read on the topic, and heard from professional musicians, it can be a bit of a muddle. There are lawyers who specialize in this kind of thing, and agents, etc.

I don't worry about it when I play for a senior center, but I'm sure the performing rights organizations could have a fit if they wanted to, and be legally in the right. One of them went after a folkdance venue here in NM, and it now pays a yearly fee - and I can bet my bottom dollar that very few Bulgarian folk musicians ever see a dime in royalties from them anyway :\ Radio stations turn in their playlists so the fees can be divvied up. I'd guess people like Robin would appreciate it if people were fairly scrupulous about fees for her music, and rightly so.

So, it's not strictly a copyright issue, AFIK. But the professional performers here will know a lot more than me, and have a lot more accurate information laugh

Cathy
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/24/11 12:14 AM

Jotur is right about all of this.

In Germany, GEMA is very strong. GEMA is the German version of ASCAP or BMI, but run by the government and much more effective. Every place I play pays GEMA fees, usually an all inclusive monthly fee that covers all of their music. Those fees go into a big GEMA pot. I fill out forms, then receive a payment that is based on some formula I will never understand.

I receive regular payments for live perfomances of my music (mostly by me)—whether it's in a formal concert setting or just as background cocktail piano. There are loads of forms to fill out, but the money does indeed trickle down to the composer. Usually takes about a year.

I spent fifteen years playing original music in NYC hotels (who paid fees to ASCAP) and never received a penny. That may have been my fault—I was pretty naive about such things back then.

As a composer I am listed with GEMA. But my publishing company is with BMI. Complicated. I just keep filling out forms and hoping for the best. Seems to be working out.

Cathy, there is also a lot of outrage over here about GEMA patrolling school, community, and charity events. I think there's a much lower rate for these types of events, but still, it's too much for many of these organizations to pay. Don't know what the answer is---the fee sometimes causes event planners to drop the music, which is never a good thing.

On the other hand, the promoters pay for food, beverages, lights, a stage, everything! Why is it so often the case that musicians (and composers) are expected to work for free when just about everyone else is getting paid? I'll bet at that Folkdance venue there were many other expenses that no one argued about. I'm betting the beer was not donated, nor were the services of the local electrician.

It has become increasingly difficult to make a living as a songwriter or composer. We do what we can.
Posted by: jotur

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/24/11 01:34 AM

I think it was BMI that decided to collect the folk dance fees. It's just that I don't think very many of the recordings are registered with BMI, so I don't, in fact, think the performers are getting anything from it. I don't think we've ever filled out a form for which Swedish cd from 20 years ago we've danced to that night :\ . Or casette, as the case may be. And I think most of us own our very own copies of every cd we used laugh It's a folkdance thing.

The live music at dances is often traditional tunes. There are, of course, new tunes composed in a traditional style, and when they're recorded they're recorded with permission. My brother got mechanical licenses when he made his cd - he actually hired someone to do all that for him. But I've never heard of a traditional tune composer getting a royalty for having their tunes used at a contra dance. Maybe I should ask Peter Barnes, or Bob McQuillen. The number of times McQuillen's "Amelia's Waltz" has been played at a contra must be in the kazillions. They *are* copyrighted, and one should buy the book they were published in - I have a lot of tune books.

But I've just never heard of it working very well in the folkdance world. Which is not to say it shouldn't. Hm. We often buy the cds right from the band. I'm pretty sure they expect us to use them to dance to. It's a conundrum.

But playing a Robin Goldsby piece, or a David Nevue piece, or whatever, for a "performance" - like on the Santa Fe Plaza or something - yeah, I think the producer has an ASCAP and/or BMI license. And should.

Is there a "one time" license for things like charity events, rather than a full year's license? That might help with costs. But the big charity events put on by the non-profits I've worked for have paid the actual musicians, tho I don't think we ever got a performance license for the music. On the other hand, maybe the hotel or ball room had one. Again, tho, I don't remember any paperwork on which pieces were played.

So I think it's far from a perfect system. I have a brother who's a professional musician, and for sure think he should get paid when his pieces are played. But it seems like kind of an honor system to me.

For some events I don't mind if the music is donated by amateur musicians. I'm kind of big on volunteers. Goodness knows there are church treasurers everywhere that do what I do for a living, but as volunteers. There are events where the food is donated, too. But yeah, if it's catered, then pay the musicians, too. And more than just a meal in the kitchen laugh

I do think it's confusing for the non-pros, tho, to know what they need to do. It's a pretty complex field. I was dismayed when I first started learning about it. Whew! I began to think we could never play music.

But it's cool that you get royalties for playing your compositions smile I just hadn't thought about the paperwork you yourself would have to go through.

Cathy
Posted by: bobcat79

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/05/11 07:12 AM

Hello. I would just like to say that I really like this thread. I am new to Piano World. I've been teaching piano part time for many years and have played for many weddings and funerals. I am really hoping in a a couple of years that I can retire from my day job and be able to get enough work as a pianist to keep me going. Some wonderful tips on this thread.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/06/11 10:39 AM

Welcome bobcat! If you've been out there playing weddings and funerals then I'll bet you have tips to share with us, too.

Here is my latest tip: Learn the music from "The Wonderful World of Amelie." Maybe it's a European thing, but people just flip out over these tunes, and they are fun to play.
Posted by: bobcat79

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/06/11 11:43 AM

Thanks for the Welcome Robin. I'll be sure to check out your suggestions. I'm always looking for new music and styles that can help me grow.
Posted by: ivorycanary

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/06/11 01:40 PM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG

Here is my latest tip: Learn the music from "The Wonderful World of Amelie." Maybe it's a European thing, but people just flip out over these tunes, and they are fun to play.

I wonder if anybody would recognize that here. I've found that tourist Americans walking through 'my' grand hotel flip over "What a Wondeful World" lol!
Posted by: Bob Newbie

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/06/11 02:00 PM

Robin: Something about this still ends up
"smelling"..you open up a store..say a pizza parlor...and after awhile "the boys" stop in to see how business is..and they want you to make a monthy contribution to their fund..and they will protect you from any bad thing that might unexpectantly happen to your place..I know writers have been unpaid..
but still having people going around sniffing out business still has that "old smell"..only now the "the law" is doing it..
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/06/11 08:41 PM

Yes, Tea Girl! "What a Wonderful World" is always popular. And rightfully so. Do you know Louis Armstrong almost didn't record it? Lots of resistance from record company officials.

