On the Job With The Brown Palace Pianist John Kite

At resident pianist John Kite’s fingers is more than just The Brown Palace’s grand piano; it’s an entire symphony set with 88 black and white keys producing a rainbow of melodies that get people feeling alright.

John Kite
Photo by Jake Holschuh.

As the resident pianist for The Brown Palace for 37 years, John Kite sets the soundtrack for a luxuriously good time the minute guests step foot into the elegant and stately atrium. You may have heard him emceeing the Champagne Cascade last November or playing “Don’t Fence Me In” and “Home on the Range” during the Steer at The Brown Palace in January, or perhaps he played the tunes to your favorite Afternoon Tea. Whenever it was, guests who have visited The Brown Palace know its live music is yet another marker of excellence at this iconic, historic hotel and landmark.

What makes The Brown Palace somewhere worth staying for 37 years?
I play in the most beautiful room in Denver when I am in the lobby, and I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. The room pulls the music out of your soul. The Ship Tavern brings out the Billy Joel in me, and I like to get people to sing along when the room needs an energy bump. I truly believe this hotel is the Grande Dame of Denver. At the cornerstone of the institution is commitment to celebrating tradition; it’s what we do and who we are. We certainly have lots of traditions here: Afternoon Tea, Champagne Cascade, and Steer at The Brown Palace. But for every one tradition we have here, families have hundreds themselves. And every time they choose to celebrate those traditions here, I, as an extension of The Brown Palace, get to be a part of that family’s tradition.

Can you tell me about your responsibilities as director of entertainment?
On top of playing piano myself, I get to hire lots of musicians every week. I am so lucky to be in charge of entertainment in a hotel that has live music seven days a week, at least six hours a day. Every week I get to hire three other pianists, a harpist, six musicians that play with me in the jazz band on Fridays and Saturdays, and two other quartets. That’s a lot of people.

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What inspires you?
Brilliance. Brilliance in all forms is what inspires me, but especially in art. I’m inspired by a vocal performance that knocks my socks off. I saw Lea Michele as Funny Girl on Broadway two weeks ago and that was so moving. But it’s not just music; one day I went to DAM before playing at The Brown Palace and I was just so stirred by the art I saw there that I played the lobby piano for three hours without taking a single break.

What are some of the most requested songs?
I will start with number five. It’s my medley of The Phantom of the Opera, then my Les Misérables medley is number four. Number three, everyone loves [Frank Sinatra’s] “Misty” and “As Time Goes By.” Number two is “Piano Man,” which you would think really should be number one. But number one is from a movie [Breakfast at Tiffany’s]: “Moon River” by Henry Mancini. When I play it, people just sink into how much they love that song. I never play those five songs unless they are requested so I never tire of them. Some of my favorite songs to play are “Clair De Lune” and “Nocturne No. 1 in B-Flat Minor.” I love playing theater music, and I call it that, as opposed to showtunes.

During the pandemic, The Brown Palace did not have live music. How did you spend your time?
I went through old slides, I cooked, and then ate too much of my cooking. But I was still able to play music with The Brown Palace. As part of the take away tea, guests would get a CD of me playing the piano to really replicate our high tea experience as much as possible. And during our New Year’s Eve celebration, there was a camera on me playing in the lobby and guests in their rooms could tune in. They were even given my phone number and could call downstairs to request a song. Only a hotel so committed to hospitality, excellence, and tradition would even think to do that.