J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Piano Girl


Piano Girl: Lessons in Life, Music, and the Perfect Blue Hawaiian
By Robin Meloy Goldsby
Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard
0-87930-882-6


This should go without saying, but it bears repeating: if you request a song from the pianist in a bar or hotel, you should tip. The more wack your request, the larger the tip should be. If you have any further questions about hotel piano etiquette, you can consult Robin Meloy Goldsby’s entertaining memoir Piano Girl.

Meloy has played piano in restaurants, hotel lobbies, resorts, and the odd (at times very odd) cabaret gigs. Having played major midtown hotels, like the Marriott Marquis in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, she probably played “Memories” and “I Did It All For Love” more than any human being should have to.

Starting in Pittsburgh, Goldsby makes her way to Germany by way of New York (with periodic stops in Haiti), playing perfectly tasteful background music. After some less inspiring gigs in places like Waterbury, she eventually starts gigging in the big Broadway hotels, thanks to a new agent:

“Harlan Ellis. What a great name. In my short career I’ve worked for Pete Frank, Sammy Scott, and Rick Lester. Most agents seem to have two first names. Maybe Harlan Ellis will be different. He has two last names.” (p. 113)

Despite feeling outclassed at her first audition for Ellis, she finds that just by being pleasant, she edges out a talented, but socially challenged field of pianists. It is a lesson she passes along to her protégé, Robin Spielberg, who would become a professional confidant as well. Goldsby recalls:

“We would compare notes about wacko customers and potential stalkers, and we figure out how you can avoid playing Scott Joplin pieces if you hold up your left hand like a claw, say you were born with a deformity, and you can’t possibly stretch a major tenth.” (p. 197)

Golsby writes with wit and maintains her affection for the music she plays. While packaged and blurbed to evoke Sex and the City (and not inappropriately so), we hear her conversing with her inner voices (Voice of Reason and Voice of Doom) enough to satisfy Woody Allen neurotics. Her story will also interest jazz listeners, as Meloy has appeared on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz and is currently married to John Goldsby, a bassist with the WDR big band.

Piano Girl is a quick and amusing read that should encourage people to listen closer to the person playing piano in their bars and restaurants. Here in New York particularly, that person could be a world class musician.

(Note: Goldsby is visiting America this month to do publicity for Piano Girl.)

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