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Jazz pianist Steve Rudolph had a gig that most jazz musicians only dream of. For 22 years he was the pianist in the bar at the Hilton Harrisburg, performing six nights a week as soloist or as a duo or trio with other musicians. That long-time position came to an end recently when the hotel changed hands, much to the dismay of many of Rudolph’s fans.
Steve Rudolph grew up in rural Indiana, and played trumpet through high school. But while attending Butler University, he developed issues playing the instrument and switched to piano. He largely taught himself how to play piano, with some advice from a few jazz musician friends.
The jazz scene in Indianapolis at that time was thriving, and Steve got to play with a number of well-known artists who were part of the jazz circuit. He eventually landed a job as pianist with the Tommy Dorsey big band orchestra and began to tour with them.
That tour brought him to Harrisburg in the late 1970’s where after a performance at the Forum, he stayed at the Holiday Inn Town Hotel (now the Crown Plaza). He got up the next morning and began practicing on a piano he found in the hotel. As Steve tells it, “ a guy came by and said, you sound pretty good, do you want to play in my club six nights a week?”
The guy was Robert McNabb, who managed the Dauphin Lounge at the Holiday Inn Town Hotel. Steve would play there for two years with his trio and with guest artists that included some very well-known jazz musicians such as Johnny Coles, Jr. Cook, Ira Sullivan, Al Grey, Bob Mintzer, Joe Lovano, and many others.
When that gig ended in 1980, the jazz performances had drawn quite a following and the interest was strong enough to launch a non-profit jazz society, the Central PA Friends of Jazz. The founding fathers included Lee Swartz, an area lawyer who took care of all the legal work, Jack Snavely , who became financial advisor and membership chairman, Russ Neff, host of My Favorite Things, a jazz program on WITF-FM, who provided promotion, and Steve Rudolph, whose job it was to bring in the musicians.
Central PA Friends of Jazz has continued to be a premiere jazz presence in the region, presenting festivals, jazz camps, sponsored jam sessions and concerts featuring some of the biggest names in jazz. Upcoming concerts include peformances by Rufus Reid on October 14 at the Allen Theatre in Annville and Jackie Ryan on November 11 at the Ware Center in Lancaster.
Below you can hear our interview with Steve Rudolph:
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