Profile: Jazz Pianist Roper ’60 Plays through Time

by Geoff Gehman ’80

Ballads and boogies are played with an elegant fi re, an easy zest. This pianist sounds so comfortable, so deep in the pocket; he could be meditating.

Flanked by a bassist and a drummer, Dave Roper ’60 has turned the Hotel Bethlehem’s Tap Room into a jazz nest on first Thursdays and first Sundays for the past nine years, spinning “Georgia on My Mind,” “Satin Doll,” and other standards.

Roper grew up in Bethlehem with a single mother who stirred his passion for jazz piano with Erroll Garner’s live album Concert by the Sea. At Lafayette he decided to double as an English teacher and a public pianist. He settled on the first career during a Great Victorians class with William Watt, the legendary English professor and humorist. He settled on the other career while playing satirical ditties in Watt’s faculty shows, Dixieland tunes at parties, and stardust numbers at a restaurant. He moonlighted as a trombonist in the ROTC marching band.

Roper moonlighted for the next 50 years—three nights a week at the Cellar Door in Allentown, while earning a master’s degree in English at Lehigh University, and a few nights a week at the King George Inn in Allentown, while teaching English at Emmaus High School. He coached Scholastic Scrimmage teams to seven state championships before retiring from teaching in 2002.

The King George was Roper’s roost for 15 years. He played smoothly mixed showstoppers (“Mack the Knife”) with romances (“Misty”) and snazzy hybrids (“I’ll Be Seeing You” linked to tunes by Ravel and Chopin). He ended sets with “biggies”: a West Side Story medley, the pop aria “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”