Monday, December 20, 2010

David Osborne produces music and magic

By Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Las Vegas — The pianist zipped through "Sleigh Ride" in the sumptuous casino lounge, his breezy rendition sailing by gamblers who'd sipped too many whiskey-and-eggnogs.

The jaunty melody competed with beeping and blinging slot machines named Zeus and Stinkin' Rich. One patron nodded off next to a still-smoldering cigarette. Another tried to accompany the piano, tipsily, with a harmonica.

But on this mid-December night, David Osborne endured the quirks of the Bellagio casino's Baccarat Bar with smiling cheer. He knew that on Monday, he was scheduled to play the White House. Again.

The casino pianist, somewhat improbably, is also a presidential pianist. Osborne has helmed White House holiday events during three administrations, briefly glimpsing commanders in chief unscripted and unvarnished.

One president and his wife wanted John Lennon tunes interspersed with Christmas favorites. Another burst into song himself. A vice president even tried to lure the pianist into a policy debate.

For lounge players such as Osborne, the White House is pretty much the ultimate gig. But like a lot of lounge scenes, the patter matters almost as much as the playing. And as in all show business venues, getting there depends a lot on who you know.

Osborne's entree into such a rarified world came through a mix of salesmanship and serendipity — and the help of a U.S. senator and a former president. For the whole story, click on the heading above.

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