There are 60 pianos dotted around New York. And probably 1 million divas.

Deduct the number of starlets who don’t venture out during the day, those actors who spend their weekends in the Hamptons, the dedicated artists taking brunch orders at the all-you-can-drink, and those who can’t play the piano at all, and a two hour slot from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon begins to look like a terrible time to film impromptu pianists.
These pianos had the potential to give thousands of New Yorkers the chance to be a street performer for 15 minutes of fame. I had two hours before my date with an Indian in a Chinese pool hall in Coney Island (I love NY), and despite the 90º sun and my ready-to-burn skin, this chance as too good to miss. A quick check of the map, and I was off.
Play me I'm Yours in New York
Boy, was I excited about discovering how all my neighbors in New York had become enamored with (and there for accepting of) street performing! I pedaled as fast as my little legs would take me. First stop: the Met. I couldn’t find the piano. Then I couldn’t find the one in at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park. When the piano listed on the website,, at the north end of the Lincoln Center was also missing, I began to think I’d been had. Where were they? One of the guards wandering around next to the fountain (what a cool job!) told me there’d been a bit of vandalism, and it had been taken away.
Hmm. So it seemed New York wasn’t gleefully coming to terms with busking – rather it was doing its best to bust up the instruments. Damn.
Disheartened, I rode on, but before I’d gone two blocks, there, on the sidewalk, I came across my first act; a cute, young Asian couple at a piano just south of the Lincoln Center. One block south, and another piano, this one hosting an American flag and a lone pigtailed metal head in Dad jeans and a black T-shirt. The next, at Columbus Circle, was a hive of players and applause (and they were earning that applause well).
Play me I'm Yours in New York
Times Square was a little bit odd (you can see all this in the video). First there were about eight dancers taking very slow and exaggerated steps with what looked like cups of blood balanced on their heads. And only two blocks south of that, a lovely Christian group was extolling the rejuvenating qualities of Jesus’ blood. A little shaken up by the toddler with demon eyes (again, see the video), I raced onwards. 36th Street’s piano was empty and boiling hot. But before I could get disheartened at the instrument’s solitude, I caught the sound of twinkling keys on the wind. And there, finally, in the pedestrianised zone south of 34th on Broadway, I finally came across a guy actually playing for tips!
Who was, unfortunately, a complete bastard. First of all, he was wearing a phoney badge and telling people that he “worked for them” – implying that he had been commissioned to play there. He asked for a request (“Anything by Tony Bennett or Frank Sinatra,” I suggested, trying to be nice), and then asked for some money up-front. He wouldn’t play without it. Not enjoying the pressure, I asked for a go on the piano, and he refused. “Give me some money,” he said. “Asshole,” I retorted, and got back on my bike.
Play me I'm Yours in New York
I can’t quite remember all the pianos I visited, but with about 20 minutes to spare, I ended up at a gorgeous but toneless piano in the shade of a tree at Astor Place. It looked so nice, I thought I’d get on and play the 2nd tune I ever learnt how to play well. The first was a surprise for a Japanese Brazilian coke-head who told me Errol Garner’s rendition of Misty got her hot and bothered. This one I learned solely for Oscar Peterson (his slightly cheesy Hymn to Freedom always makes me smile), my all-time favorite pianist. And standing there was a lovely girl who offered to film mine if I’d film hers.
Five clumsy and rhythmless minutes later, I stopped playing and looked up to receive wondrous cheers and bravos. None were forthcoming, although an old Latino with a walking stick nodded sullenly at me, and so with the full satisfaction of a regular performance artist, I sighed, jumped on my bike, and headed to the pool hall.
I hope you enjoy the video. And I apologize for my playing in it; the piano was out of shape. It had several out of tune keys. It was too hot to think. The cars were drowning out the sound of the piano. I was tired. There was a wind! The humidity had swollen my knuckles…. you believe me, don’t you?Click on the images below to see larger photos.