PALM SPRINGS ETER­NAL

ZOOMER Magazine - - SNOWBIRDS 2017 - —Jim By­ers

I’m into the Bea­tles and Blue Rodeo. My dad is 84 and loves the likes of Mel Tormé and Lena Horne. But we both love a good pi­ano bar.

We’re in Palm Springs on a “boys get­away.” I’m think­ing about tak­ing him to a place down­town that my wife and I saun­tered into the year be­fore, where older singers from an era I never knew sang tunes be­hind a won­der­ful pi­ano player and where “old-fash­ioned” de­scribed far more than the drinks. But the place I’m think­ing of is closed on this night.

I ask a guy at one of the bright, down­town shops for ad­vice.

“Most places are closed on Mon­day nights. But you could try AJ’s on the Green at the Date Palm Coun­try Club. Bill Marx plays on Mon­day nights and he’s re­ally good.” Then he pauses. “It’s a nice place but it’s a lounge at a golf course. And you kind of en­ter through a trailer park.”

It sounds crazy, but I’m in­trigued. I mean, any­one can go into a bar on the main street, but a golf course restau­rant in­side a trailer park? Back at my ho­tel, I fire up my lap­top and check out the place. It looks fine. And then I read that Bill Marx is not only a crack pi­ano player but the son of Harpo Marx.

I’m gob­s­macked. I adored the Marx Broth­ers as a kid, walk­ing around the house mim­ick­ing Grou­cho’s line about shoot­ing an ele­phant in his pa­ja­mas. My mom, who’s been gone 13 years now, al­ways loved that line, too.

Dad and I agree it sounds worth try­ing. So af­ter din­ner at Tommy Ba­hama on the posh El Paseo, we make our way to the golf course. It’s not so well-

marked and, yes, we end up driv­ing down a nar­row, quiet road past some dou­ble-wide trail­ers. We find a golf course at the end of the road, with a small build­ing that has a few lights on.

We wan­der in and find Marx at the pi­ano and per­haps 15 or 20 peo­ple in the au­di­ence. He’s just tak­ing a break so we or­der drinks and wait for the mu­sic to be­gin again.

Twenty min­utes later, a fel­low who used to live in Toronto but moved to Hol­ly­wood to work as a TV writer, gets up and does a lovely job on a tune called “My Ro­mance.” An­other fel­low sings, “Till There Was You” from The Mu­sic Man while Marx tum­bles the pi­ano keys.

A woman sit­ting near us gets up. She looks el­e­gant and starts telling a story about how she was a singer on the Sun­set Strip in Hol­ly­wood back in the day. She launches into “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)” by Cole Porter but, af­ter war­bling the bit about how “bees do it,” she sud­denly stops. “I for­got the words,” she says sheep­ishly. “That was my song, and I for­got the words.”

Marx jumps in with a flash. “Not to worry,” he says, grab­bing the spot­light so the woman can re­turn to her seat with dig­nity. “I re­mem­ber be­ing at a party at Grou­cho’s one night, and Mae West did this five-minute so­lil­o­quy and then got up to sing her best-known song. She for­got the words, too.”

More singers come and go over the next hour or so. My dad is next to me at our ta­ble, tap­ping his toes and singing along in his low voice. I find it tremen­dously com­fort­ing to hear him sing as it re­minds me of road trips we’ve taken to­gether with his favourite 1940s tunes on cas­sette tape. “Dad had me in his act when I was young,” Marx tells me. “I took care of the props and all the mu­sic. I was pretty well vac­ci­nated with show­biz and of course I in­her­ited a com­i­cal de­pen­dency.”

Marx, 79, grew up in Los An­ge­les but said his dad sent him to school in New York to learn about the world. He stud­ied at Juil­liard but had al­ways loved the pi­ano so went back to L.A. and played jazz pi­ano in “smoky dives.” He also did sound­tracks for hor­ror movies. But he loved ho­tel lob­bies and lounges the most as he could in­ter­act with peo­ple.

The mu­sic over, I walk up and con­grat­u­late Marx on how he han­dled the woman who for­got her song. He gives it a shrug and a smile and goes back to play­ing for the tiny crowd.

“I play a cou­ple of nights a week so my mind doesn’t at­ro­phy,” he tells me in an email later. “I also have to make sure I keep off the streets and don’t live a life of crime.” www.aj­son­the­green.com; www.vis­it­greater­palm­springs.com

Bill Marx Harpo Marx

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