This is a good idea to help budding cocktail pianists: Let's post song titles that seem to be popular with listeners. I still maintain that a player should really love a piece of music to go to the trouble of adding it to his/her repertoire, but with all the great music waiting to be learned it's not difficult to find a piece to love.

Here's one of my favorites: John Barry's "Music of Goodbye" from Out of Africa. You'd be surprised how many people either recognize this song or come to the piano and ask, "What was that piece of music?"
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/26/11 11:47 PM

Hi Robin,

Just curious, do you take requests when playing out and, if so, how often do you get requests to play classical pieces or themes? With me, it's "Clair de Lune", which I love but usually flub if trying to play by memory. confused
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/31/11 03:41 AM

I just love it when I'm playing "Fly Me to the Moon" and someone comes up and asks for a Rachmaninoff piano concerto. "Is this a test?" I ask. "I fail."

In the USA I used to fake my way through classical repertoire, but over here, where people actually know how the pieces are supposed to sound, I just say no. I also never play with music in front of me, so I often will tell the customer: "I'm sorry but I don't have the music with me and I can't improvise my way through Bach (or Ravel or Chopin). People seem to respect this.

Hope that helps!
Posted by: mikf

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/31/11 03:15 PM

I dont play much any more, but I always found that people who came up invariably asked for very simple rather than very complicated stuff - usually the kind of tune that we hate playing because there is nothing to it and have played ad nauseum in the past eg Amazing Grace, Danny Boy, a host of 3 chord forgettable country songs and of course starting about October, White Christmas. Interestingly I dont think that anyone ever asked me to play Easter Parade at Easter, although I think it is a 10 times better tune than White Christmas. Good old Irving Berlin really cornered the big christian holidays!
Mike
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/31/11 04:46 PM

Originally Posted By: mikf
I always found that people who came up invariably asked for very simple rather than very complicated stuff - usually the kind of tune that we hate playing because there is nothing to it and have played ad nauseum in the past


Depends whether you see yourself as a pianist or an entertainer.

Whenever irritated by something you have to play, reflect on your good fortune in actually getting PAID for this, instead of working in a laundry, coalmine or office full of ambitious, back-biting twits! Then play that tune with thanks! (And play the TUNE, don't wrap it up in some obscure arrangement just to please yourself:-)
Posted by: mikf

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 04/01/11 10:08 AM

I never said that it irritated me or that I wouldnt play it - just stating a fact that I much more often got asked for the mundane than the sophisticated.
Having said that I disagree with you a bit, the person making the request does not usually represent everyone, and we have a responsibility as entertainers not to please one person at the risk of boring the pants of everyone else. Nor is that individual the one actually paying you, and the person actually paying may have very definite ideas about the kind of music he expects you to play. I for one would not expect to go into the lounge at the Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons and find a piano player churning out 'Blanket on the ground ' and the like any more than expect it to have fluorescent lighting and formica tables.
And whether you consider yourself pianist or entertainer, there is always the ultimate right to decide what material to use. You just have to live with the consequences.
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 04/01/11 11:12 AM

Originally Posted By: mikf
I never said that it irritated me or that I wouldnt play it -


You said "...the kind of tune that we hate playing because there is nothing to it and have played ad nauseum in the past". Yeah, I guess "irritated" isn't strong enough. You actually said "hated". Sorry. :-)
Posted by: mikf

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 04/01/11 12:33 PM

I guess we just are coming at this from different viewpoints. I played because I love to entertain by playing the music I like. The alternative was never some god awful job. If I had to play too much of what I did not like, it was not fun, so I just didnt do it. It was never a problem.
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 04/01/11 07:06 PM

Yeah. Not that long ago I was sitting in an under-heated theatre at 10.00 in the morning bickering over which numbers should go in a new show. We were getting pretty negative about the whole job. Then someone said "but think what you MIGHT be doing!"
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 04/01/11 10:09 PM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
I just love it when I'm playing "Fly Me to the Moon" and someone comes up and asks for a Rachmaninoff piano concerto. "Is this a test?" I ask. "I fail."

In the USA I used to fake my way through classical repertoire, but over here, where people actually know how the pieces are supposed to sound, I just say no. I also never play with music in front of me, so I often will tell the customer: "I'm sorry but I don't have the music with me and I can't improvise my way through Bach (or Ravel or Chopin). People seem to respect this.

Hope that helps!



Thanks, Robin. Well, guess I don't feel so bad that I can't play all these classical pieces by memory. I have a few favorite classical pieces/themes that I love and can play with my own arrangements, such as "Warsaw Concerto" and "Liebestraum" (C05). I couldn't play Liebestraum from the score all the way through if it was right under my nose anyway. eek
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 04/02/11 04:13 AM

I just recorded the Bach Air of a G String, but it is obviously an interpretation and improvisation. Some of those classical themes are such fun for improvising. Right now I'm messing around with some of the Schumann Scenes from Childhood pieces. They are easy and lovely and perfect for quiet dinner music.
Posted by: mikf

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 04/04/11 09:51 AM

Chopin's Etude in E major, is another one that is very elegant and classy for most occassions. The melody is familiar to most and even still sounds reasonably authentic using the 'faked ' version.
Posted by: Redhead1

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 04/07/11 09:09 AM

Coming into this thread a little late ...

Robin, thank you for posting all this. I, too, have been hoping to get into this kind of playing and was eager for some advice.

When I first read this thread a few months ago, my heart sank. The first step is to memorize four hours of music??

I could never do that!! When I was in college, it took me over half a year of very intensive work to put together a 30-minute recital! I'd be dead before I could ever finish memorizing four hours of music!

Well, I came back to this thread again yesterday, and read the first four pages a few times. What struck me was when you said, "Set goals. Maybe 1-2 songs a week, if that's all the time you have."

And I thought, "Well, okay, I'll try one song out of a fake book." (Which is a challenge in itself, because I do not think of myself as a "fake book/improvising" kind of person. I didn't even know if could do it, but I figured at least it would be a good exercise to try.

And last night I spent ... mmm, maybe a little over an hour memorizing "Yesterday" out of a fake book. And I could do it! And I played it for husband when I was done, and he said it sounded pretty good!

So, as teeny tiny an accomplishment as that is, it got me really excited. And yes, it felt different to play my own arrangement, with no music, than reading out of a book, which is how I always always normally play.

My goal for today is to polish up "Yesterday" some more and to learn and memorize "Let it Be." (Yes, I will get off The Beatles soon, but I did like those two, and they seem fairly easy.)

