The banter is entertaining. The mutual respect is evident. The lasting friendship and camaraderie is admirable. The world-famous REVOLVING DINING ROOM IN THE SKYLON TOWER is not only home to an unparalleled, 360-degree view of the mighty Niagara and some really fabulous food, but it’s also where you can find these three gentlemen, busily working away to make your dining experience memorable. They were gracious and welcoming as I sat down to have a chat with them.
Doug, how long have you been playing the piano in the Revolving Dining Room?
Doug: 32 plus years. It’s my first Canadian job.
Brad: Doug works 6 days a week as well. He never calls in sick, never takes a day off. He’s unbelievable!
Tom: He is the longest running musician at the same job, in Canada.
Doug: (laughs) Let’s call the Guinness Book of World Records.
Now, Tom, how long have you been a Captain in the Revolving Dining Room?
Tom: I’ve been here 27 years.
And Brad, I understand that you started really young?
Brad: Yes, I started when I was 14. I’m in my 37th year. I started when the Skylon was owned by CP Hotels. My dad used to play for their baseball team and I used to go out there and watch the games. A lot of the management of CP Hotels was there and I got to know them. I started out as a dishwasher.
What does your job entail, Doug?
Doug: Well, what I do is play the piano and I try to play in such a way that people can talk while they are dining but they can also, if they want to, just listen to the piano. I don’t want to get in the way of their conversation but if they want to hear a little music, they have a choice.
Brad: Doug will play to his audience as well.
Doug: Yes. We get people from all over the world with different cultures. So, I get a feel for what they like.
Tom: And he’ll play songs for little kids.
Brad: He plays for birthday parties, anniversaries…
Doug: I play all different styles – a little ragtime, a little blues, a little classical, some old standards…As Time Goes By, and of course, Piano Man.
Do you have formal training?
Doug: Yes. Toronto Conservatory and then I went to Brock for a year. I studied advanced theory and composition. Practical training was when I worked with a show group out of Chicago and worked all over the country.
So, you’re American?
Doug: No, I’m Canadian. But when I was playing there was no work here in Canada. All of my work up until here was in the States.
Now, what about you Tom? Tell me what you do as Captain.
Tom: I oversee a specific section of the restaurant. After the Maitre d’ seats our diners, I greet them. I try and make them feel comfortable and get a drink order. I then ensure they are receiving the high level of service every guest deserves.
Brad: Tom is one of our senior guys. We have many VIPs that come in who request Tom. He’s been here for so long as well that people just know him and his great service.
Doug: (laughs) Tom helps me remember songs.
Tom: This is a thing that Doug and I do. (laughs) This is beautiful! People are here to celebrate in most cases. Some people are just out for dinner. But there’s always a birthday or a 50th wedding anniversary. We get lots of anniversaries. So, I’ll go to the table and sneak in the question, “What was your wedding song?”. Usually the husband doesn’t know, but the wife will. (laughs) Without them knowing it, I’ll go back to Doug and he’ll play it. If he doesn’t know it, he’ll look it up on his tablet and have it within minutes! I wait for the nod from Doug, and when the table comes around front, with the revolving, we’ll bring out some cake with candles, and I’ll say, “Dougie, you’re on!” He plays their wedding song.
Now Brad, you’re the Food and Beverage Director.
Brad: Yes. I worked my way through the ranks while I was attending high school and University. I’ve gone from dishwasher, to bus boy, to waiter, to Maitre d’. I became Dining Room Manager and from there Food and Beverage Director. I oversee the front of the house operations of our two restaurants. I also run the quick-service locations at the Tower including 2 Starbucks, a Dairy Queen, a Pizza Pizza. It’s a challenge, but that’s what I love about this job – it’s always changing, especially with social media. You have to be on your game all the time.
Let’s talk memorable moments. You’ve all got to have memorable moments.
Doug: I have to use the Jerry Lewis story. He was here on a Monday, before Christmas. He was doing a play in Buffalo at Shea’s Theatre and came here for dinner on his day off. I saw him come in and he was talking to one of the waitresses and they were both looking at me. I started to get worried. (laughs) I figured that he’s going to ask for a song, and I won’t know it. But he walked over and put a $100 bill in my lapel and stood behind me and watched me play for about 5 or 10 minutes and he invited me over to his table when I finished my set. I sat down with Jerry, his wife, and a friend of theirs. He asked for my phone number because he wanted to record me. He called my house 3 times that week and by the following Saturday night, after I finished at the Skylon, I went over to Track Master in Buffalo at midnight! He took over the whole studio! And he ran it all – the lighting, the recording equipment… There was a concert grand piano all tuned up for me. I played for him until about 2:00, 2:30 in the morning. I played about 28 pieces with a 20-minute pizza and wings break in between from the Anchor Bar which is just around the corner. (laughs)
Tom: Doug, you’re being a little humble because Jerry said, “Doug, you’re probably the best pianist I have heard in 30 years.”
Doug: (very humbly) Well…
So, where did your music end up?
Doug: I have no idea! (laughs) I signed a contract protecting the music and he paid me handsomely for the night, and was really good with me. Hank Jones, Billie Holiday’s accompanist was also so important. He heard me play and came over and complimented me. As a musician, coming from a guy like Hank Jones, it was something else.
The great jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” This was the challenge I