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Spending time with a piano-playing pilot

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It’s after midnight at the Palmhof in Cincinnati and the staff is trying to close. The lights dim while the last martini glasses and beer bottles are scooped up. But Beau Brant is still at the piano, playing for stragglers.

Finally, a waitress hands him the “wrap-it-up” sign. Probably a good idea since he has a flight the next day and he can’t be late.

He’s the captain.

There may be other airline pilots playing piano, but how many have made seven albums, performed for a US president, and had an original song used by Oprah Winfrey?

Mr Brant, 41, has been playing – and flying – for most of his life. He started on the piano at the age of 3 and flew at the age of 12. mr. Brant, a United Airlines pilot for 17 years, considers flight path number one. But at every layover, he looks for a place to play, just for fun.

He now performs regularly at many of his stopovers and flies domestic routes from his home base in Denver to Madison, Wisconsin; Raleigh-Durham, NC; and Jackson Hole, Wyo.

He still has the occasional gig at home — his house piano is a Yamaha Grand — but gets most excited to play for his crew and strangers on the go. And he’s fallen in love with the bar at Palm Court, a towering Art Deco venue in the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza: “The piano room reminds me of the ‘great staircase’ of the Titanic. ”

His sets are a heady mix of jazz, blues, classical and show tunes. His style is characterized by a flashy right hand and a lot of bounce, but no sheet music. And he likes to talk about his two passions.

Below are excerpts from conversations with Mr Brant, edited for clarity.

It started on a long haul in 2005, from New York to Frankfurt. We arrived at the hotel early, the rooms were not ready and there was a beautiful piano in the lobby. I started playing for the crew and ended up playing happy hour.

I grew up in Evergreen, just outside of Denver, playing restaurants there when I was 12. Then hotels, weddings, birthdays – sometimes four or five nights a week. Without music I would not be where I am today: flight training is expensive.

Paris, Zurich, Lisbon, Sydney, Shanghai. I have flown internationally for much of my career. In 2019 I upgraded to captain on the Airbus 320 and now fly on North American routes. But in the US, many hotels have retired their pianos, and they’re getting harder and harder to find.

Sometimes I get food and drink, but that’s already covered by the airline. The tip jar can go anywhere from $20 to $200, but I use that to treat the crew to something. It’s definitely not about the money.

I enjoy a nice red wine, but there is the 12 hour rule [the F.A.A. prohibits pilots from consuming alcohol 12 hours before work]and I have a lot of respect for that. At the Plaza it was soda water with lime.

They used me in a social media advertising playing our theme song, “Rhapsody in Blue.” I play that at almost every gig.

There is an art for music and an art for flying. Pilots have to operate under very strict procedures, but we can put our own spin on it: “finish” the aircraft. With music you can play a composition exactly as it is written, but I like to take my spin on it. I encourage my first officers to fly by hand – turn off all automation. Flying by hand can be much smoother – small, soft movements, such as with music pieces.

I performed for President Ford in 1992 in Vail, Colorado. In 1999, one of my songs was in a video presentation for a fundraiser sponsored by Oprah, in Chicago, for her “Angel Network.”

There are still the masks, but we’re finally going to get back to normal, bring back food and drinks. I remember a flight last year when we had five crew and nine passengers.

I’d like to go back in time to those Pan Am 747s with a lounge with a piano. On the long-haul flights, pilots are given a break. I would have loved to play in one of those lounges.

Beau Brant’s music can be found at beaubrant.com.


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