The piano lounge is where Robin Meloy Goldsby has spent most of her career, tinkling away at Cole Porter standards and taking requests from show tune-obsessed drunks. Her memoir Piano Girl is exuberant, keen and at times really funny.
Goldsby, the daughter of a professional drummer, fell into her first gig by accident. She was looking for a place to practice, but the owner of the Club Car on Nantucket Island insisted on hiring her to entertain his elderly guests. She took to it immediately and soon scored a gig at the Pittsburgh Grand Hyatt Hotel, where, early in her career, she bumped into Henry Mancini while playing his song Charade. "My dear," Mancini says, "playing the piano in a bar is one of the most difficult jobs in music, and you are doing it very well. I just wanted you to know that." This auspicious praise preceded a lengthy career at the keys in New York’s finest Times Square hotels, an exclusive resort in Haiti and eventually private parties in a German castle.
Her view of unfolding nightlife drama is absorbing. The eccentric regulars and freaks that populate piano lounges include Irma, obsessed with Goldsby’s ankles; a Christian man with his wanger hanging out of his Bermuda shorts (something that only Goldsby can see from her piano perch); and a crazed stalker who eventually tries to stab her with a sharpened umbrella.
Goldsby has some fantastic stories. As a child, she tried out for the circus but instead took a job as a stripping pianist for a burlesque dinner theater in Boston. On occasion, various managers asked her to keep playing — while a priest choked, to distract hotel patrons after a man committed suicide, and even during a fistfight involving New York Yankee manager Billy Martin.
Having been to many auditions, Goldsby acknowledges that it’s not just her ability that often lands her the job, but her blond good looks. Her charm is also palpable in her writing — she is an entertainer. This memoir will make readers wonder about career choices, and whether or not they should have kept up with the piano lessons.
Adam Bregman is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected].