Bernie Katzman spent most of his life in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, in New York City. He loves his wife and son, his dogs, and his piano — probably in that order. But playing piano is what he does.
"When I was a little boy, maybe 3, I started hearing music in my head. My aunt Dora had a white grand piano. I remember dancing around it, lifting my hands up to play it. I was born to be an artist."
A lifelong musician with a masters from the Juilliard School in New York, Bernie's performed and taught music in lots of circumstances. He has a special love of improvisation, though.
"That's probably my greatest talent. I can hear music and have it come from my fingertips. I don't need written music, although I can play and write. I can just think of music and out it comes. It's an intensely emotional experience. I love playing, and I don't say that lightly. I absolutely adore playing."
Music is what he's done for a living — and not just full-time. Round the clock.
"For 28 years, I was a music teacher in New York City elementary schools, and also worked club dates. I worked seven days a week."
Bernie retired from teaching in the 1990s, but not from playing. He had some heart issues, and his wife Mindy and he were tired of the snow. That's not what brought him to Florida, though. It was their dogs.
"We had nine dogs in a large apartment, and when the lease was up, they told us that we couldn't renew with that many dogs there. But we'd had enough of the north."
Bernie and his wife Mindy decided to move to Florida, but didn't know where.
"We found that only Orlando and Jacksonville had no city ordinances limiting the number of dogs you could have. A lady in our building was from Jacksonville originally, and she went on and on about how beautiful it was. I no idea what the St. Johns River was, but now I live near it."
Once they found a house and moved three years ago, Bernie next started to look for music gigs. He's found some, although there aren't many of the types of clubs and show rooms where he played previously. One type of gig, though is widespread here – senior living facilities. His wife Mindy, a registered nurse, is an administrator at a facility in the area, and Bernie has developed a program for residents.
"I take them back through the years in music, and they can sing along. Alzheimer's patients remember music, even if they not recognize anything else. It's very beneficial to them because it stimulates the brain."
Although he's 70 now, Bernie Katzman doesn't expect to need someone else to play music for him to stimulate his brain. He can do that by himself.
"I don't ever plan on retiring from music. It's part of my family."