Written for the Newport Beach Independent by Chris Trela – June 2, 2012
It’s impossible to ignore the grand piano in the Bayside Restaurant lounge, just as it’s impossible to ignore the musical masters that tinkle the ivories while diners enjoy dinner and a cocktail.
Bayside is one of the few restaurants that offers live music most nights of the week, meaning customers can almost always count on seeing – and hearing – some of the best local musicians. Among these is a man who has become something of a musical legend in Newport Beach, both for his talents and his longevity.
Jim Roberts is in fact, something of an institution in Newport Beach. He currently plays at Bayside on Sunday nights, Balboa Bay Club on Mondays and Tuesdays, and Newport Beach Yacht Club on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Roberts has been in show business for more than 50 years, dating back to when he was a member of the Bel-Airs and recorded the hit surf song, “Mr. Moto.”
He’s performed with The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, recorded 13 albums, and played in various nightclubs before moving to Newport Beach in 1979. He became a staple at the Pacific Club, then The Ritz Restaurant. Now, it takes multiple restaurants to show off Roberts’ talents.
His years of performing in restaurants has given Roberts a unique perspective on the industry.
“A restaurant is like a parade,” explains Roberts. “People come and go. Regulars come in but they may drift away, so you have a constant parade of audience that comes by. I like to look at the ambiance and create a mood that is most complimentary to the restaurant and to the food preparation. I am constantly playing to the audience, looking at the age group and volume of conversation, and making sure to present something that is most conducive to a great restaurant experience. And that is what keeps me working.”
Roberts is not simply a musician, he’s a showman, which is a fitting description when watching Roberts act out a song like “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera. Not many musicians would stand on their piano bench while belting out the final notes of a song, but Roberts does.
“When the audience is paying attention and applauding, I like to do something unique and add a wow factor. I get paid by the restaurant and want to do everything I can to stimulate business. They’re here to sell food and drink, and I am here to provide entertainment.”
One reason Roberts is so popular: he has arrangements for 470 songs at his disposal, based on requests that customers have asked for over the years.
“I play what I think people want to hear,” notes Roberts. “I’m constantly adding new songs and arrangements, which helps me grow as a musician.”
One final personal note – if you see a tip jar on the piano, use it. It Roberts know you enjoyed the music, and that his musicianship is appreciated.