Featured Story

The Piano Man

For 30 years, Stuart Warner has set the scene and brought the music. This is his story.

I started playing the piano at the age of five, and while for some this may have been a chore, for me it was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with music.

I grew up in Artarmon in Sydney’s lower North Shore and some of my earliest memories center around the piano. I was playing God Save the Queen (self-taught) for school assembly at age 10 and by the age of 17 I had a regular gig as part of a Jazz trio playing at the local club and weddings.

My story with the Hyatt began in November 1989 when I was auditioned by a music agent and the General Manager to play in the Tea Lounge, a tradition that has been upheld since the hotel opened in 1924. Fortuitously, this audition led to me joining a team of pianists that provided piano entertainment to the Tea Lounge and The Oakroom, which at the time was the silver service dining room on the lower floor. 

Nearly 35 later and I am still part of the Hyatt Hotel team playing all those lovely melodies and tunes mainly from the Great American Songbook composed by the likes of Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Lerner and Loewe, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein and of course Gershwin. Most of these pieces were written in the 20s, 30s and 40s, and lend themselves beautifully to the classic art deco era of The Tea Lounge. 

During my time at the Hyatt I have played across many different settings, for different crowds and at different times. I have certainly seen it all and fondly recall some wild nights when the music echoed up to the rafters and shook the old dame to her foundations. 

Stuart Warner at Hyatt Hotel Canberra in 2024

At one stage, there was even a rock and roll band, which played every Friday night. They perhaps brought a rowdier crowd than the Hyatt was accustomed to, as my jazz band was asked to replace their set and we took over entertainment each Friday. During this time, the Tea Lounge was bustling with an after-work crowd from 5pm – 9pm and it was a wonderful atmosphere of guests drinking, dining and enjoying the music.

Around this time, I also played at the Hyatt’s Saturday Supper Club, which started at 9pm and called last drinks around 1am. The Supper Club was the go-to spot for the after-theatre crowd and was a firm favourite of mine. I’d play in a trio with a double bass and some of Canberra’s finest female vocalists. Those were nights I’ll never forget.

On one particular night, a very well-dressed gentleman approached me in a fine white suit and a flamboyant neckerchief and promptly took over my set. He played and sang and had the crowd captivated for well over two hours. Our surprise special guest was none other than Sir Barry Humphries who was staying at the Hyatt and had just finished a show at the Canberra Theatre. What a treat for those 100+ guests there on the night. 

I have encountered many personalities over the years, all of whom having been cheerful and pleasant as they passed by me whilst I was playing. Steve Liebmann, the former Today Show host, was a regular guest and would always walk past and say hello, as would celebrity vet, Dr Harry Cooper. I have also come to know many regulars over the years, and I enjoy seeing familiar faces enjoying the friendly atmosphere the art deco building provides.

After all these years I still look forward to my Sunday shifts at the piano, and take pride in the ambience of the Tea Lounge and the part my playing provides in delivering a ‘Hyatt 5-star experience’.  The staff, from the General Manager down, have always made me welcome and this adds to my enjoyment and job satisfaction.

Through my time at the Hyatt I have been afforded some incredible experiences; have met people from all over the world, and have played for heads of state, diplomatic corps in the Presidential Suite, many a beautiful wedding party, and more than 10 New Year’s Eve parties with my quartet, Swing in Style.

Music has played an intrinsic part of my life since I was a little boy and playing at the Hyatt for the past 35 years has meant so much to my adult life. It has truly been a wonderful love affair.

Did you attend a Saturday Supper Club?  We’d love to hear your story. Or, maybe you have visited Stuart over the years. Please be in touch.