Interview: 'Piano' Bob Jackson

Bob Jackson puts you on your feet (and sometimes your hands)

If you've stayed at Port Orleans - Riverside, you've probably seen (and certainly heard) 'Piano' Bob Jackson, one of Disney's small troupe of colorful performers who entertain guests not in the parks but at the resorts. Bob has been playing piano at Riverside's River Roost Lounge since 1997. His shows are loud, fun, and highly interactive, suitable for kids but lots of fun for adults, too.

In this short interview, originally conducted for my forthcoming book, MouseMeals, 'Yehaa' Bob bares his musical soul. (Well, not really - maybe just a glimpse, though.)

As you read the interview, you may want to listen to one of Bob's recorded performances on YouTube. It'll put you in the mood - and possibly on your feet.

You studied music composition at the University of Cincinnati. Were you interested in music from childhood, or is it something you gravitated toward during college?

Bob: I've been playing and entertaining since I was a little boy. It's all I've ever wanted to do!

I've seen your shows. There's no college curricula for what you do. Does your stage persona come easily to you? Is there an off-hours 'Clark Kent' or is it 'Piano Bob' 24/7?

Bob: My character comes very easily to me! I love to laugh. I don't think I'm ever the mild-mannered, Clark Kent type. I do have to tone it down when I'm at home. I would drive the family nuts!

When did the Yehaa! first come to Disney?

Bob: We moved to Orlando so I could join the Rosie O'Grady's Dixieland Band. When that band fell apart, one thing led to another, and I found myself at Disney. I've been at Port Orleans now more than twelve years.

Was Riverside (Dixie Landings, back then) your first gig at Disney or did you perform elsewhere before roosting at the River Roost?

Bob: My first gig with Disney was subbing in the pit band at the Diamond Horseshoe show. That was a fun show, with dancers, comedians, and a Red Hot Mama. When that show was revamped, I was hired as the two-day pianist. I have also subbed at Casey's Corner in the Magic Kingdom, playing ragtime piano, and I've played at both the Hoop De Doo Musical Revue and at the old Tarzan show.

What's the typical trajectory of your show? I assume the later it gets, there are fewer kids and more adults in the audience. Does your act change according to the crowd?

Bob: I keep it a family show all night long. Some nights, we won't have any kids. We get a lot of snowbird retirees during the winter months. I'll change the show around to entertain whoever is in the room. Some nights, we won't have any kids until the end. That's a fun room. Every night is just a hoot.

Can you find Bob in this picture?

Has the show changed over the years or is it still similar to the one first you performed?

Bob: My show continues to evolve. Usually, the changes are accidental. I'll do something, and if I get a positive reaction from the audience, I'll do it the next night. I'll keep doing it until I get it right.

Tell me more about your music CDs. Are the performances similar to your Riverside show?

Bob: I've got six CDs available right now. My 'Live' CD is my Disney show. I've also got a Christmas CD, a gospel CD, a ragtime CD, a CD of my original music, and most recently a CD of boogie woogie, ragtime, and stride piano music from the 1930s.

When not performing at Disney, what do you like to play? Gospel? Classical?

Bob: I do love to play the old hymns. I practice the piano everyday. Mostly I practice classical music. I'm always working on Bach, Mozart, or Debussy. I'm also polishing up my old stride piano solos.

It's Disney but I have to ask: ever had any reality show moments at Riverside?

Bob: There's a reality show moment almost every night. I've had a man jump up on top of my upright piano and try to dance. I've had men get on one knee and propose to their girlfriends on stage. I've had people dancing on their chairs and knocking down the chandelier lights. I had a woman gymnast get into a hand-stand and walk completely around the bar on her hands. There's always something every night. You just have to roll with it.

It's All About Bob

  • If you'd like to buy one or perhaps all six of Bob's music CDs - and why wouldn't you? - you can get them from Bob's on-line store. He'll autograph them for you, too.
  • Bob also does parties and other events. He's not free. But he's reasonable. If you want free, check Bob's website for his calendar of appearances at Riverside and then get there early for a table up-front so you can do hand-stands on the bar.
  • Pounding piano not your musical taste? No problem. You can listen to one of Bob's original classical compositions, With You in Paris, on his website, or you can see the maestro himself in action on YouTube performing Pleasures Past.

Thanks, Bob, and yehaa!

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