Thanks for the great advice!
Redhead
Posted by: cruiser

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 05/25/11 06:47 AM

Originally Posted By: Redhead1
When I first read this thread a few months ago, my heart sank. The first step is to memorize four hours of music??

I could never do that!!

Yes Redhead, but you're able to sight-read your pieces when you gig. Now that's a skill I wish I had!

In fact, these days I'm putting more effort into trying to improve my poor sight-reading ability, instead of spending endless hours struggling to memorise one piece. I think this may be the way forward for me if I'm to build any sort of 'cocktail' repertoire.

Thoughts, anyone?
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 05/25/11 06:55 AM

Originally Posted By: Redhead1
When I first read this thread a few months ago, my heart sank. The first step is to memorize four hours of music??


It's not really about that. Most of cocktail piano is about knowing songs and learning the trick of "just playing" them. One step beyond playing from a fake book and one step further away from memorising full notation.

Though you'll have some "light classical" repertoire that gets played "as is". Don't be afraid to put the music up until you don't need to any more. And have your fake books handy, either printed or on a computer or reader. Requests are a part of this job. And being able to say "I don't know it very well, but I'll look it up and play it after my break" is quite acceptable.
Posted by: cruiser

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 05/25/11 07:05 AM

Originally Posted By: Exalted Wombat
Originally Posted By: Redhead1
When I first read this thread a few months ago, my heart sank. The first step is to memorize four hours of music??


It's not really about that. Most of cocktail piano is about knowing songs and learning the trick of "just playing" them. One step beyond playing from a fake book and one step further away from memorising full notation.


*learning the trick of "just playing" them*?

With respect EW, that's fine for an accomplished cocktail player with years of experience, but how does this advice help those of us who aspire to play in this style? I'll never be able to play in the way you describe, not in this lifetime.
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 05/25/11 08:21 AM

Originally Posted By: cruiser
Originally Posted By: Exalted Wombat
Originally Posted By: Redhead1
When I first read this thread a few months ago, my heart sank. The first step is to memorize four hours of music??


It's not really about that. Most of cocktail piano is about knowing songs and learning the trick of "just playing" them. One step beyond playing from a fake book and one step further away from memorising full notation.


*learning the trick of "just playing" them*?

With respect EW, that's fine for an accomplished cocktail player with years of experience, but how does this advice help those of us who aspire to play in this style? I'll never be able to play in the way you describe, not in this lifetime.


Maybe you lack the aptitude to be a cocktail pianist then! Despite today's culture of mindless encouragment, not everyone is suited to doing EVERYTHING that comes into their mind!

But "never" is a long time. And aptitudes can develop, and quickly turn into skills with practice. All you need is a regular opportunity to play, in a relatively non-threatening environment. How do you think we all started? Go out and mildly irritate the inhabitants of a few retirement homes for a start. As long as you take some notice of them and have a pleasant chat in your breaks, they'll tolerate your piano playing!
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 05/25/11 08:33 AM

Quote:

Yes Redhead, but you're able to sight-read your pieces when you gig. Now that's a skill I wish I had!


Now, that is DEFINITELY a skill that develops with practice. Again, the best way is to put yourself in a situation where sight-reading is regularly required. An orchestral or band instrumentalist sight-reads as a matter of course. It's harder for pianists, admittedly - they tend to have a solitary musical life. But we can argue over whether some musical skills tend toward the innate or the learnt. There is no question whatsoever that sightreading is learnable (by anyone capable of reading a book, at least - before some bright spark comes up with a clever riposte concerning people with disabilities, I know you lot :-).

(Oh dear. I said "disabilities". Is that an acceptable concept round here? You've got to be SO careful).
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 05/28/11 12:41 AM

Lots of successful cocktail pianists play with music on the stand. To get started, you can certainly drag your fake books with you to the gig. Personally, I think it looks much better to play without music, but you've got to do what you've got to do, right?

There was a pianist playing for a private party at the castle last week. I was playing for lunch downstairs and he was in the back salon on the main floor. Anyway, he had piles of music everywhere! On the floor, on the piano, on the music stand, under his feet. He would have had to play for a year to get through all of that music! What was he thinking? Really, on one of these gigs, you play about ten-fifteen songs per 40 minute set, less if you improvise and can stretch the tunes.

You CAN memorize enough music for two sets, really you can. You could put together a small binder of tunes you think people will request (ones you haven't memorized yet) and take that with you, just in case, as a back up to the tunes you've memorized. But I can assure you, that no matter what you take—all the tunes in the world—someone will ask you for something you don't have. You can't freak out about this, just find a nice and polite way to say "Sorry, it's not in my fingers and I don't have the music with me. How about something in the same style, or by the same artist?" Usually when someone makes a request, he/she doesn't doesn't care so much about the song, he/she just wants to make personal contact with the musician. So just have a little chat with the person, smile, and I promise you (unless the customer is an obnoxious drunk) he/she will walk away happy.

I have a few friends who have loaded fake books onto their iPads. Now we're talking. Light weight, discreet, and it holds about a billion tunes.

Playing for a big wedding this evening. But ahead of time, the bride requested I play songs from my four solo piano CDs. So that's easy! Nothing new to learn.
Posted by: Redhead1

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 05/28/11 09:12 AM

I'm happy to see this thread got going again.

An update ... I played at a party two weeks ago and was able to play 30 minutes straight with no music. That probably doesn't sound like a big deal, but to me it was quite an accomplishment. And it was much, MUCH easier than memorizing my 30-minute senior recital in college.

Since then, I've worked on memorizing two new pieces: Ringo Starr's "It Don't Come Easy" and Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon." My goal is to have at least 90 minutes memorized by the end of the summer.

Not surprisingly, it was a lot more fun to play without the music. It felt somewhat freeing, and I agree that it looks much better.

Robin, I like what you said about learning music you yourself like, so I'm trying to choose songs I really enjoy instead of things I'm "supposed" to play. And I also like how you keep stressing "develop your own style." A lot of times when I play, I think, "Ugh, that sounds too simple," or "That doesn't sound like other pianists," but then I think to myself, "Well, this is my own style, and it's okay."

So a big thanks to Robin, as well as everyone else who contributed to this thread. I didn't think I could do this -- but I can! smile

Redhead
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 05/29/11 01:44 AM

Wow, Redhead! This is such a great post. Good for you. I know your post will encourage others, which is the whole point of the thread.

