The Piano Player
Over the piano was printed a notice: "Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best."The Piano Player could very well be a large reel of paper, making the piano effectively a large music box. When an actual person is used, they don't necessarily have more personality. This is a shame, as the ragtime music featured in most western saloons used heavy repetitions of notes that could very well be Level Grinding your arms into a level of badass. Expect a competent professional musician in white shirtsleeves and slicked hair, often brought in from "out East" for the sole purpose of being able to play the latest songs as well as any request. (That doesn't stop them from playing almost the exact same tune in every bar.) The Piano Player becomes an important device because although he is able to play for hours without a break, the mere mention of "Bad Bart" or any local Big Bad causes him to slam the keys once before the foreboding silence. Sometimes they comedically continue playing stoically while the bar behind them breaks out in a Bar Brawl, though they might also help out by playing more intense music while there's a fight. If one really wants to be nasty to the player, one could slam the wooden keyboard lid on their fingers. However, their character is tied up in the piano and they rarely have any lines, with all questions about the bar being directed to The Bartender. The Piano Player is a convenient justification for Source Music, which can lead to Suspiciously Apropos Music (for example a sudden shift to a more ominous tune when the bad guy enters) or a Left the Background Music On gag.
— Oscar Wilde, Personal Impressions of America
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Anime & Manga
- A Lucky Luke story had Luke become friends with one of these, who had ambitions of one day playing at Symphony Hall. He finally gets his chance but on the day of his performance he gets stage fright and freezes completely. Luke correctly guesses he's used to playing in bars with perpetual brawls going on so he barges in on Jolly Jumper and starts firing into the air causing the room to descend to utter chaos... and the player to get over his stage fright and start playing. They throw him out, of course, but he managed to live his dream.
- One storyline in the UK Transformers Generation 1 comic features one of these who actually is a piano. His purpose in the story is to get assaulted by a local bully, prompting our heroes to come to his aid and thus learn a lesson about how they must never sit by when injustice is being done.
- There is a Dick Tracy villain called 88 Keys, both in the comic strip and the Warren Beatty film.
- The Far Side often features piano players in western gags. One particularly funny example combines this with Left the Background Music On: A desperado appears at the doors of a saloon, and the banjo player nervously remarks to the pianist, "Bad guy coming in, Arnie! Minor key!"
- A George Booth cartoon for The New Yorker had an airline captain being interviewed on the tarmac in front of his plane: "Some nut shot the piano player, but that seemed to be unconnected to the hijacking."
- Snoopy will occasionally enter a bar and either make a request of the piano player, or begin playing piano himself in the cartoons.
- The recurring pianist is Schroeder. He does get lines (usually trading Lucy's flirtations for sarcasm), but in big crowd scenes he tends to stay in the background, hunched over his instrument.
- Knights of the Dinner Table: A run-in with the piano player in the saloon in Brian's Cattlepunk game ends with B.A.'s character having his gun placed in a very uncomfortable location.
Films — Animation
- There's a piano player in The Great Mouse Detective, and although the film is not a western, he certainly fits the trope.
- Captain Hook fills this role in the bar scenes of the Shrek sequels, perhaps as a shout-out to the Affably Evil version in the Disney movie Peter Pan, or to the original book, where Hook is stated to be an accomplished harpsichord player, despite his disability. It's lampshaded in that, when sent with his men to capture Shrek and co. in the third film, they bring the piano along so he can provide music for the fight scene.
Films — Live-Action
- Frank Sinatra has a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo as piano player in the 1956 film version of Around the World in 80 Days.
- In Bugsy Malone, the piano player in Fat Sam's Grand Slam Speakeasy also sings two very catchy songs.
- Casablanca, of course. Dooley Wilson, who played Sam, was a singer but not a pianist in Real Life; his piano playing in the film was actually done by Elliot Carpenter.
- Phantom of the Paradise is about one of these (Winslow Leach, played by William Finley) who's actually a gifted musician desperately trying to make it in the corrupt, cutthroat music industry. He's discovered by the villainous music producer Swan (played again by Paul Williams, who again wrote all the movie's songs) while playing piano in the background in Swan's club, mostly ignored by the patrons, after the headlining band's big music act is over.
- The Pianist features a rare instance of the trope being Played for Drama, and Based on a True Story to boot. Classical concert pianist Władysław Szpilman is forced to take cheap gigs in bars and restaurants when the Nazis take over Poland, since they didn't allow Jews to be in the arts. (Then it goes From Bad to Worse. Much, much worse).
- In Singin' in the Rain Lina Lamont refers to Cosmo as this, even though he actually has a really big part!
Lina Lamont: You piano player, you!
- Doc Holliday takes a turn in this capacity in Tombstone.
