Grand Floridian Resort--Orlando
The Grand Floridian Society Orchestra
November 24, 2004
I stood on the second floor and leaned on the bannister to get a good view of the gingerbread house in the lobby of Disneyworld's Grand Floridian Resort. Then, applause for the hotel band from those also leaning on the bannister across the way brought me back to the music. There was a nice semicircle of people surrounding The Grand Floridian Society Orchestra, a traditional jazz band that was also situated on the second floor. They worked through the themes of "The Little Mermaid" and "Pocahontas," after which all the people across the way left and the band announced it was taking a break.
I moved towards the drummer, the one who stood up after every song and soaked up whatever applause there was, and he greeted me with a healthy handshake, a large grin, and introduced himself as Pat Doyle. I asked him how long they'd be playing. He said they played every day from 4:15 to 9:45. After I told him I'd be back, he said, "Please do. We'd be glad to have ya." The semblance of desperation in his voice was a little unnerving, but I understood it after I linked it to the onlookers who took off before.
A hotel band is something to be taken for granted. Just another amenity the hotel throws at guests who want to be treated like kings that can waste as much as they want. Just like chocolate on the pillows. Listen or don't. Eat or don't. The guests aren't paying for the band. They can afford to be transitory, show care or ignore.
I went back and requested some Ellington. They brought out "Take the A Train," and man was it nice. It was great to hear it played true to form in a big band setting(drums, upright bass, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and piano). The great thing about having Doyle as the bandleader was that the band was naturally more in tune with his movements, and he had license to pleasantly retard the pace of "Train" until it simmered down with closure.
The band not only played the part. They looked the part. As part of the hotel's Victorian motif, the band was dressed to the nines in brown twine bowtie suits. Their surroundings also fit a trip back in time. They read from music stands with reading lights attached, and Doyle's crash cymbals hung from string tied to horseshoe-shaped metal stands. Doyle played a modern hi-hat, but he explained that during the ragtime era, the hi-hat was clicked at foot level and not played with sticks. The band used to play strictly ragtime, but they expanded their scope as requests for more modern music grew, he said.
The band ended the night with Scott Joplin's ragtime classic, "Maple Leaf Rag." Straight from 1899, y'all. Doyle kept the clickety-clack rhythm going by alternating between two hollow, globe-shaped percussive instruments with his mallets.
“Be careful what you wish for,” said drummer Pat Doyle after he described how he got exactly that. He managed to make his living playing music. But, as the bandleader of The Grand Floridian Society Orchestra for the last seventeen years, he has discovered that there are definite advantages and disadvantages to working in a hotel jazz band.
Five days a week, 365 days a year, Doyle wears the same suit and plays the same music in the same room with the same people. Big band swing with five bandmates(piano, bass, saxophonist, trombonist, trumpet) that accompanies the Victorian motif of Disneyworld’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. Ellington, Basie, Joplin, all that. The band originally played strictly turn-of-the-century music(Gershwin, Cole Porter*) and ragtime, but they started to widen their set’s scope due to more modern requests. Even though Doyle has a wide range of songs to choose from, because the band plays from 4 to 9:45 p.m., there are gonna be some he revisits. Over and over again. And over and over again. This repetition is the one thing that draws him one step closer to a mental institution, Doyle said. He’s quick to point out that EVERYBODY has something about their job that they hate, though. They can look at the up side, or they can look at the down side.
“There are nights when the band clicks, but other nights, I have to keep the product going,” Doyle said. “Instead of agonizing over people in the band and pointing out their mistakes, I feel like if I’m patient, they’ll know what’s expected of them and come around. Still, some old folks just wear out.”
Doyle, 52, is anything but worn out as he presides over the songs. He stands up after every one to soak up applause, and since his back is to a walkway, he’s the one taking requests and enthusiastically accommodating every little boy’s fascinated questions about his drums. His first question is naturally, “Where are you from?”
Doyle is from Parkersbury, WV, but he’s been in Orlando for the last thirty years, so he said he just might as well be from here. Doyle and his wife live in the Orlando suburb of Conway, and he commutes to Disneyworld for every gig. Doyle said he’s lucky to have the hotel gig.
“This job is a blessing,” Doyle said. “Hotel jobs for bands was a popular thing because it was one of the only ways to hear music before it started being recorded.” Once vinyl and CD’s came into style, the hotel gigs started to dry up. Doyle cited the military as one of the only places to still hear traditional jazz music on a national level.
Doyle will continue to play to the crowd, but even that backfired on him one time. One drunk man wanted his requests to be ahead of everyone else’s. He kept blabbering in the middle of songs.
“He got mad and told me off,” Doyle said. “I told him to leave, but once I got angry with him, he got elated and wanted to buy me a drink. People are strange like that.”
*Kevin Kline, who recently played Cole Porter in the movie “De-Lovely,” stopped in this year with his boy to say hi to Doyle while Kline was staying at the Floridian. Doyle said he was a very nice man. And he also highly recommends the movie.