If you're a competent player, getting a few sets of cocktail music together is just a matter of putting in the time. And yes, it is so much easier than having to memorize the classical college recital pieces and deal with the nerve jangling prospect of playing in front of an audience of listening people. Cocktail music is background music. Every so often someone will listen intently in a quiet room, but most of time, no one pays too much attention. Easy! You still want to please yourself by playing the best you can, so it's not a free pass to screw up left and right, but there is so little pressure compared to concert and recital situations.

RH, I congratulate you for developing your style. This is fantastic. And I love your song choices. As you continue, you will learn to apply your style to frequently requested songs, so that you have fun playing them. If you own your material, you own the audience, that's what I say.

Twice this week I had odd compliments from guests. One was from a castle guest, who said, as passed by the piano on his way into dinner, "Thank you for playing something different, and not the same songs we hear everywhere else."

The other comment was from last night, at a wedding dinner I played. A woman came to the piano and said: "I like this music. It's not typical." Not exactly gushing praise, but I'll take it.

Making a living by trying to please everyone will doom you to disappointment. Do (or play ) what you love and others will respect your artistic choices. Eventually success will follow. And while you're waiting for someone to throw money at you, at least you'll be having a good time—which I genuinely believe, is the whole point of playing the piano.
Posted by: Newman

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 07/07/11 05:09 AM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG
...To get started, you can certainly drag your fake books with you to the gig .. You could put together a small binder of tunes ...But ... no matter what you take .. someone will ask you for something you don't have. ...just have a little chat with the person, smile, and I promise you ... he/she will walk away happy.


(I've found this thread from a reference to it by Piano Girl elsewhere.)

While only a beginner on piano I performed solo on guitar (and sang) for many years in small venues and can only agree with Piano Girl's comments. I found sharing the repertoire list with customers and asking them to pick a tune always worked wonders in pleasing the crowd.
Posted by: RayE

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 07/08/11 12:07 PM

I've played a lot of nursing homes, and senior centers over the years, as well as playing with a couple of local big bands. I play from a three ring binder that contains my favorites, and most often requested pieces, and I also bring a couple of fake books for requests. I can read fairly well, but I've never been great at memorizing and maintaining music. You do what you have to do to get by.
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 07/08/11 03:49 PM

Yes, Ray, whatever works! Some of my friends now use iPads with fake book apps. Easier than schlepping the music. The main thing? Have a good time.
Posted by: ChuckJazzRock

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 10/16/11 10:19 PM

Hey everyone!

New to the forum. I joined because after a handful of years in jazz piano training I'm itching more than ever to book a gig playing cocktail piano at a restaurant, bar, nightclub, hotel... wherever. I live in Los Angeles so there shouldn't be a shortage of piano venus around. Unfortunately I have no idea how to go about doing getting it done, (finding gigs, booking them, etc.) How would someone describe the steps I'd need to take to accomplish this goal?
Posted by: jotur

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 10/16/11 10:49 PM

I've found this site to be helpful for many things:

gigging musicians forum

But I found my very first paying gig from a friend, and my next one (this coming Fri) from an ad on craigslist smile

I've been volunteering for 2 years at senior venues getting, rather literally, my act together laugh and I've found that really helpful, too. Practicing performing is different from just practicing the music.

Are there any open jams or open mics to start? I've also found that knowing other musicians can be a big help - they can give you an idea of what the going rates are and an idea of what gigging is actually like.

At the very least a business card and a demo cd or a youtube channel are necessary (altho I don't have the latter two - but I had references from my volunteer gigs, and a demo cd is my next project.)

And then there's Robin's book - Piano Girl - which really is an insider's look at the business. Every little bit you can pick up so they're fewer surprises is a good thing smile

And in my case, a day job is a necessity laugh

But have fun with it -

Cathy
Posted by: ChuckJazzRock

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 10/17/11 12:36 PM

Thanks for the advice. Yes, I also have a day job. Demo CD sounds like an interesting idea, and perhaps I'll also begin volunteering at old folks homes. Seems like a good, low-pressure venue to start off at!
Posted by: jotur

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 10/17/11 04:49 PM

The low-pressure way to start recording is to join the Adult Beginners Forum on-line recitals smile We're actually a wide-range of experiences, it's just that we're all beginners at something. For you that might be recording. If you visit the ABF now you'll find a thread on "one month to recital panic" or similar laugh and begin to get an idea of what "red dot syndrome" is. I've been submitting there for several years, and it's a great place to learn a lot.

There's also 2 jazz threads over there and a couple of folks have significant performing experience, and you can go to school on them smile . And there's the "Join the JOI jazz group" here on the non-classical forum that will also give you lots to do/try/think about.

You've already started your journey, and PW is a great place to get advice and support.

Cathy
Posted by: Piano Girl RMG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 10/18/11 01:29 AM

Well said, Jotur/Cathy!

Assuming you're a competent player, Chuck, the best way to learn how to play a gig is to play a gig. Go the volunteer route until you're comfortable. You'll learn a lot and have fun at the same time. You'll also discover that five minutes of solo piano can seem like an hour. A friend of mine (a great bassist who is intent on mastering cocktail piano) recently played one of his first gigs and said he swore the clock was going backwards.
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 10/18/11 05:24 PM

Originally Posted By: ChuckJazzRock

New to the forum. I joined because after a handful of years in jazz piano training I'm itching more than ever to book a gig playing cocktail piano at a restaurant, bar, nightclub, hotel...

There's also a nice, cozy, smoke-free little piano bar in the ABF where anything goes music-wise, not just cocktail piano style music.. Great place to practice performing. Would love to hear your recordings there sometime. smile

ABF OCTOBER PIANO BAR



Posted by: ChuckJazzRock

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 10/18/11 06:26 PM

Awesome! Will definitely check it out, thanks.
Posted by: Redhead1

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 10/20/11 08:35 PM

Welcome, Chuck!
I'm no expert, but I started aggressively pursuing "solo gigs" a few years ago. Interestingly, what has gotten me more work than anything has been a listing on Gigmasters.com. I have also volunteered to play at various fundraisers, which has never led to paying gigs, but if nothing else, it's good practice and helped build my confidence a bit.

I will be starting a brand-new job in a couple weeks, playing at a new department store opening at a local mall. The pay is absolutely pitiful, but I'm very excited about it ... so you might want to check that possibility out in your area.

Good luck and keep us posted!
Redhead
Posted by: ChuckJazzRock

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 10/20/11 09:06 PM

Department stores sound like awesome gigs. How'd you get it?
Posted by: Redhead1

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 10/20/11 10:07 PM

Originally Posted By: ChuckJazzRock
Department stores sound like awesome gigs. How'd you get it?


