Bob Berkman has been associated with the player piano most of his life. In 1975,
he was hired by QRS in Buffalo, the world’s last piano roll manufacturer,where he produced innumerable reissues of historic roll recordings and maintained a constant flow of new recordings for over thirty years. His credits include rolls commissioned for the films Ragtime, The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, and Reds, the last in cooperation with composer Stephen Sondheim; appearances on NPR, the BBC, and CBS Sunday Morning; and the world Pianola premiere of Prokofiev’s Peter And The Wolf.
During a 2-year hiatus from QRS in the mid-1980s, Bob served on the staff of IMG Artists in Manhattan, a firm which manages the careers of top rank classical musicians. Among his charges were violinists Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell.
Back in Buffalo, Bob spearheaded the creation of a musical library for the emerging technology of digital player pianos, recording new artists as well as converting archival roll recordings to contemporary media. This work continues to engage him.
All the while he has steadily earned an international reputation as a master Pianolist, revealing to delighted listeners the expressive capabilities of the Pianola and showcasing its remarkably varied repertoire. He is increasingly in demand as a speaker and performer in lively programs ranging from the Classics to Ragtime to Rock ‘n’ Roll to the avant-garde. Elated audiences regularly attest to the contagion of his passion.
Bob’s particular interest in the neglected area of ethnic rolls prompted him to establish the largest institutionally-held collection of such rolls at the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive, where he has taught and performed as a Visiting Scholar. This led to his participation in an international recording project conducted by the University of Kaunas featuring Lithuanian rolls. Bob has also developed text and exhibits for the new Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, AZ, and was engaged to demonstrate the Pianola for the museum’s video archive. Klezmerola, Bob’s CD of rare Jewish rolls from his collection, has become something of an underground hit in Klezmer circles and is regarded as “a fabulous and important accomplishment that deepens our access to historical materials.” He was recently honored to perform for a standing-room-only crowd at the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA.