Roy Eaton plays Bryant Park. His annual weeklong gig runs from September 23rd to the 27th. 89 years old, recovered from a stroke in 2017, he continues to amaze.
by David Stone
UPDATE, September 19th: Roy confirms that he will be prevented from playing on Monday, the 23rd, and Tuesday, the 24th, because of planned construction in the Bryant Park. The weather looks great, and you can still catch him, Wednesday through Friday, from 12:30 to 2:30, each day.
UPDATE, September 18th: I ran into Roy, last week, and we talked about his program. His strong focus on meditative Chopin and Scott Joplin’s jazz continues with a new program to emphasize his belief in the power of music and meditation in the pursuit of a better world.
Roy reminded me that, after suffering a stroke in 2017, he was given a 3% chance of sitting in front of a piano again. The doctors were wrong again, as they were in 1957, when he laid in a coma for days after a tragic car accident. That time, they gave him a 10% chance.
He beat the odds, and we get to hear him play again, next week.
Roy Eaton, a Story and a Park
“Played Carnegie in 37!” says a note accompanying his spot on the Piano in Bryant Park schedule. It’s true.
In 1937, Roy was seven years old, and this son of Jamaican immigrants won the won a gold medal from the Music Education League.
His dad was a mechanic, his mom a domestic servant, but Roy’s passion was classical music. It set him apart, and his pioneering spirit had only begun.
Growing up next door to jazz legend, Sonny Rollins, in Harlem, he had musical influences, but it was classical, not jazz, that won his heart.
Before serving in the Korean War, his music career blossomed with other awards. He soloed with the Chicago Symphony at 21, and he debuted at Town Hall in New York, the next year.
Becoming the Jackie Robinson of Advertising
On September 23rd through the 27th, Roy Eaton plays Bryant Park, but the road between is packed with triumphs, tragedies and milestones.
Military service derailed his classical music career. Returned to civilian live, he faced the practical need to earn a living.
That’s how he became the Jackie Robinson of Advertising, landing a job with Young and Rubicam as copywriter and composer. It’s not as simple as it sounds.
This was 1955. He broke the color line on Madison Avenue, just as Jackie Robinson did, eight years earlier, for major league baseball. You can read more of about his career here.
Life Changing Disruption
Tragedy stalked him, however.
Just two years into advertising, he nearly died in a car accident that killed his wife of less than a year.
But in heroic Roy Eaton style, he recovered fully by adopting transcendental meditation. TM made a return to normal possible by helping him manage pain resulting from his accident.
It also, of course, changed his life.
Roy Eaton tickles the ivories, playing piano in Bryant Park
After 30 years in advertising, a career so legendary he was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 2010, Roy returned to music full time in 1986. He added jazz to his classical repertoire.
Watch Roy Eaton at the piano in Bryant Park
On a personal note, I’m happy to say that Roy Eaton is a friend of mine. Not a best friend but a casual one, and I look forward to unplanned meetings on the street.
In June, I bumped into him at a local event, and the first words out his mouth were, “I just turned 89.”
He was beaming. He had overcome again. A stroke in 2017 failed to bring him down to earth.
“Are you going to do Bryant Park, this year?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered proudly and promised to send me the dates.
He did. Yesterday.
89 year old Roy Eaton fills out the Piano Program in Bryant Park, from 12:30 to 2:30, the week of September 23rd through the 27th. You can find him and enjoy the music for free at the base of the William Cullen Bryant statue. That’s between the Bryant Park Grill and the Cafe.