It was pretty easy. Being aware of it was the tough part. I'd heard that Von Maur was opening in town (not even sure how) and I remembered talking to someone in another town who was the pianist there. I applied on line, they called me right away for an interview, then hired me.
Redhead
Posted by: Redhead1

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 11/29/11 06:38 PM

I have enjoyed this thread so very much. Just read it for the third time over the past several months and thought I'd resurrect it.

About a month ago I got a job playing at a mall department store for about 12-16 hours a week. Up til now I've been semi-successful; I've played maybe a total of 25 weddings and parties over the years. But this is the first time I'm playing regularly like this. It is a fun challenge!

So many things from this thread come to my mind while I'm playing there. I'm trying my darndest to stretch out the songs! I keep thinking of Robin saying, "Develop your own style ... play songs that you like ..."

One thing I wanted to share: One of the sales associates has told me repeatedly that I'm his "favorite" pianist at the store. He comes over sometimes during our shift and tells me how much he loved this song or that one.

Now, I'm sure every pianist there is probably a "favorite" of one of the employees. But my point is this: One of the other pianists finishes up his shift when I show up, so I've heard him play several times. He is technically much more proficient than I am: lots of flourishes, runs, arpeggios, "jumps" to low bass chords, etc. It's very very different from my playing, and in the past I would have probably been upset or intimidated by that.

BUT ... isn't it cool that someone sees me as their "favorite" even though this other guy (and maybe ALL the pianists!) are clearly better than me? I guess there is room for everybody and their different styles and tastes.

Just wanted to share. I thought it might be encouraging to somebody.

Redhead
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 11/29/11 06:46 PM

Originally Posted By: Redhead1
One thing I wanted to share: One of the sales associates has told me repeatedly that I'm his "favorite" pianist at the store. He comes over sometimes during our shift and tells me how much he loved this song or that one.

Are you sure he doesn't just fancy you? :-)
Quote:
Now, I'm sure every pianist there is probably a "favorite" of one of the employees. But my point is this: One of the other pianists finishes up his shift when I show up, so I've heard him play several times. He is technically much more proficient than I am: lots of flourishes, runs, arpeggios, "jumps" to low bass chords, etc. It's very very different from my playing, and in the past I would have probably been upset or intimidated by that.

Audiences like to hear the melody. Give it to them, go easy on the flourishes! It sounds like this other pianist may be more technically proficient, but you're the better pianist.

(But I bet the "sales associate" (what a lovely title - so much nicer than "shop assistant") asks you on a date soon :-)
Posted by: Prilly49

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/14/11 07:10 PM

I agree that audiences want to hear the melody and too much distraction is not appealing to them. (Although I'm sure there are exceptions to this.) As an example, a year ago I made a CD of my playing (I'm an amateur and there were mistakes here and there). It was an assortment of 16 songs of different genres, but all pretty basic playing. well, there was a Chopin Waltz included. lol Anyway, I had a friend come over to listen before I finalized the project. After she gave me her stamp of approval, I put on a CD of piano playing by a concert classical and jazz pianist, heavy chords, flourishes, runs, etc. which was quite a contrast from my playing. My friend said she preferred MY playing and would gladly listen to me anytime at a restaurant.


So Redhead, keep it up! I'm glad you are developing fans at your gig.

Your piano friend, Priscilla
Posted by: Dan Pincus

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/15/11 09:20 AM

Redhead,

You bring up a very important point pertaining to performance involving improvization. I play Jazz and I have found over the years that trying to keep what I play "understandable" (not necessarily simpler) will be more attractive to both the sophisticated and non-sophisticated listener. You might be surprised, those other players might not be "better" than you. Your music might just be more understandable to listeners. I feel that you can do all the flouishes, arpeggios, jumps, etc. that you want as long as it can be understood by your audiance. Good for you! and keep it up! smile

Dan
Posted by: Jeani-Martini

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/24/11 06:33 PM

Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG

Note: Please don't ever offer to play for free at a venue that is already paying a pianist (union or otherwise). Bad form, bad manners, and bad for business for all of us. But you know this.


I will have to respectfully disagree on this one :-)

If a burger joint gives away free burgers one day a week, the other burger joints aren't going to get together and tell them to quit because it's hurting their business. This is the nature of the beast in the business world, and the music business is no different.

Billy Joel doesn't shed a tear for me when he is hired for a six-digit amount and I only get a paltry three digit amount. :-)

Don't worry about the other guy's money. There will always be a new musician out there playing for less, even a lot less, but the seasoned veteran has the know-how they have yet to discover. ;-)
Posted by: Hop

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 12/24/11 11:33 PM

Originally Posted By: Jeani-Martini
Originally Posted By: Piano Girl RMG

Note: Please don't ever offer to play for free at a venue that is already paying a pianist (union or otherwise). Bad form, bad manners, and bad for business for all of us. But you know this.


I will have to respectfully disagree on this one :-)

Don't worry about the other guy's money. There will always be a new musician out there playing for less, even a lot less, but the seasoned veteran has the know-how they have yet to discover. ;-)



I guess I side more with Piano Girl on this one, although Jeani-Martini makes a point. The music business is unlike most other businesses because it suffers more from over-entry than most other businesses. I wouldn't want to be the one who caused a person to "lose their job", especially if it were a full-time job.

I'd prefer to limit for-free performances to restaurants, elderly living establishments, or private clubhouse situations where there are no paid performers with jobs at risk.

I'm suppose that there could be the possibility of a situation arising where I would violate that guideline, but it wouldn't be often and it wouldn't be without careful consideration of consequences, especially for profeswsional musicians.

Hop
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/25/12 05:04 PM

Just dropping in for some sympathy. Last night I played my regular gig with my trio, but I made mistakes on almost every tune! I think my confidence was broken with the first two songs, and from then on, I started "thinking about what notes to play" which always spells doom for me. Every time I'd think "OK, this tune is going fine at least," I'd then hit a clunker or forget the chords.

Today I'm trying to view it philosophically, with only partial success.

I broke my rule which says "Don't play a newly memorized tune, unless you've had it memorized for at least three weeks." I'd memorized three tunes in the two weeks prior to the gig.

Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/26/12 06:00 PM

Well, today I listened to the recording from last night's gig, and although it wasn't our best night, some of the errors weren't as glaring as I remembered them.

I don't generally like to advertise my mistakes, but for fun, I thought I'd post an example of one of the mistakes.

I Could Write a Book

I miss one note in the first A, and have big problems in the first few measures of the second A.

Any tips on avoiding mistakes like this, other than just practicing the tune more???

Also, is it me, or is the tuning pretty bad for the G and the A (the tune is in C)? This piano was just tuned a few weeks ago, but that tuning involved a pitch raise.
Posted by: Hidden son of Teddy Wilson

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 02/26/12 09:46 PM

Your "mistakes" don't sound like mistakes at all - to the listener they sound like micro-variations. You view them as mistakes because you intended to play something different, but you covered them up and it comes out ok. Nobody's reading your mind out there!

That said, if you want to always "play what you hear", then the only way (that I know of) is to know the tune inside out, by practicing it a lot, in every key.

Also practice "playing what you hear" , and do some ear training...

And accept that it won't always be perfect.

But again, you sounded fine.
Posted by: Mike Mandaville

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/02/12 01:46 AM

Originally Posted By: Redhead1


I have enjoyed this thread so very much. Just read it for the third time over the past several months and thought I'd resurrect it.

Redhead



Hello, Redhead. I have been on board here now for less than a week so far, I have read every post in this discussion once already, and now I am going back again to read every one for a second time. I expect to be caught up with you in a short while.

It's a wonderful day in the neighborhood!
Posted by: JerryG

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/03/12 05:00 PM

Important questions on how I should proceed.

I have been playing for a number of years. I know my theory, chord construction circle of 5ths and much more. I know how to add chord tones below the melody note. I play mostly using open chords or shell voicing. I use mostly 7ths and 9ths in my playing. At this point I can play directly from a fake book, but I can't seem to do much improvisation to the piece.

At this stage in my life at the young age of 72 (last time I checked my age it was 23 so i don't know how I got here) I want to be able to entertain others. However I am in quite a quandry on how to proceed. Each day I seem to embrace one method one day and the next day another.

I have tried to memorize pieces, and maybe I have not been approaching it properly but I can't seem to retain the music. When I was growing up I had a fantastic memory for music. I can still memorize tunes in my head.

I want to develop a repetoire so I can play in public, even if it is just in a nursing home.

Recently I was given a fake book in C. I have had a lot of fun playing the tunes since I can easily sight read and improvise on the fly when the music allows for it. A few years ago I went out to eat and there was a young lady playing the piano. When she took a break I spoke with her. She told me she only plays in the key of C. She said that originally she took a few piano lessons, didn't like them and learned on her own. Quite an interesting story. But I am getting sidetracked here.

My question for all is how to proceed at this stage.

1. Should I go back to playing pieces in the keys they were written in as found in the fake books or would I be losing something by only playing tunes in C.

2. What is the best approach to memorizing. Do you just play a piece until you get it. Do you memorize chord sequences first.

3. Should I be able to add improvisation into the piece and how do you go about it. As I said I can do some improv on the fly but not very well. Do you practice improv that you work out.

4. Keeping up the rhythem is a problem for me since many times I get lost in the piece. I read that you are supposed to just ignore the mistakes when playing so as not to lose the beat. Should I practice all pieces with a metronome.

These are my most perplexing questions. My one goal in life, at this stage besides family, is to be able to perform for others. If I could accomplish this I could depart this earth (which I hope won't be for a number of years still) as a very happy person. Time is passing by too fast. Sorry if I sound a little morbid I don't mean to.

Thanks for your anticipated advise.
Posted by: jotur

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/03/12 05:24 PM

Originally Posted By: JerryG
My one goal in life, at this stage besides family, is to be able to perform for others.


You already have everything you need to do this, except the schedule smile So just call up a retirement home or a nursing home and offer to volunteer.

If what you can do is play fun tunes in the key of C from a lead sheet, well, that's what you do. When I first started I was playing Oh, Susannah and Scottish folk tunes that nobody knew. But that's what I knew how to play, so that's what they got. They loved it.

A half-hour set will take maybe a dozen tunes. So get a dozen ready to go, and I wouldn't worry about whether they were memorized, and just do it. There's no time like right now smile

I'm 66 myself. There are several piano players out there in my circle who are much better pianists than I am. A couple of them have certificates and degrees and stuff. But I'm the one that gigs, because I'm the one that just does it.

You can work in other stuff besides your initial set as you learn it - even if it's still in C, or you have one tune you can do in Bb, or whatever. It doesn't make any difference. The difference is who - just does it, and who just doesn't smile

So just schedule a gig in the next 2 weeks and go for it!

Cathy
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/03/12 08:39 PM

Originally Posted By: JerryG
Important questions on how I should proceed.
....


May I contradict you? :-)

What you gave us was a page of completely irrelevent questions regarding your piano technique.

You want to entertain. Good. Go where there's a piano and some people, sit down and play. Just one tune if you like. No need to announce a concert or to get people sitting in rows. WHen you finish the first tune, I'll be very surprised if at least a few people don't applaud! From then on, it's easy.
Posted by: Hidden son of Teddy Wilson

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/03/12 10:57 PM

Originally Posted By: JerryG

1. Should I go back to playing pieces in the keys they were written in as found in the fake books or would I be losing something by only playing tunes in C.


It's important to play in all keys. Even if a tune is in C most of the time the bridge might go to a totally different key. For example, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes : if you're in C, the bridge is in the key of Ab. Etc, etc....

Originally Posted By: JerryG

2. What is the best approach to memorizing. Do you just play a piece until you get it. Do you memorize chord sequences first.


First of all you memorize the sound. You have to be able to at least sing the melody. Then you look at the chord sequence, analyze it, recognize structures that are very common (ii-V-I, iii-VI-ii-I, etc) and recognize structures that are strange and make the tune unique.

Originally Posted By: JerryG

3. Should I be able to add improvisation into the piece and how do you go about it. As I said I can do some improv on the fly but not very well. Do you practice improv that you work out.


Improv will come only after you master playing the basic chords and melody.

Originally Posted By: JerryG

4. Keeping up the rhythem is a problem for me since many times I get lost in the piece. I read that you are supposed to just ignore the mistakes when playing so as not to lose the beat. Should I practice all pieces with a metronome.


I'm not sure what you're playing, but if it's the usual jazz standards the most important thing is to establish a beat and then keep it going no matter what. So yes, practice with a metronome, and ignore mistakes, and favor the beat!
Posted by: Jazz+

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/05/12 05:41 PM

1. Should I go back to playing pieces in the keys they were written in as found in the fake books or would I be losing something by only playing tunes in C.

