Billy Mayerl and the Savoy Hotel

9th April 2013 | Concerts, Daily Life, Inspirations | 2 comments

Jon Nickoll and Susan TomesA chance encounter after a recent concert gave me the chance to visit the beautifully refurbished Savoy Hotel at the invitation of Jon Nickoll, the pianist in the famous American Bar. I’ve long wanted to visit the Savoy, where Billy Mayerl made his name as the young pianist of the Savoy Havana Band during the 1920s.

Mayerl’s own piano music has been such a long-running strand of my repertoire that I’ve come to feel quite close to him, and have often tried to imagine what it was like to play for the glamorous patrons of the Savoy almost a century ago.

Thanks to Jon Nickoll I was shown round the rooms where the Havana Band and the Savoy Orpheans played: the Lancaster Ballroom, a gorgeous vision in pale blue and white (see photo), and the Beaufort Room, now remodelled but still recognisable from historical photos. We peeped behind curtains to see the backstage areas where the musicians would have assembled, and we patrolled the corridors Mayerl would have used to reach the rooms where he played. Jon also very kindly arranged for Bob and me to have a cocktail in the American Bar while we listened to his elegant playing and singing (all done from memory). We loved the atmosphere of the American Bar and felt we could easily get used to such luxury.

It seems that the memory of Billy Mayerl is somewhat faded in the place where he caused such a stir in the 1920s. Even in the  ‘Savoy Museum’ there is no reference to him, or none that I saw. There are photos of the famous bands, but not with Mayerl at the piano. There were old 78rpm records in a glass case, but his name wasn’t mentioned there either. When I think how much people still love his sparkling music, I wish his name could be celebrated at the Savoy.


  1. Sally Kerr

    I have loved your Mayerl recording. My mother played these pieces when I was very young, lying in bed upstairs to help me sleep (1960s). I learnt them myself when studying piano. Just so lyrical and fun!

  2. Susan Tomes

    Thank you Sally, it’s so nice to know that you have happy memories of these delightful pieces. Whether they helped you sleep is another matter, though – they’re so lively and sparkling!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

La Puerta del Vino

La Puerta del Vino

Debussy's Prelude 'La Puerta del Vino', from his second book of Preludes for piano (written 1912-13), has been one of my favourites...

read more