If playing to the audience is an art, Greg Tivis is a master of it. It's second nature to someone familiar with the smell of diesel, musty hotel rooms, constant travel for months on end, no real home, setting up and tearing down show after show after show. In musician's terms, Greg Tivis is a veteran who knows the trenches. From show bands to circus bands, dance orchestras to blues bands, jazz bands to rock bands, he's been there, done that. He's paid his dues, and earned the respect of musicians and fans all over the country. He does it for one reason, he loves to entertain people.
Born in Palestine, Texas, February 11, 1963, Greg became the third son to Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Tivis. Shortly thereafter they moved to Lindsay, Oklahoma, where young Greg was to spend the next seventeen years.
Early on he began picking up melodies on a toy grand piano he got for his second Christmas. When his mother took a part time job as church secretary, Greg was thrilled to discover there were pianos in every room of the old church building. He became friends with every one of them, spending his days running from room to room playing them all. It wasn't until age nine that his parents were able to buy an old piano, and begin to refine all the noise with a few lessons. For the next nine years, he studied religiously with Jonetta Hinkle, a North Texas State graduate and a brilliant concert pianist whom the small town was very fortunate to have in residence. Greg still continued his practice of playing melodies by ear on every instrument he could get his hands on; the harmonica, the steel guitar, the banjo, acoustic guitar, and saxophone. But he seemed particularly gifted at playing his older brother's trumpet. In the summer of 1973, his mom bought him his own cornet, at a garage sale, for ten dollars. He didn't even have a case for it. But the first day of fifth grade, he was the only student who could already play a tune on his instrument.
He excelled musically in high school, winning gold medals every year on his trumpet and earning superior ratings in local, regional, and state piano competitions. In 1981, he left Lindsay to attend Central State University in Edmond, OK, on a full piano scholarship, his reward for receiving superior ratings in the state finals three years in a row. At Central State, he fell in love with jazz, and was a natural at it. Before long his studies became secondary to performing in Oklahoma City, wherever and whenever he could. Within a few years he was working all the major shows that came to town, the National Finals Rodeo, The Greatest Show on Earth, the Ice Capades, as well as performing fpr or with major entertainers Stanley Clarke, and Wynton Marsalis in local concerts. After a performance by the Central State Jazz Ensemble in which Greg Tivis was the featured trumpet soloist, bandleader and jazz legend Woody Herman told Greg, "Man, you got what it takes, keep playing!"
When he was offered the regular piano spot at Norma Jean's Supper Club, a four-star restaurant and jazz club in the ritziest section of Oklahoma City, Greg's years of hard work began to pay off. During his two year engagement, playing five nights a week, doing solo and trio work, he began to hone his skills at connecting with the audience, gaining a reputation for his charm, charisma, and showmanship.
In 1989 something happened which would change the course of Greg's life, and playing, forever. He was offered an opportunity to audition for the Russ Morgan Orchestra, a nationally known big band led by son Jack Morgan which is known in big band history as one of the longest continuously running big bands, originating in 1935.
He made the cut and took to the road, playing one-nighters out of a bus, on a grueling schedule consuming over ten months of each year. Later Greg would join the ranks of the Guy Lombardo Orchestra, the Tex Beneke Orchestra, and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. During the five years from 1989 to 1994, Greg played the finest hotels, clubs, and ballrooms in the land, as well as doing a lot of cruising aboard Princess Cruise lines, Norwegian Cruise lines, and his personal favorite, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., where he would later become a full time musician in their show band. In 1992, he was featured as pianist on the Russ Morgan Orchestra's latest CD, entitled "Shubert's Serenade," recorded in Las Vegas.
Today, Greg Tivis enjoys living in College Station, Texas with his wife Margaret. Since settling in the Brazos Valley in 1993, Greg has established himself firmly in the region as a first rate entertainer. In addition to doing solo work, he has formed his own company, Piano Plus Entertainment, which offers the services of his trio, quartet, jazz band and big band. In 1995, he began a performing contract at the College Station Hilton Hotel that he would stretch for 5 years, playing cocktail piano during the week, working the late shift with his trio on the weekends, and playing solo piano for the Sunday brunches and all holiday events. During 1996 and 1997, in addition to playing and contracting for the College Station Hilton, Greg again performed for the Delta Steamboat Company on a month on month off basis aboard the Mississippi Queen and American Queen Steamboats. Also in 1997, Greg Tivis recorded his debut CD, entitled "Piano +," featuring classic standards in the tradition of straight-ahead players like Oscar Peterson and Nat King Cole, his major influences. In 1999 it was back to Austin Recording Studies to record his second album, “In the Hip Pocket,” a mixture of standards and traditional New Orleans Dixie tunes. In 2009 Greg Tivis teamed up with vocalist Kelsey Taylor to record “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” and in 2011 Kelsey and Greg were honored with an invitation to perform with the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra. Also in 2009 Greg founded First Sunday Jazz, a monthly show featuring the sounds of old New Orleans as well as highlighting monthly guest artists. Now in its sixth year, First Sunday Jazz is held every first Sunday at Luigis Patio Ristorante in College Station. In April of 2015, the Concerts on Carter Creek society presented “The Two Sides of Greg Tivis,” a formal piano concert of both classical and jazz to a record attendance crowd.
Greg Tivis continues to perform weekly at College Station’s premiere upscale venue, Veritas Wine and Bistro, where he has performed since 2008, as well as events for the local chamber, TAMU, the 12th Man Foundation and many private events both locally and in the Houston area.
In addition to a full performance schedule, Greg teaches privately on a limited basis and is the lead instructor at Jazz Night School at the Frame Gallery in downtown Bryan, founded by Randy and Greta Watkins in 2011. JNS offers community classes open to all musicians of all levels interested in learning the art of American jazz and improvisation.