Answer: Either way. If C works better for you do them all in C. I like playing in F and Eb the best. I also like G, Ab, C and Bb (the 5 common keys). I rarely play in the other keys

2. What is the best approach to memorizing. Do you just play a piece until you get it. Do you memorize chord sequences first.

Answer: I memorize chord changes first. Then melody BUT ONLY ONE PHRASE at a time. I find the slowest way to learn a tune is to play it all the way through until I get it.

3. Should I be able to add improvisation into the piece and how do you go about it. As I said I can do some improv on the fly but not very well. Do you practice improv that you work out.

Answer: You don't need to add improv, a good melody will carry a tune. You may want to add bits of filler such as chord arpeggios in the gaps (where there is a pause in the melody.) You can also paraphrase the melody. I suggest you go back and forth, keep your eyes on the melody, fill for a bar or two, back to the melody, fill some more, back to the melody. In other words don't stray from the melody for more than 4 bars (8 max).

4. Keeping up the rhythm is a problem for me since many times I get lost in the piece. I read that you are supposed to just ignore the mistakes when playing so as not to lose the beat. Should I practice all pieces with a metronome.

Answer: A metronome is a good idea. You are playing solo piano so you can be quite free with the tempos.
On ballads I often start a tune freely, and go into tempo rather soon thereafter , and then go out of tempo on the B section and then back in tempo for the final A section. Then I repeat back to the B section (skipping the top) and then end with in tempo the final A section.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/14/12 12:22 PM

1. Should I go back to playing pieces in the keys they were written in as found in the fake books or would I be losing something by only playing tunes in C.

Take the time to learn them in different keys. 1. It will be easier to play with others. 2. Listeners will enjoy listening more if the keys alternate. Also, if you always play in C, then when a song modulates to another key, you will not be as fluent.

2. What is the best approach to memorizing. Do you just play a piece until you get it. Do you memorize chord sequences first.

Grandmasters can memorize a position from a chess match in seconds. They can do it because they recognize the patterns. So, try to understand the pattern. For example, "ii-V-I in C followed by ii-V-I in Eb." But also just play the piece many times -- at least a few times each day.

3. Should I be able to add improvisation into the piece and how do you go about it. As I said I can do some improv on the fly but not very well. Do you practice improv that you work out.

Usually, you'll play the tune ("head") then improvise for a few choruses (cycles of the song), then the head again. I'd practice this by improvising over a tune for hours.

I have a number of "licks" that I've worked out, and practice them so that they come out of my fingers without conscious thought.


4. Keeping up the rhythm is a problem for me since many times I get lost in the piece. I read that you are supposed to just ignore the mistakes when playing so as not to lose the beat. Should I practice all pieces with a metronome.

Yes. I'm listening to the recordings from a gig I played yesterday. I made some horrendous mistakes, but I always kept the beat going.
Posted by: daviel

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/14/12 12:43 PM

Try the metronome clicks on 2 and 4.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/14/12 01:42 PM

Show and tell time...

I had one of my very rare solo gigs yesterday, at a mixer for a local chamber of commerce. I was very lucky to be able to play on this wonderful 1930's vintage Steinway, which was recently tuned:



If you look just over the music stand, you can see my Zoom H2 which I used to record the performance. It worked very well.

I enjoyed the gig. It was very loud with all the talking in the echo-y room, and I realized as I was playing, that almost no one would notice the mistakes I made. I was just a nice background sound to most of the people.

Which was a good thing, because I made a lot of mistakes. I really want to reduce the frequency of these clunkers -- does anyone have any advice on this? I felt very well-prepared for this gig, and played many of the tunes until I was sick of them.

Also, this two-hour gig was more tiring than one of my trio gigs. I only waited a few seconds between pieces (didn't have to wait for the bass player to find the music for the next song), and there was no relaxing during bass solos.

I'm sure that when I am more used to solo playing, I can play with less effort.

Here's an excerpt of my playing of Misty. The mistakes I make here are typical.

Misty Excerpt

Any suggestions concerning my playing would be appreciated.

And here are the tunes I played. The time estimates from my SetMaker application were very accurate.

***** SET 1 *****
Til There Was You
Don't Get Around Much Anymore
Blue Skies
Someday My Prince Will Come
St. Thomas
Summertime
Fly Me to the Moon
Cast Your Fate to the Wind
Misty
Easter Parade
On Green Dolphin Street
Tenderly
Take the A Train
Sweet Lorraine
Take Five
Bewitched
1 Hr. 4 Min. 28 Sec.

***** SET 2 *****
If I Only Had a Brain
Polka Dots and Moonbeams
Lady Madonna
My One and Only Love
Linus and Lucy
Pennies From Heaven
Girl from Ipanema
St. James Infirmary
Afternoon in Paris
Blue Monk
Moon River
Satin Doll
Ain't She Sweet
Have you Met Miss Jones
All of Me
55 Min. 10 Sec.
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/14/12 01:54 PM

Well done!

You faded out just before we could hear if anyone applauded! There's usually a few who are listening and enjoying.
Posted by: Legal Beagle

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/14/12 02:32 PM

Hi, Al. Very nice job, thanks for posting.

Other than the clam in the melody at 0:27, I guarantee that your "mistakes" are not noticeable to the listeners. And even with that one, you did exactly the right thing and carried on, which makes it forgotten as quickly as it came.

If you're looking for comments, the thing I notice most is how elastic your tempo is... of course, you're playing exactly the kind of tune and exactly the kind of style where you can get away with that the most. IMO, though, it would benefit from a slightly stricter pulse.

I really like what I'm hearing at the beginning of the excerpt, which I presume is the end of your solo. I'd like to hear the whole thing. Extremely nice stylistically, and very melodic, mature-sounding ideas... I like it better than the head, to tell you the truth.

Otherwise, not a lot to say but good job. I'd like to hear a lot more tensions harmonically to make this more intriguing... but that's just a style choice, and your chosen style seems completely appropriate to the venue.

Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/14/12 03:50 PM

Thanks, Legal, I agree completely.

