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Piano Bar featuring Tim Buie

I seldom write about musicians who are not based in Chicago, and I have a strict rule about excluding anyone who doesn’t do at least 50 percent jazz, blues or the Great American Songbook in their show—after all, this is Chicago Jazz Magazine. But I’m making an exception for my friend, Tim Buie, who is not only a fine jazz player when allowed to do so, but also is attempting to put together the very first of what he hopes will be an annual event, the International Piano Bar Convention, March 21-24. It will take place at Ticklers Dueling Pianos, at 635 Bourbon St. in New Orleans. It is not exclusive to any particular genre of music—all styles are welcome, as are club owners and booking agents. Troy Neihardt, Chicago’s own traveling piano troubadour, will be attending and contributing a report in the next issue. As many of you know, I teach in what is probably the world’s only semi-academic classroom instruction program on piano bar performing at the Old Town School Of Folk Music. That’s why I think this convention is a really important event. In a recent phone chat, Tim Buie said, and I agree, “The piano bar is an important American musical tradition that includes all styles. We keep great songs alive while giving people a good time. And it’s also one of the only ways to make a decent full-time living as a pianist.” Most career musicians reach a point when they realize they are not going to become famous or rich. At that point, they have to assess whether it’s going to be worthwhile continuing to do the kind of work necessary to make a modest middle-class living, which may mean playing a lot of music that wasn’t part of their original vision of themselves as artists. Those who stay in the business make tough choices: Do you continue to devote yourself entirely to your artistic vision (i.e., being a jazz artist, rock star, songwriter, master performer, etc.) and starve? Or, do you become a sellout and find a way to take all of the skills you’ve acquired and try to make money? Many drop out of the business and get jobs completely outside of music, and continue to pursue their art as a hobby; some are lucky enough to be able to teach, and still get enough weekend gigs to keep their chops up and further develop their styles. Then there are the lucky few who get as much joy playing a great version of “Piano Man” for a $20 tip as they would by playing “Here‘s That Rainy Day.” “Yes, that’s my favorite song,” says Tim, of that extremely complicated Jimmy Van Heusen masterpiece. “But that never comes up as a request, at least not in the places I work.” Buie, a well-trained jazz musician who makes a nice living as a dueling pianist in New Orleans, says, “I try to use jazz and Great American Songbook in my show. Jazz influences everything I do—I can’t help it! My C major chord normally has an F# attached to it for a little spice and flavor.” Born and raised in Wilmington, N. C. in 1964, two things kept him from getting into trouble as a child: his love of sports (he was a childhood friend and basketball buddy with Michael Jordan) and playing the piano. Self-taught until he graduated high school in 1982, he then joined the Army and later entered the rigorous band program at the U.S. Military School Of Music in Norfolk, VA. After he completed his four-year stint, he moved to Nashville, where he worked as both a studio and performing musician. In 1986, he got an opportunity to go to Norway with a country band for a couple of months. After the gig ended, Tim decided to give the international piano bar/cruise ship circuit a try. He spent years living abroad, performing in over 40 countries and in a multitude of styles and settings. Upon his return, he began working the lucrative national dueling piano circuit. It was in February 2005 at Rum Runners in Wilmington, N. C., when he set the Guinness World Record for continuous piano performances—63 hours and 11 minutes. “That was a great honor, but it didn’t last very long,” he says. “Very soon afterward, somebody beat me and is in the Book now.” After spending five years as a house player at Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar in Gainesville, Fla., Tim and his family relocated to New Orleans, where he is part owner of Ticklers Piano Bar in the French Quarter. This place, which employs seven full-time pianists and four drummers, is open seven days a week, running continuous dueling piano shows from 3 p.m. until 2 a.m. And it will be there (and a nearby hotel convention center with an auditorium) the first-ever International Piano Bar convention will take place. “We have four days of fun-filled piano activities, lectures, jam sessions, audition opportunities (including several important regional, national and international agencies), plus some live training opportunities for new players, or pros who wish to make a full-time living in the business, seminars on Dueling Pianos, jam sessions, award ceremonies and a social event second-to-none.” Go to for more. And check back here for my column in the May/June issue CJM for Troy Niehardt’s revue.

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