When it comes to cocktail piano, people may have different perspectives of what we are talking about. Each perspective will reflect what that person’s reference is. For example, if you were eating dinner last night in a restaurant or in a night club with a friend and there was a pianist playing in the corner of the room (complimenting your enjoyment of those cocktails), the music you were listening to is what you are likely to refer to as cocktail piano, whatever that person was playing. In short, if he or she was complimenting the ambience, then that pianist was likely fulfilling his or her purpose.
That said, we can think of cocktail piano as being more of way of playing that compliments a certain ambience, one in which people can eat and/or drink, communicate with each other, and simply enjoying themselves as the music coming from that piano serves as a genuine compliment to what is going on without serving as a spotlight performance for which the audience members are expected to remain silent.
So, yes, when you are playing cocktail piano, you are really playing to the crowd and the situation. If what you’re playing is appreciated, chances are another round of cocktails will be ordered and your guests will stay a little longer (the owner of the establishment will love you for that). Thus, a cocktail pianist can be thought of more like a “part of the overall stage of what is happening” rather than “taking the stage.”
So what style of music can be considered to be “cocktail piano?” Virtually any style at all as long as the function described above remains true. You can be playing Billy Joel’s Piano Man and then your rendition of Bart Howard’s Fly Me To The Moon might follow. Perhaps Chicago’s Color My World would make its way into the set. So, you see, when we refer to someone playing in a “cocktail piano style,” what we really might be describing is solo piano playing that compliments a given scenario.
This pretty much opens us up to playing music from almost any genre of our choice as long as we are playing it in a fashion that compliments a given ambience. That said, our focus might be placed more on how we will be playing those tunes (or improvisations) and, if you’re looking to enhance your skills in this regard, you are have most definitely arrived at the right place!
Not only do I have a passion for playing cocktail piano, but I also have a particular passion for sharing what I know. For years, I have been assisting people all over the world in this area of music performance. My students range from absolute beginners to those who have had some experience but simply want to enhance their skills for fun to the professional cocktail piano players who want to take their playing to higher levels. However you arrived here, I consider it a privilege to have you spending some of your time at the site and highly encourage you to explore your potential as we have fun revealing lots and lots of cocktail piano playing techniques and strategies that will not only have you appreciating yourself a whole lot more but will also have you turning some heads in the room, too!
PLAY WITH PASSION!