I often play much of these slower tunes somewhat rubato, and try to tell myself that it's for stylistic reasons. Deep down, however, I know that I'm often adjusting the tempo so that I can remember the notes or get my fingers in position. For example, the pause 35 seconds in is caused by my not being able to remember how to start the drop-2 chords that I usually play (at 1:38 you can hear how it's supposed to sound), and having to punt. I'm going to work on eliminating those pauses.
Posted by: Jazz+

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/14/12 04:12 PM

On Misty your melodic phrasing is very straight, sounds like a classical player, I would suggest working on feeling both triplet and sixteenth note subdivisions of the beats and varying between them. Like Doug in this clip, also lots of "laid back" phrasing : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAoQjoJl8mI
Posted by: Exalted Wombat

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/14/12 04:16 PM

Looking at the picture - there's no need to put on the full penguin suit for this sort of gig, but I find I'm taken more seriously if I make at least the effort to wear dress trousers and a tie.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/14/12 07:32 PM

Originally Posted By: Exalted Wombat
Looking at the picture - there's no need to put on the full penguin suit for this sort of gig, but I find I'm taken more seriously if I make at least the effort to wear dress trousers and a tie.


I considered that, and would have even worn my tuxedo, but, trust me, what I wore is considered really dressed up for this rural area.
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/14/12 07:52 PM

Hi Al,

No suggestions - I just really loved your "Misty" recording, and your song list is terrific! smile
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/14/12 11:59 PM

P.S. How did you get your tune list together? Just curious.. such a nice variety.

Which is your favorite key? I mostly play in C/Am and Eb.
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/15/12 10:36 AM

Originally Posted By: Elssa
P.S. How did you get your tune list together? Just curious.. such a nice variety.

Which is your favorite key? I mostly play in C/Am and Eb.


Sometimes I think that my best skill as a jazz player is choosing good tunes. There's a pianist around here that is a much better player than I am, but he chooses esoteric, cerebral stuff that's good, but boring.

I try to choose tunes that people will recognize. Somewhere, I got the list below of the top 100 favorite songs, and have chosen jazz tunes from that.

As for keys, I am most comfortable in C, Bb, and Eb, and I like Ab.

Top 100 Favorite Songs
Title Top Request?
O Sole Mio (It's Now or Never)
Alexander's Ragtime Band yes
Always yes
Amazing Grace yes
As Time Goes By yes
Autumn Leaves yes
Bye Bye Blackbird yes
Danny Boy yes
Dark Town Strutters' Ball yes
Deep Purple yes
Edelweiss yes
Five Foot Two yes
Georgia On My Mind yes
Goodnight Irene yes
Hawaiian Wedding Song yes
Hello Dolly yes
It Had To Be You yes
Lara's Theme yes
Let Me Call You Sweetheart yes
Me and My Shadow yes
Memories (from "Cats") yes
My Blue Heaven yes
My Melancholy Baby yes
New York, New York yes
Over The Rainbow yes
Peg O' My Heart yes
Que Sera Sera yes
Red River Valley yes
Sentimental Journey yes
Spanish Eyes yes
St. Louis Woman yes
Stardust yes
Summertime yes
Sweet Georgia Brown yes
The Tennessee Waltz yes
When the Saints Go Marchin' In yes
You Are My Sunshine yes
Ain't Misbehavin'
Ain't She Sweet
All Of Me
Am I Blue
An Irish Lullaby (Toora-loora-loora)
Anniversary Waltz
Blue Skies
Blueberry Hill
Cabaret
Cheek to Cheek
Crazy
Did You Ever See A Dream Walking
Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me
Don't Fence Me In
Don't Get Around Much Anymore
Dream A Little Dream For Me
East Side West Side
Embraceable You
Fascination
For Me and My Gal
For The Good Times
Goody Goody
Heart Of My Heart
I Can't Give You Anything But Love
I Could Have Danced All Night
I Don't Know Why
I Got Rhythm
I'll Be Seeing You
I'm Gonna Sit Right Down & Write Myself A Letter
I've Got a Crush On You
It's A Sin To Tell A Lie
It's Only a Paper Moon
Ma, He's Makin Eyes At Me
Margie
Moon River
Music, Music, Music
Oh, What A Beautiful Morning
Oklahoma
On the Street Where You Live
On the Sunny Side of the Street
Our Love Is Here To Stay
Ramona
Shine on Harvest Moon
Show Me The Way To Go Home
Side By Side
Skaters' Waltz
Sunrise Sunset
Swanee
Sweet Sue
Unforgettable
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling
When The Red, Red, Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin Along
When You're Smiling
Yes Sir, That's My Baby
You'll Never Know
Your Cheatin' Heart
Posted by: daviel

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/15/12 11:34 AM

I have to work up "Last Date" and "Cast Your Fate to the Winds."
Posted by: Piano World

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/15/12 12:41 PM

Good list Al, I like it.

I know Robin (Piano Girl) recommends memorizing everything, but my brain
can't hold that much informatin at once. Every time I add something to it, something else gets pushed out :-)

Kathy and I took a short cruise last week, I noticed both piano players had looseleaf books of music. They didn't always need the book, but the young lady playing the easy listening music seemed to use hers quite a bit.

I was happy to find a piano on the 13th deck that they allow guests to play, a nice little Yamaha grand. And it was actully in tune!
It kept me from going into complete withdrawal, and I even got some compliments from a few passengers in the lounge.

I'd like to do more playing out (and get Kathy to sing), but I need to expand my play list. I'm making a copy of yours now Al :-)
Posted by: Elssa

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/15/12 02:28 PM

That's a great list, lots of oldies, though it doesn't seem to include Somewhere Over the Rainbow. I'm always asked to play that one, so I have it down pat and memorized. smile
Posted by: Piano World

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/15/12 03:36 PM

I think Over the Rainbow (in Al's list) is the same as Somewhere Over the Rainbow Elssa, or am I mistaken (wouldn't be the first time).

Of course Al just chose 100 he felt were good to have under your fingers.
There's no end to the pieces you could add.

A few that come to mind when I play (depending on the crowd)

Satin Doll
When Sunny Gets Blue
Girl From Ipanema
On Old Cape Cod
Moonlight in Vermont
Posted by: TromboneAl

Re: Let's Talk Cocktail Piano - 03/15/12 04:19 PM

Originally Posted By: daviel
I have to work up "Last Date" and "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."


You'll find this video useful:



Here's me playing it at Tuesday's gig:

http://www.box.com/s/5c41e72906bf3b26a47a

The most requested tune I get is Linus and Lucy. Here's our sloppy version from last week's trio gig.

http://www.box.com/s/d2f0408d04a3c40fe80e


It's funny because the "Last tune" that the requester refers to was Bluesette, which is nothing like Linus and Lucy. Also, I apparently forgot I was playing with the trio, and I was playing the bassline in the middle part even though I had the bass player. What we do is just play an Eb blues in that section.