Saturday, April 14, 2012

George Mesterhazy RIP 1953 - 2012

George Mesterhazy RIP 1953 - 2012

The first time I saw George Mesterhazy play piano was on the stage at the Club Harlem. I was sitting with Chris Columbo, the leader of the house band that played out front in the lounge. We were the only white guys in the house, George on stage and me in the audience, and Chris Columbo was saying in his deep, husky voice, “That’s George, he’s the best, self-taught too.”

Around the same time I saw his name up on the marque at Arthur Prysock’s on Atlantic Avenue, and also caught him playing guitar in a band in a small Atlantic City club. Then when the casinos came in, Mesterhazy was everywhere, playing or sitting in with all of the bands who played behind the casino headliners.

Chris Columbo was the head of the Atlantic City musicians union, which was run out of a building in Pleasantville, and Chris was complaining that the casinos didn’t want to have to hire local musicians like him and Mesterhazy, but wanted to have recorded music at shows instead. Recorded music didn’t “push” you like real live music does, but Chris lost that battle before he died (at age 100), the casinos got what they wanted, the musicians hall was closed and boarded up, and many of the musicians left town.

When the Princess Grace Ballet Troupe of Monaco came in, they asked me why there wasn’t an orchestra and they had to dance to recorded music – it was something that they had never experienced before, and I couldn’t explain it to them.

In any case, I met up with George Mesterhazy again in Cape May, where I was living at the time and he came in to play with the Jazz Vespers at the church on Decater Street. The Vespers are a diverse lot of jazz musicians who convince the pastors of various churches to allow them to play jazz in church and with such great acoustics, its really a spiritual experience. I think George also was hired to play for the church choir but after playing at the church, he wandered across the street for a drink and get something to eat at the venerable Merion Inn, which has been on Decater Street for as long as anyone can remember. There he met the owner, who hired him to play the piano, and they hit it off so George moved in upstairs and helped manage the place.

The Merion soon became known for not only its good food but for the music, and all of George’s music and entertainment friends would stop in and occasionally jam with him, especially during the twice-yearly Jazz Fest.

Although George was often off touring with a jazz singing diva or recording with some superstar in New York, more often than not he could be found at dinner time playing the baby grand piano at the Merion in Cape May.

Press of Atlantic City

Posted: Friday, April 13, 2012 3:07 pm | Updated: 5:28 pm, Fri Apr 13, 2012.

The southern New Jersey music community was in mourning Friday over the passing of well-known and Grammy nominated jazz pianist George Mesterhazy, who died Thursday.

Friends said Mesterhazy had died in his sleep of natural causes.

A jazz musician for the past 30 years, Mesterhazy, 59, was known for being the pianist and manager at the Merion Inn in Cape May.

Mesterhazy was born in Austria and his family came to America in 1959. He moved to Somers Point when he was a teenager and developed his love of music while he attended Mainland Regional High School. He was a self-taught pianist.

Mesterhazy’s piano playing was first heard in public at the now defunct Club Harlem in Atlantic City. He performed at every Atlantic City casino except the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and Revel.

Mesterhazy composed his own music and has done records with different jazz singers, including Paula West. In 1998, he accompanied jazz singer Shirley Horn on “Loving You,” which was nominated for a Grammy Award.

The pianist also was a familiar face at the Cape May Jazz Festival, where he played multiple times. He also frequently performed in Somers Point, where played at the first annual Somers Point Jazz Society Benefit Concert in 2009.

A celebration of George Mesterhazy will be held on Sunday at the Middle Township Performing Arts Center, 212 Bayberry Drive, Cape May Court House. Doors open at noon for friends and family to gather. The celebration starts at 2 p.m.

Vincent Jackson:

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