Pool Halls & Parlor Pianos
Bob Milne could have been a professional pool player had he chosen to do so. He had a natural talent for the game, but decided early in his career that it was both "safer and easier to play the piano for a living than having to beat excellent pool players for cash."
Bob was actually a good pool player long before he began playing piano professionally. As he taught himself how to move his hands around on the keyboard, he realized that many of the basic principles of playing pool, such as the concept of creating minimum motion for better control of the balls, applied to the keyboard and piano performance as well.
Bob mentioned this fact during the Library of Congress interviews. Consequently he was asked by Dr. Jim Billington (Librarian of Congress) if he could make a video demonstrating some of these principles. The result was Pool Halls & Parlor Pianos.
In this video you will see Bob demonstrating minimum motion on a piano (he plays an entire tune without moving his hands), and the same principle as he runs the balls of the pool table with minimum motion of the cue ball. And more.
Bob's pool history: photos and memorabilia from Bob's pool playing days.
In 1972 Willie Mosconi, the 15-time world champion, was putting on an exhibition in Bob's hometown of Rochester, Michigan. Bob was asked to play against him. The owner of the pool hall whispered into Bob's ear just before they started,
"Let Willie win."
In the game, straight pool to 150 balls, Willie won with a score of 150 - 128.
Not a bad score for a young Bob, 32 years old at the time.
Willie spent some time with Bob following the game, telling him he (Bob) was a "good player" and giving him the (pictured) button. He also told Bob something that transferred over to the piano keyboard:
"When you think you're hitting the balls soft, remember that you can hit them twice as soft."
Bob applies that principle to playing softly on the piano.
Irving Crane: 7 times world champion
Irving Crane was Bob's inspiration and teacher
The first time I saw Irving Crane play I wondered, "why does a grown man play a game that's so easy?"
As you may know, pool is one of the most fiendishly difficult games on the face of the earth. It's just that he made it look so easy.
Years later I would use this concept with playing a piano, thinking...
"The world champion would make this piano playing look so easy you'd think anyone could do it."
I removed all excess movement from my hands, arms and body to achieve that goal, and by doing so it "became easy."
Grady Mathews was the one-pocket pool champion of the world many times. (One-pocket is the "chess game of pool. Highly complicated). He stayed at Bob's house whenever in Michigan.
On two different occasions Grady put on exhibitions in our area. Bob beat him both times. They remained friends.
Picture above: Grady came to one of Bob's concerts in Maine.
Picture on right: Grady watches in horror as Bob runs out on him at the University of Michigan pool hall exhibition.
Bob plays Efren Reyes, "The Magician," in 2017
Efren Reyes is considered the greatest pool player player of all time.
In 2017, while attending a pool tournament on the east coast, Bob saw Efren practicing before the tournament began. Bob politely asked if he'd like to play a game. Efren, who has won countless challenge games sometimes in excess of $200G, looked at Bob with an astonished look on his face and said, in his heavy Philippine accent,
"You want to play with ME???
Bob answered that he was an amateur (compared to this guy) and simply would like to play the greatest player who had ever lived. Efren agreed.
When Bob got home his friends all asked him how it went. He answered,
"I let him win."
Bob "grew up" (pool-wise) in a pool hall very similar to this in his home town of Rochester, Michigan. It was here that he learned that if you're going to succeed you're on your own. No one's going to do it for you.
This is another principle he applied to playing the piano: either success or failure depends on you and you only. If you get "distracted" and miss the shot, you lose. It is up to you not to get distracted, plus all the other excuses people use every day.
To be a winner, you have to be equal to everything that will come at you.
Bob Epiphany & Quote
In the late 1960s I was playing pool all day and piano all night. I made more money playing pool. But then came a time when I had to decide whether to go into pool or piano for a profession.
I practiced pool all day and every day back then. I practiced what I saw the great players do until I could do the same thing. I could make the 90° cut shot every time.
But the answer came to me one night when playing piano in the Rathskeller. I had just finished playing something which, to me, was quite easy, but the crowd was standing on their feet applauding. They loved me.
It was then when I realized that when I made a great shot to win the pool game, nobody applauded. I'd look into their faces to see that they all hated me.
That was the crossroads that sent me on what turned out to be an incredible career that took me and Linda across the country, North America, and the world for sixty years. For that I am eternally grateful.