“Lessons I Learned playing Solo Piano Gigs”

Tim’s Tips

One of the best lessons I learned playing solo piano in Lounges and Piano Bars is, never stop the music.  When you stop between songs or even pause, you give the audience reason to make requests.  Usually the requests do not fit your style or you just don’t know the song.  That puts you in a difficult spot especially when it happens often. So I learned to vamp or fill time between songs with chords and improvisational material.  Some of that style of playing helped my song writing ideas and enabled me to clear my head and think about what I was going to play next.  Also, I could talk to the people sitting around the piano while playing.  When I stopped playing it was break time.

One of my first real jobs in music was at the Desert Inn in Columbus, Ohio in the early 60’s. I would park cars from 4pm to 6pm, then play solo piano in the dining room from 7pm to 9pm, then play at the piano bar from 9pm to 1am. Needless to say I had to learn quite a bit of music to fill that much time. I played without books or sheet music. The real lesson was learning different styles for each job. People eating vs. people drinking. Sometimes I would play the same songs and just change the tempo and style of playing. That is where the jazz style came in handy. Funny story, I also remember the Fake Book guy that would visit me at the Inn to try to sell me Fake Books. It was like a drug deal back in the day. Everything was hush hush. Now you can buy them very legally at any music store.

I realized very early on that solo piano playing was much easier than playing in a band.  The reason for that is because you can add or subtract to a music arrangement with no problem while you are playing solo.  Also, if you forgot the “B” section of a song you could improvise or simply vamp to another song.  And there is something to the fact that people in a band are counting on you so that adds to the anxiety factor.  Kind of like team sports.  I did prefer to play solo.  After many years of performing both ways, I still prefer playing solo piano.