20 questions with Bobby Nesbitt: Pianist and Entertainer

Looking up from the piano keys, without skipping a beat, singer Bobby Nesbitt can’t help but broadly smile when a friend walks into the room. Charming and earnest, Nesbitt never fails to connect with his audience or the town he has made his home, Key West. Maybe it’s the cabaret music, his lengthy musical history or his genuine good nature, he never fails to put a song in all our hearts.

Nesbitt has played the piano since a child in Rochester, New York. Shying away from classical and preferring Broadway glam, he attended State University of New York (Oswego) to earn degrees in music and theater. He paid his dues in New York, but one small vacation in Key West in 1976 and, like many, he made one large move to the island. Key West has been his home but that didn’t stop him from making the world his stage. From playing at the Savoy in London, Harry’s New York Bar in Munich and The Fairmount in San Francisco, Nesbitt has performed “American classic songbook” from New York to Chicago and beyond. He has entertained President and Mrs. Carter and his CD “Big Time” was heard at the 2002 Winter Olympics games as well as on Delta Airlines.

But Nesbitt’s music has always belonged to Key West. At places like the Monster, LaTeDa, the Pier House, Rooftop Cafe, his “Bobby in the Lobby” series at Tennessee Williams Theatre, and now Beachside and the Little Room Jazz Club, Nesbitt has been behind the background music for Key West for almost four decades.

“Key West has the most extraordinary arts community in the world, and I feel fortunate to be a part of such a giving supportive place,” Nesbitt said.

photo credit: ANNABEL WILLIAMS


Bobby Nesbitt – “I’ve Heard That Song Before – A Salute to the Big Bands, Male Crooners and Girl Singers”

Sunday and Monday, Jan. 8-9, 2017 at Tennessee Williams Theatre in Key West


20 questions

1. Full name: Robert Edward Nesbitt

2. Worst nickname: “Piano Man” (as in “Yo, piano man”).

3. Name one famous person you would bring back to life, why? George Gershwin. He died when he was only 38-years-old. Imagine all the music he had left in him.

4. What question do you hate to answer? “What’s your favorite song?”

5. Name a performer that would surprise people you secretly love/admire/adore?

James Brown. When I played in San Francisco at the Fairmont, James Brown was a frequent guest and would come into the bar and sing duets with me — show tunes! The San Francisco Chronicle called us “one of music’s oddest duos.”

6. If you won the lottery, what extravagant thing would you do? I would stay for a month in the penthouse suite at the Savoy Hotel in London. I performed there for a year, and I could barely afford a drink, much less a room.

7. Which TV, movie or superhero character is your alter ego? The Flash. I always seem to be dashing somewhere.

8. What is your nerdiest passion? I love to read recipes. I talk to my Mom every day, and we seem to always talk about what we are making for dinner.

9. If you could take three items on a deserted island, what? why? One, an iPhone with an incredible range; two, the novel “100 Years of Solitude” for inspiration; three, the complete series of “Gilligan’s Island” so I could see how it’s done.

10. If invisible, what would you do in Key West? I would hang out in a dressing room of a local theater or drag club. You can’t imagine the dirt you hear.

11. What was your first thought this morning? Publix or Winn Dixie?

12. Favorite guilty pleasure? Turner Classic Movies, especially if they are in black and white.

13. What misconception do people have about cabaret? I think that people think that because cabaret takes place in smaller spaces, it is easier and more casual than performing in a large theater. I find it easier singing in a large theater where I can’t focus on faces in the audience. Also, alcohol is a factor with the audience and it can make it a challenge. 

14. Funniest Key West sighting or story? Many years ago when I was playinat the Monster, Leonard Bernstein came to see me. He sat at the piano and started doing his songs from “West Side Story.” Just then, three older ladies came in looking for me, glanced at the piano disappointedly and started to leave. The manager asked them if they wanted to stay. “No,” one of them said, “Bobby’s all through playing and some old turkey is there banging out ‘West Side Story.’” (You can’t make this stuff up.)

15. You are sitting at a diner counter eating … who would you want to walk in and sit next to you? Michelle Obama. I love her sense of humor, style, and grace. She is the classiest first lady in ages.

Finish these sentences:

16. My partner would describe me as … I actually asked Mike this and he answered, “There’s more than meets the eye.” He somehow thinks I am different at home than the sweet friendly person I am in public! (Actor Mike Mulligan and Nesbitt met and have been together in Key West since 1981.)

17. My autobiography would be titled … “Notes From a Piano Bar.”

18. My most embarrassing performance was … at a senior citizen’s center in New York. One of the ladies in the audience was getting hungry and impatient that she couldn’t eat until the show was over. When I announced my next number I heard her say, “When will this nightmare ever end?” Well, of course, that has become one of our catch phrases and it still makes me laugh.

19. The world needs more … arts education and money in general for the arts. It is embarrassing to see the amount we spend in comparison to other countries. And I don’t have much hope for the incoming administration.

20. When I go, I will go … as they say in the song “Cabaret” – “When I go, I’m going like Elsie.” (But maybe not from too many pills and liquor.)

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