- In Bunraku, the Bartender employs one, up until he scampers out the door when the Drifter picks a fight with some thugs. Afterwards, he is replaced with a stereo and a "piano player wanted" sign.
- In El Dorado, our heroes are tracking a wounded bad guy, and follow the trail of blood into a bar, and to a piano being played by a very nervous piano player, who dives out of the way so allow the good guys to shoot the bad guy through it.
- 88 Keys in Dick Tracy.
- Lemonade Joe: There is an anonymous Piano Player, a classic stock Western character. He swings with the crowd and plays in whichever saloon is the more popular. He doesn't seem to care about either owner of the saloons — Trigger Whisky or Kolaloka.
- The main character in Shoot the Piano Player, François Truffaut's second film. The story is about a former classical pianist now working in a dive bar who ends up hunted by criminals thanks to his brother. Unusual in that the focus is on the piano player as the main character, rather than as comedic relief.
- In the Doctor Who serial "The Gunfighters", there's a subplot about the saloon trying to find a new piano player because their old one was shot last week. Eventually the Doctor's companions are forced to play at gunpoint.
Dodo: Do you know the song?
Steven: Lets hope the piano knows it!
- Brad from Glee, who has never spoken and tends to spontaneously appear whenever needed.
Rachel: He's just always... around.
- In the Korean Drama Shining Inheritance, an autistic child who is a genius on the piano is taken in by a bar owner, and eventually reunited with his family who is looking for him.
- Piano players show up frequently on The Amazing Race as part of tasks, with the best example being Season 17's "Classical Music" Detour in Russia in which multiple pianists continue to stoically play their same pieces repeatedly over Racer hysteria at being unable to identify them correctly. The task itself had to be kept open for hours, though it's unlikely they had to play that long.
- The Wild Wild West: One of Artemus Gordon's many, many, many disguises. Both the trope and the piano are well played, from white shirtsleeves and slicked hair to providing light accompaniment for a bar brawl.
- Skull reveals this talent in Power Rangers Zeo (surprising every member of the cast, especially Bulk). This is the important part of the plot of the episode where the revelation is made, as King Mondo is fond of the "mysterious piano player's" music and tries to kidnap him.
- Technically, it's not a piano that Lurch plays in the The Addams Family (it's a harpsichord) but he still fills the role. (In fact, the iconic theme song is sung to harpsichord music, so he's likely the one playing it, especially since he's shown performing during the opening credits.)
- An episode of Have Gun — Will Travel featured a young woman hiring Paladin to rescue her boyfriend who was one of these. The young man had accumulated a large gambling debt at a saloon and was forced to play the piano night and day without rest to pay it back. Paladin won the young man's freedom in a bet but said young man immediately took the money Paladin won and started playing poker again. At this point the girl who had hired Paladin realized her boyfriend was a lost cause and left.
- In the cowboy sketch on the first episode of The Muppet Show, the piano player is, of course, Rowlf, who also acts as the sketch's narrator.
- Rowlf likewise serves as narrator and pianist in the original special of Dog City, at one point putting his piano in a cart so he can play the music for the Car Chase.
- Songwriter Paul Williams wrote the original music for The Muppet Movie; he also had a cameo as the piano player at the "El Sleezo Cafe." In the dive bar/club, there's a sign next to the piano reading "Don't shoot, piano player."
- Wesley in the play The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan.
- In The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Molly finds work in Leadville as piano player of the Saddle Rock Saloon and Flophouse. She lies about knowing know how to play, and just manages to find one chord when the first customers come in. Her piano playing gets much better later.
- Parodied in The Music Man with "Ethel Toffelmier, our fine player-piano player—piano." Apparently, River City doesn't have a real piano available for official functions; if it did, Marian would likely be able to play it.
- Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist has a piano player called Neville Shute.
"You know, Neville Shute, the piano player... he's only doing his job."
- In Snoopy Flying Ace, Schroeder gets this role in a traditional sense, playing in a bar while the other characters discuss things with one another and bartender Linus (the game being a loving parody of/homage to old war movies).
- Player pianos, the paper-roll automatic version, is used in Scooby-Doo for their "ghost player" effect.
- The Simpsons:
- A food fight breaks out, complete with old-timey piano music. Halfway through the fight it cuts to Principal Skinner nervously playing a piano in the middle of the cafeteria.
- A Treehouse of Horror episode, which features zombie Billy the Kid demanding Homer play the "piany", and getting angry when Homer starts playing classical music.
Billy the Kid: Not piano! Piany!
- This similarly happens again in a later episode, where Homer is ordered at bullwhip to play the piano. He plays it badly at first, before being whipped once and then playing very well. (Homer has in fact been shown over the years to be quite the talented piano player, even writing his own sheet music, making it one of his many Weak, but Skilled abilities.)