web analytics

What The Critics Are Saying

YouTube player
Jacquie Walker reports on WIVB NEWS ~ Channel 4 Buffalo, NY

Jackie Jocko’s plan puts protege at his piano in downtown Hyatt steakhouse

Andrew Galarneau May 26, 2024 FOUR BITES

Howard Goldman, left, is trading his Friday night cocktail piano session in Hyatt atrium to nightly, or close, at Hyatt restaurant, as mentor Jackie Jocko intended.

The opportunity to dine while a piano player tickles the ivories at a baby grand has disappeared from the Buffalo restaurant world.

That changes this summer, when modern steakhouse Johnny D’s opens in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo. Where legendary entertainer Jackie Jocko once held sway when it was E.B. Green’s, Howard Goldman will entertain.

Goldman has prepared for this moment for nearly two decades. Jocko trained him for three years, going to Goldman’s house after his E.B. Green’s shifts to drill Goldman on the fine points. Jocko’s piano, which became Goldman’s piano, will be moved to the restaurant’s dining room this week.

“That’s what Jocko was preparing me for,” said Goldman. “That’s what he wanted. Which seemed crazy, even to me. Because there were people that were much more talented, ready to do something like that.” said Goldman. “But he wanted me.” 

In 2011, as cocktail piano venues died out, Goldman started his own virtual venue, Lounge Academy. Using a homebrew multi-camera setup, fans of cocktail piano and the great American songbook tune into Lounge Academy’s Friday night sets from around the world. More than 100 guests might drift through Goldman’s penumbra on any given Friday night, online or around his piano, ensconced in the Hyatt atrium.

Cocktail pianists do more than offer fancier Muzak. They gauge the atmosphere in the room and aim to accent it with music. Talking to guests while they play is part of the role, as a greeter, master of ceremonies, and overall social sparkplug.

“We don’t do any new stuff,” said Goldman, who played throughout the interview. “The songs are the Great American Songbook, and we’re keeping that link from being broken, so it’s not just the three or four songs they hear at a wedding.”

When Dan Berger booked a trip to Buffalo from his home in Atlanta, he rescheduled dinner reservations to spend an hour next to Howard Goldman playing cocktail piano. That’s Berger’s Friday ritual, as one of Goldman’s longtime listeners, dubbed “lounge cadets.” 

The in-the-flesh session of Lounge Academy was extra special, since Berger usually participates via livestream, from his Georgia home. “It’s Friday night,” said Berger. “I’ve got a rye in my glass. It’s just starting to hit my bloodstream, and I say, ‘I’m cooking dinner, I need to turn on Howard.’ ”

Johnny D’s will start taking reservations by the end of June, if all goes well. 

“This is the first real job I’ve had since I was in school,” Goldman said. “I feel like my parents are sending me away to an amusement park.”

How would Jocko react to his protege getting to step up to the big time?

“He’d be squealing with delight.”

What a showman! What a show! Last Friday was the best, I’d say. Mostly entertaining is the foot traffic behind the piano. So works together. And then, there’s lovely Mary so perfectly attired. Your guests are not just authors and entertainers, they are a joy. who wouldn’t love to discover a new tune by Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Gershwin or Sondheim? Applause, applause!
>>Janice Schlau, restaurateur 10/28/23

YouTube player
Stumping journalist Margaret Sullivan is as challenging as hitting the perfect note. 🎶 She knows her songs!
Dan Berger ~ Journalist at The Epoch Times and The Tampa Tribune.

Hi Howard! I want to say a HUGE thank you for making my dad smile! He’s in Philly in assisted living on hospice. I try to get down every 2 weeks. I’m an only child and he’s pretty lonely here. ( he won’t Move to Buffalo). He is bed bound but we sat together , he had a little glass of sherry ( shhhh!) and had in his words “ the best time I’ve had in months”. He’s always loved piano bars ( he’s not musical though) and loved being able to watch and interact live. This will be a very special memory to hold into . Thanks for making that happen. ❤️❤️