What Is Cocktail Piano?

Firstly, What Isn’t Cocktail Piano?

What is cocktail piano?As a cocktail pianist, I find it interesting how a simple phrase like “cocktail piano” can lend itself to so many opposing interpretations. Many individuals, including pianists themselves, have a number of different ways of expressing their personal definitions of “cocktail piano.” To be totally candid, I don’t agree with a good percentage of them.

I recently viewed a YouTube video presentation of a jazz pianist and teacher as he projected his idea of what cocktail piano really is. He conveyed his opinion by playing ascending arpeggios in a tasteless, haphazard manner up the keyboard. What I have deciphered from this is that even some piano professionals who are held in reasonably high esteem by others have no clue what cocktail piano is.

Nearly all of these perspectives seem to have one commonality. A person is likely to define cocktail piano as the style of playing that he or she was exposed to while being part of cocktail setting, whether that be a restaurant, night club, or other. By association, their listening experience led to a stereotypical perspective.

Cocktail piano is not a style at all.

Turning Billy Joel’s New York State Of Mind into a classical rendition does not transform that terrific ballad into “cocktail” rendition. I’m not implying that it would be terrible to do such a thing (!) or that performing a song like that couldn’t be part of a cocktail piano presentation. I’m saying that one cannot truly define cocktail piano by equating it with any particular style at all.

As a soloist, a cocktail player has much flexibility. So, yes, playing in a rubato fashion (not keeping a steady beat) is a technique such a player can implement. However, “playing rubato” and “cocktail piano” are not necessarily synonymous.

Cocktail Piano Defined

What is cocktail piano? It’s name suggests the truth as to what it really is. It can truly include any styleCocktail Pianist of playing. If it fits into the scenario of a “cocktail” setting (whether that be a dining experience or people chatting over drinks) and complements the ambience rather than imposing on it, THAT is cocktail piano.

A true cocktail pianist is perhaps one of the most environmentally aware musicians in existence. This type of performer understands that the piano playing role is to be “at one” with everything and everyone within proximity of the music. A professional cocktail pianist takes pleasure in playing the crowd. This is a musician who accepts others in the room wholeheartedly as “part of the performance.”

“I Am You… You Are Me”

I’m in the middle of a chorus of All Of Me. A waitress passing by spills a drink. Don’t put it past me to interrupt the flow of what I’m doing with a descending glissando… followed by a moment of silence. She looks up while getting a kick out of that. I’ve I contributed some humor to the situation as I intended.

While making my way through a rendition of Body & Soul, I notice a waiter parading toward one of the tables with a cake full of lit candles. I quickly fade out while approaching the bridge. It’s time to play a version of Happy Birthday. I’ll play it at a tempo that people can keep up with as they all sing (each in their own key♫🙂 ). Once the table volume diminishes a bit, I’ll switch to a playful edition of Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue (the birthday girl is about 5′ 2″).

Cocktail Piano Can Include Virtually Any Musical Style

When it comes to cocktail piano, there is no style of music that cannot be included. If it can be presented in a manner that honors both the scenario and the ambience, it fits the bill. If you have a way of presenting Steely Dan or Earth Wind and Fire in a manner that fits into the equation, it’s worthy of being considered “cocktail piano.”

A Cocktail Pianist Respects The Big Picture

Cocktail PianistYour personal artistry is certainly worthy of respect. That said, you still put the crowd first. Your contribution enhances what is present. It never demands the spotlight. You’ll be looked upon with high regard because of your genuine sense of selflessness.

So, do you have a favorite song that you never would have considered playing for such a scenario because you didn’t think it was appropriate? If so, is that assessment based on how you usually play the song? Can you reconsider how you might be able to present it in a fashion that can complement a dining atmosphere?

A Lesson From Claude

Claude Debussy has been so often noted as stating that “Music is the space between the notes.” This takes on new meaning when you consider the role of an authentic cocktail pianist. When people are chatting, the space between the words is what you are serving. Perform in a tasteful fashion and those spaces are sure to include some looks of gratitude in your direction.

TV Tips

Not a member of TV TIPS? This program consists of short, digestible video tutorials created to help unleash the creative cocktail pianist within you. I would like to send you eight (8) of them so you can get a good taste of what is offered...

YES I want the samples

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