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Summer is Grand

Dec 1, 2020 | Alumni, News

Gil Scott Chapman (MM ‘16 Improvisation; BFA ‘13 Jazz Studies) has a fantastic summer gig. His day begins with a mile-long walk. Along the way he passes tourists – LOTS of tourists – walking, biking, and riding in horse-drawn carriages. He walks because there are no cars. Gil is one of a small number of talented staff musicians at the historic Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

Charles Kay (saxophone), Jackson Mayhall (bass), James Gooding (drums) Andriana Haygood (vocals), Eric Snyder (trumpet), and Gil Scott Chapman (piano) performing “Old Time Rock & Roll” by Bob Seger and “Have I Told You Lately” by Rod Stewart in the Terrace Room at Grand Hotel. (video courtesy of Grand Hotel).

Q: How long have you been at Grand Hotel?
A: This is my 4th consecutive season at Grand Hotel. Each season lasts 6 months; and we generally open up the 1st week in May–and close by the last week in October. I’m really looking forward to our next season coming up in May of 2021!

Gil at the piano in the Grand Pavilion at the Grand Hotel, 2020.

Gil at the piano in the Grand Pavilion at the Grand Hotel, 2020.

Q: What do you do during an average day?
A: On any given day, I play the piano 3-7 hours from solo piano at afternoon or evening “tea” on the porch overlooking Lake Huron, or in the Cupola Bar [with 360 views of the lake], or playing with the Grand Hotel Orchestra in the Terrace Room [where people dance] – – I perform all over the hotel wherever I’m needed. Musicians perform 7 nights a week, playing music from Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis to Bruno Mars and Stevie Wonder–in addition to other popular styles of music.

Q: What is it like to be at Grand Hotel every day?
A: Working at Grand is a special experience. It’s amazing how committed this place is at preserving its history and culture. Everyone has to be dressed up after 6:30pm! We try to offer guests a “new” experience everyday– because every day, it’s someone’s “first time” at Grand Hotel. The staff is from all over the world. Many of the international employees come from Jamaica, Europe, and the Philippines. Living and working amongst people from so many different backgrounds is an invaluable experience.

Gil at the Grand Hotel, 2020.

Q: How do you prepare? Do you take requests? What do you do if you don’t know a song?
A:I have a digital library of sheet music that I can pull up at anytime in case I forget something–but as a rule, I try to commit everything to memory when possible. There are situations where I have learned to play a song in 5 min because someone really wanted to hear it. In those cases, I usually go somewhere private–pull up a recording of said song, and give it my best shot!

Q: Who have you studied with?
A: I began studying classical piano with Dr. Loretta Jankowski. I spent seven summers the Interlochen Arts Camp, and attended the Interlochen Arts Academy. There I met and studied with Bill Sears (Director of Jazz Studies, Interlochen Arts Academy). At the University of Michigan I studied with Geri Allen and Benny Green, two powerhouses in the jazz piano world.

Q: How did you end up at Grand Hotel?
A: It actually ends up being a long story! My history with Grand Hotel dates back about 15 years when I began attending Interlochen at the age of 13. Interlochen is not far from Mackinac Island, naturally my family and I ended up visiting the island and staying at Grand hotel when I was a teenager. Alex Graham is the music director at Grand Hotel –and he and I have a lot of mutual friends–notably Bill Sears who is the head of the jazz department at Interlochen. Bill Sears is the person who recommended me for this gig– I’m very thankful for Bill Sears!

Gil Scott Chapman performing at the University of Michigan on the Gershwin Piano in 2014.

Q: How did your training at Michigan prepare you for this work?
A: In addition to my coursework and the multitude of performances through the School or Music, Theatre & Dance, I performed frequently at at special events around and on behalf of the University, including receptions at the President’s house, performances surrounding the launch of the Gershwin Initiative in 2016, concerts at UMMA, and other areas on campus.


Thank you to Grand Hotel management for their assistance with this Motif!

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