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The Piano Player

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Over the piano was printed a notice: "Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best."
Oscar Wilde, Personal Impressions of America

The Piano Player could very well be a large reel of paper in a mechanical "player piano", 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 popular songs as well as any classic old-timey requests. (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 or its patrons 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.

Outside of the Wild West, a piano player at an upmarket piano bar or cocktail lounge plays a grand piano and performs pop, soft rock, and possibly jazz songs for tips from bar patrons. They may also sing. The piano bar performer has a huge repertoire of well-loved classic songs and generally has an easy-going stage demeanor. Some piano bars have two pianists who play "dueling pianos", trading riffs and soloing in a Rhythm and Blues style.

See also Paying Their Dues, for when a performer takes thankless gigs while waiting for their big break.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Anpanman, there's a character named Piano Man, who is a piano player— and a player piano.
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers: Whenever he isn't being a lazy uptight snob, Austria is this.

    Comic Books 
  • Lucky Luke:
    • There's always a piano player playing the instrument when a saloon brawl erupts. He'll inexplicably keep playing in such cases instead of seeking cover, dodging thrown bottles and bullets doing so (which will often create bullet holes in the instrument but won't alter its sound, as the various animated film and animated series adaptations show).
    • A story has Luke become friends with one, who has 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 into utter chaos (as the audience enthusiastically joins in)... 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.
  • The comic book Munden's Bar features a piano player who has about twenty fingers on each of his hands.
  • The Transformers (Marvel): One storyline in the UK comics 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • 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 at the piano player, but that seemed to be unconnected to the hijacking."
  • Peanuts:
    • 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, who plays only classical music. 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.

    Fan Works 

    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 Eighty Days.
  • In Bugsy Malone, the piano player in Fat Sam's Grand Slam Speakeasy also sings two very catchy songs.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Announcer/Bandleader character from Chicago seems to fill this role in-universe.
  • In Dick Tracy, 88 Keys is the piano player at the Club Ritz.
  • 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.
  • Dan Sr. from Frisco Jenny. He came from a conservatory of music and now plays in a brothel. He's in love with the titular Jenny.
  • Hell House LLC has a ghostly piano player who plays the same progression periodically throughout the film. The sequel Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel has the same melody showing up years before the opening of the haunted house while also playing in the background during the investigation of the hotel.
  • One appears in I Shot Jesse James, playing in the Creede Hotel and earning a dirty look from Robert Ford when he plays "The Ballad of Jesse James" (who Bob killed and doesn't like thinking about).
  • 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.
  • In The Man from Colorado, the piano player in the the miners' saloon acts as lookout for the outlaws who meet in the saloon's back room; changing the tune he is playing to inform them of who has entered the saloon.
  • 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).
  • Rimfire: Porky is the piano player in the Blue Moon Saloon. During the Gambling Brawl between Blazer and The Abeliene Kid, Porky gets hit by a chair thrown by Blazer. He keeps playing for several minutes before gradually keeling over sideways.
  • 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 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.

  • Averted in Good Omens, where the piano player turns out to have a Kalashnikov concealed in the piano.
  • In Robert W Service's poem The Shooting of Dan McGrew a stranger walks in and takes over for the piano player. His hypnotic performance drives the rest of the plot.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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: BRAD!
    (he enters)
    Rachel: He's just always... around.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Averted in Westworld where The Western bar has a pianola for Rule of Symbolism, played by a roll of punched paper.
  • 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.

  • Elkie Brooke's Pearl's a Singer is from the point of view of a performer who never made it into the big time, but has enough ability to sustain a career playing at small gigs and as a jobbing piano player in clubs, who knows she's getting older and her dream of hitting the big time is ebbing fast.
    Pearl's a singer;
    She stands up, when she plays the piano,
    In a nighfclub.
  • Billy Joel's "Piano Man" famously relates the point of view of a pianist playing a gig at the local bar as the regular cast of barflies make requests and sing along to forget their troubles. All together now: "It's nine o'clock on a Saturday..."
  • Elton John has an album titled "Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only The Piano Player", his Shout-Out to the François Truffaut crime movie Shoot the Piano Player.
    • The song "Tiny Dancer" has "Piano man. He takes a stand."
  • Referencing the Elton John album, the debut album of Branford Marsalis' side project Buckshot Le Fonque features one track with an instrumental piano intro and outro. The former is entitled "Shoot The Piano Player" and the latter is entitled "Sorry, Elton" and ends with a gunshot and a discordant piano note.

    Puppet Shows 
  • 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."
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist has a piano player called Neville Shute.
    "You know, Neville Shute, the piano player... he's only doing his job."
  • Plants Vs Zombies 2 has the Pianist Zombie, a Wild West-era piano-playing zombie. Naturally, the background music switches to saloon piano while the zombie is on the lawn. His music causes the basic zombies to dance and periodically switch lanes, while his piano can quickly crush any plant in its way.
  • Any saloons featured in Red Dead Redemption tend to have one of these pounding away on the dance floor. Given the setting, it's to be expected.
  • 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).
  • In West of Loathing, every saloon except the one in Breadwood has a piano player. The one in Dirtwater is out-of-tune when you first visit. Lloyd, The Bartender, explains that it's broken. Not the piano, the piano player: a Mysticality check reveals it's some sort of automaton.
    Lloyd: Well, if you're handy with mechanical-type stuff, something's gone wrong with our player piano player.
    Player: I'll see what I can do.
    Lloyd: Thanks! I'd've poked around in him myself, but I lost the key.
    Player: This has suddenly taken a strange turn.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
    • "Treehouse of Horror XIII" features zombie Billy the Kid demanding Homer play the "piany", and getting angry when Homer starts playing classical music.
      Billy the Kid: That's piano! I said piany!
    • This similarly happens again in "Kill the Alligator and Run", 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.)


Video Example(s):


Bat Faunus Man

When Batman is transported to Remnant, not only does he become a Faunus, but he's a Bat Faunus with bat wings.

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