Patience Is A Virtue-oso

Or… Hats off to those who tickle the ivories!

Having plied my trade in a piano bar for more years than I care to count, I’ve seen first hand the ups and downs of piano playing. And believe me there are some. The ups of course are the cheering patrons, the tip jars filled with kale, the downs are those times when they’re singing to pictures on a wall. Or worse, the room is filled but with far too many who think that they are the show, and shout as if they’re spending the night in a sports bar. But whether the tempo is up or down or somewhere right down the middle, one thing that always stays on course amazing me to no end, is the patience most players display in all situations.

Because if I were trying to do my job which is mix a drink and pour it into a container, and some drunken A-hole grabbed the bottle while leaning into my face to shout his order, I doubt if I’d have the patience to (how you say?) cool it. In fact, I might just think about taking that bottle and permanently printing its logo on said A-hole’s brow, like a one-of-a-kind Dewar’s tat! But those are the things I’ve seen going on or at least their fair equivalent, to the guys and gals who play the piano in Barland. There’ll be someone grabbing the piano man’s mike (his version of a bottle), or someone screaming a request in his face while still in the middle of a song (his version of drink mixing), only to smile in return and keep playing through it. Which to me is astounding. For it not only shows a professionalism and patience beyond what I could muster in a decade, but a total grasp of the fact that the show must go on! Or better put… they’ve taken the words to Billy Joel’s classic and carried them out to the letter in content and feeling…

“Sing us a song you’re the piano man

Sing us a song tonight.

Well we’re all in the mood for a melody

And you’ve got us feeling all right.”

… no matter how many A-holes try to prevent that!

A guy I worked with for many, many years is a guy named Elliot Paul (currently playing at Graydon Carter’s Monkey Bar) who happened to be a master at handling these A-holes. In fact, given the things I’ve seen him put up with, the man is more like Job than the man called Joel. Because whatever the gods would drop from the sky for a drunken two point landing, Elliot would manage to “taxi” that guy to a stop (or the gal in some cases!). And always with a smile. For example, if someone grabbed his microphone while still in the middle of a song, he’d lure him into a duet then regain control. Or if someone shouted a request in his face from no more than two feet away (while still in the middle of another’s request for fuck sakes!), he’d just nod and wink which said, “I’ll do that song next.” And it worked. Where I might’ve shaved my head on the spot, stood up and done DeNiro’s “You talkin’ to me??!!” But that’s the difference between Elliott and me and all the others just like him who tickle the ivories, they know their job is to keep them all “feeling all right”.

And speaking of playing through “moments”, there were times now looking back on those days where some of the stuff that went down was just like a cowboy movie. You know, where a ruckus suddenly erupted in the place (in the cowboy movies, a shooting), the room fell silent for one scarey moment then I’d have to signal Elliott to go back to playing. Which he did. And the end result was it did usually calm things down. Again, just like in those cowboy movies where the dastardly owner of the town saloon would shoot some guy in the back, then quickly tell his piano man, “Play!!!”, as if to convey “Oh, nothing. We’re cool, have a drink!”

But those situations were very, very rare and most of the time the mood in our place was up. Meaning not just “up” for the piano man’s sake with everyone singing along and jamming his tip jar, but up for your friendly bartender as well because he then got to deal with a happy bar. Yes, the people who do that gig for a living, often under most trying circumstances, really do warrant our applause, our attention and praise. Just ask the late, great Frank Sinatra, perhaps the most praised of all, who right up to the end proudly claimed “I’m a saloon singer.”

By the way, since I mentioned Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”… clearly the most requested song along with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” in any piano bar, I’d like to add my own two cents to its accolade. And that’s this. Where some might say “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)” is the greatest saloon song ever, I’d have to disagree and say it’s “Piano Man”.One For My Baby”, as great as it is, is just one man’s lament of a recent break-up, whereas “Piano Man” takes the saloon world itself and turns it inside out, how “it’s sweet and it’s sad” to every man… the patrons, the bartender, waitress and singer… holding them up to the light with a big aching heart. And that’s a saloon song!

In fact, in case you haven’t heard it in a while (here’s the earliest video of same) which I’m sending out as a tribute to all those who do this. Chiefly Rick McDonald, Bugsy Moran, and Barbara King (everyone’s favorite Jersey Girl), the three who along with Elliot knocked them dead at our place.

See you next time, dear reader, have one on me!

10 Responses to “Patience Is A Virtue-oso”

  1. 1 Thomas Fitzsimmons February 23, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    Good stuff, Scribbler, as always. Although I’ve been in a few places where the piano man was loud and had a tin ear.

  2. 2 JaJa February 23, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    And “kale” in your jar for this one, Scrib.

  3. 4 scribbler50 February 23, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Thomas Fitzsimmons: Didn’t say all were Billy Joel, just the ones I worked with. Thanks, my friend, and yeah, I’ve heard bad ones too.

    Ja-Ja: I’ll take that “kale” and put it in my pocket for tonight. I can use it!

    Alex: Could you get to the point instead of dragging things out? 🙂
    Thanks, Bud!

  4. 5 Comradde PhysioProffe February 24, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Elliot, Rick, and Bugsy are all true masters of the piano man craft! However, I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard Babara King tickle the ivories.

  5. 6 scribbler50 February 24, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Comrade: No, you never did. She was there back in the 90’s before you found our place. You would’ve liked her.
    Thanks for stopping by, Bro.

  6. 7 Irishirritant February 26, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    It’s good to know ones limitations, so I rarely sing, but a good piano man teamed with a good bar man makes for a delightful night. I hang at the bar.
    Here’s wishing you a peaceful Saints day in March (amateur day)
    Thanks Scrib.

  7. 8 scribbler50 February 26, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    Irish: And a peaceful one it will be, I’m not working it.
    Happy St. Pat’s Day, pal.

  8. 9 M.Lane March 3, 2013 at 8:50 am

    Another great post. Sorry I haven’t commented in a bit, I have been reading though. One For My Baby gets my vote for best song ever, but I do see your point. I agree that saloon players going back to the mists of time are a rare and special breed. God bless them. Oh, and your post before this on the guy telling the cops to take him home had me laughing out loud. Thanks!


  9. 10 scribbler50 March 3, 2013 at 10:16 am

    M.Lane: And I see YOUR point, friend, “One For My Baby” can easily be called the best. I guess it’s just a matter of how one looks at it, right? Or how one hears it. Or which song strikes a personal chord because either one can be called the saloon anthem. Like debating Babe Ruth or Ted Williams, Jack Johnson or Muhammad Ali, take your pick.

    Speaking of your still “reading me”, for which I am grateful, I’m thinking of writing a blog about what I’m now reading… it’s a memoir by Rosie Schaap called “Drinking With Men”. I definitely recommend it as she knows whereof she speaks (the saloon culture that is) and tells it well.
    Cheers, pal!

    PS: Glad you got a kick out of “Take Me To Queens, My Good Man!”, or more aptly put… “Drinking With Cops!”

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