“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 alright.”
It must be the most requested (except, maybe, “Happy Birthday”) song in bars around the worlds – Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”. The verses, sung from the point of view of a bar piano player, followed by a chorus which gives voice to the bar patrons, as they call on the piano man to “Sing them a song, tonight!” resonate wherever, except for food and drink, one more sensory delight is on the menu – live music.
Things are no different at Baan Rim Pa in Kalim, where a shiny black piano is just as important part of the décor as the restaurant’s wooden interiors, dim lights, and splendid sea vistas. Each night, behind that piano, sits Khun Louise; and almost each night someone asks for the “Piano Man”.
“Call me Louise Exotic,” he asks me halfway through our conversation. It’s a name derived from one of many bands he performed with; others being The Train (the first one he ever joined, as a drummer), the Autobahn, the China Star and many other. 66 years old, he started a career of a professional musician at the age of 16, but he felt a calling for music much, much earlier, at the age of 4.
“There was a coffee stand in front of my house and everyday people would come for their morning cup. So, I would take out a box and pretend it’s a drum,” he remembers. One of the coffee lovers visiting the stall happened to also be a music lover who saw a spark in young Louise and suggested he should take music classes. That’s how it all started.
Louise never received a formal musical education and to this day doesn’t know much about notes and chords, what he does know is how to play a melody when he hears one. Be it at a fancy hotel, at a local festival stage or in a moody bar; be it with a guitar, keyboard or any other instrument that he expertly plays, be it jazz or funk, rock or pop; once he starts playing, he is in his element. “In my whole life, I’ve never done anything else, but played music,” he tells me.
And neither has Dr. Prasert, the pianist at Baan Rim Pa in Patong, as he sits behind a piano at one of the coastal town’s favorite restaurants and prepares the setlist for his performance, featuring not just the “Piano Man” but also his beloved jazz and blues standards, songs composed by Thailand’s late King and more. “When I see guests from China, I play Chinese songs, when I see they are Japanese, I play Japanese tunes,” he tells me.
In contrast to Louise Exotic, Dr. Prasert received extensive musical education, beginning in high school and culminating in a doctor’s degree. Today, except for performing at Baan Rim Pa, he teaches music theory and piano at one of Phuket’s universities. There is, however, one more thing that he has in common with his Kalim counterpart – he also discovered his love for music when he was 4.
“I used to listen to my father’s short-wave radio and I remember hearing Stevie Wonder. I was amazed. I didn’t know Stevie Wonder, I didn’t know Jazz or any other kind of music, but I knew I loved it,” he recalls.
Today, five decades later, he can play any Stevie Wonder song you can name, or just about any other melody you’re in the mood for. And whatever song he plays, it will get you feeling alright. Because that’s what piano men do.