It is past midnight Court of palm trees in Cincinnati and the staff are trying to shut down. The lights are dimmed as the last of the martini glasses and beer bottles are picked up. But Beau Brant is still at the piano, playing for the stragglers.
Finally, a waitress gives her the “wrap-it-up” sign. Probably a good idea, since he has a flight to catch the next day, and he can’t be late.
It’s the captain.
Maybe there are other airline pilots playing piano, but how many cut seven albums, played for a US president, and had an original song used by Oprah Winfrey?
Mr. Brant, 41, has played – and piloted – most of his life. He started playing the piano at the age of 3 and was flying at 12. But at every stopover, he’s looking for a place to play, just for fun.
A regular performer now at many of his stopover hotels, Mr. Brant operates domestic flights from his home port in Denver to Madison, Wisconsin; Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina; and Jackson Hole, Wyo.
He still has gigs at home from time to time – his house piano is a Yamaha Grand – but he is very excited to play on the road for his team and strangers. And he fell in love with the Bar at Palm Court, a booming Art Deco venue in the Hilton Cincinnati Netherlands Plaza: “The piano area reminds me of the“ grand staircase ”of the Titanic. “
His sets are a rambling mix of jazz, blues, classical and show tunes. His style is characterized by a flashy right hand and a lot of bounce but no score. And he loves to talk about his two passions.
The following are excerpts from conversations with Mr. Brant, edited for clarity.
How did this flight and play routine come about?
He started on a long haul in 2005 from New York to Frankfurt. We got to the hotel early, the rooms weren’t ready and there was this beautiful piano in the lobby. I started playing for the team and ended up playing happy hour.
Did you play professionally?
I grew up in Evergreen, just outside of Denver, and I played out there when I was 12. Then hotels, weddings, birthdays – sometimes four or five nights a week. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the music: flight training is expensive.
What are the most exotic places you’ve played?
Paris, Zurich, Lisbon, Sydney, Shanghai. I have flown overseas for much of my career. In 2019, I became an Airbus 320 captain and now fly North American routes. But in the United States, many hotels have withdrawn their pianos, and they are increasingly difficult to find.
Can your stopover sets last for hours at no cost?
Sometimes I get food and drink, but it’s already covered by the airline. The tip pot can range from $ 20 to $ 200, but I use it to offer something to the crew. It is certainly not a question of money.
What’s your favorite drink while you play?
I appreciate a good red wine, but there is the 12 hour rule [the F.A.A. prohibits pilots from consuming alcohol 12 hours before work], and I respect that very much. At the Plaza, it was sparkling water with lime.
United know your double life, don’t they?
They used me in a social media advertising play our theme song, “Rhapsody in Blue”. I play this pretty much every performance.
Are there any similarities between flying and playing?
There is an art to music and an art to steal. Pilots have to operate under very strict procedures, but we can put our own twist on things – “fine-tune” the aircraft. With music, you can play a composition exactly as it’s written, but I like to take it and add my touch to it. I encourage my first officers to fly by hand – turn off all automation. Hand-held flying can be much smoother – small, gentle movements, such as with pieces of music.
So, the President and Oprah Winfrey – how did it go?
I played for President Ford in 1992 in Vail, Colorado. In 1999, one of my songs was featured in a presentation video for an Oprah sponsored fundraiser in Chicago for her “Angel Network”.
How has it been since the pandemic?
There are still the masks, but we are finally getting back to normal, bringing back food and drink. I remember a flight last year where we had five crew and nine passengers.
What would be your dream concert?
I’d like to go back in time, those 747 Pan Ams that had a living room with a piano. On long-haul, pilots take a break. I would have loved to play in one of these lounges.
Beau Brant’s music can be found on beaubrant.com.
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