During the day, Greg Marcus acts as the buttoned-up president and CEO of the Marcus Corporation, a company that owns and manages 19 hotels under the Marcus Hotels and Resorts umbrella. But Tuesday evenings, through the end of October, Marcus will show off his musical skills by playing jazz piano at Blu, the cocktail lounge in the Pfister Hotel, to raise money for United Way.
Marcus grew up playing the piano and was heavily influenced by his grandfather, who was a professional jazz pianist. “I played though college, but didn’t pursue it much after,” he says. “About seven years ago, I decided to start again and began taking lessons from a teacher at the Jazz Institute at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.”
The businessman hooked up with local musicians and started to make guest appearances with jazz groups around Milwaukee, including Mark Thierfelder’s Jazz Trio at Mason Street Grill, also located in the Pfister. Marcus explains that playing at venues around Milwaukee gives him the opportunity to hone his skills. “By day I’m a pretty typical CEO, but playing jazz piano at night is a relaxing outlet that’s just a lot of fun,” he says. “It’s a tricky genre that takes years of study, so this is a great opportunity for me to practice. “
After acting as the co-chairman of United Way’s 2012 campaign, Marcus wanted to continue contributing to the charity during this year’s citywide drive. Each Tuesday, Marcus encourages local executives to be a “Celebrity BLUTender” and donate tips to the company’s fundraising efforts. As the guest bartender pours drinks, Marcus takes the stage with bassist John Price to provide free entertainment to guests and locals. At the end of the night, 10 percent of proceeds from cocktail lounge sales go directly to the United Way charity campaign.
“Our company has been a strong supporter of United Way for three generations,” says Marcus. “The impact that United Way makes on people’s lives also impacts the businesses in the community. If you have a strong and safe community, you’ll also have successful growing businesses that provide jobs and help to drive the local economy.”
After years leading a large-scale corporation, Marcus notes he doesn’t experience stage fright when he plays in front of a crowd. “I’m so focused on the music and the keys that I don’t really notice the people until they hopefully applaud at the end of a piece,” he says.
But the high-powered hotel executive is the first to admit that he has no plans to quit his day job. “I’m always playing with one or two other people who are consummate musicians, so they make me sound semi decent.”