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Billy Mayerl

Pianist, Composer


Billy Mayerl


Billy Mayerl was a pianist and composer. He became famous as a music hall performer known for his comical solos, as well as a musical theatre composer. His compositions are typically syncopated with sparky melodies, unusual accents and varying textures. He studied at Trinity College of Music, now Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance from a young age (1911-1914), and began working as a pianist in cinemas and in dance bands. In 1921, while working in a band at the Polygon Hotel in Southampton, he was asked to join the Savoy Havana Band at the renowned Savoy Hotel. He was quick to absorb the popular music of the time. Mayerl recorded a reported 37 piano rolls for the Echo label in London between 1921 and 1923.From 1923 to 1926 he was featured soloist with the Havana Band, broadcasting with the newly-founded BBC who recognised his wide appeal. Not only was he performing pieces with the band, but was able to compose his own solo compositions and record these, such as the ‘Jazz Master’, ‘Sweet William’, the ‘Four Aces’ and ‘Marigold’. Mayerl quickly secured national recognition and praise, helping to foster the public’s interest in ragtime, jazz and syncopated piano-playing. Best known for these syncopated novelty piano solos, he wrote over 300 pieces, many of which were named after flowers and trees. In the ‘20s he made several appearances in theatre, as well as film, and was a soloist in Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in 1925.In 1926 he left the band to pursue his solo career, and to run his own School of Syncopation that taught popular piano technique - in the late ‘30s he had a staff of over 100 and over 30,000 students! Mayerl even taught the daughters of King Alfonso and Queen Victoria of Spain on a visit to London. Unfortunately the school did not survive after the war and eventually closed in 1957. The 1930s saw him performing with the Co-Optimists and working on full musical theatre scores. In the late 1930s Billy formed a group consisting of keyboardists named the Claviers, who briefly toured the UK and Western Europe. He continued to play vaudeville houses and variety shows and broadcast regularly particularly the BBC and Radio Luxembourg, becoming a household name. Although during the war his recordings became fewer, he continued to band lead and compose pieces, notably In My Garden, a series of 12 pieces during 1946–1947, and Postman’s Knock (1951). His orchestra continued to perform in the UK through the early 1950s, and before his death in 1959 was able to bring his music to the US, and to Australia and New Zealand.