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'Please play me,' coax 10 pianos in Ybor City

YBOR CITY

Before visitors could see the rainbow-colored piano on Seventh Avenue, they could hear it. Frank Baxter, 57, pounded out a medley of blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll on the piano in front of La France in Ybor City. He drove from his Largo home just to visit the 10 pianos that were rolled out Saturday for passers-by to play.

The pianos, each with an inviting "please play me" sign, will be on display in Ybor City for anyone to play 24/7 until Jan. 10, when they'll be auctioned off. They're part of an interactive art installation sponsored by the GaYbor District Coalition.

As Baxter jammed on the hand-painted piano, people stopped to watch. Some clapped. After a few minutes, he was ready to find the next one.

Although many are brightly colored, some pianos were hard to find because they're sheltered under awnings and roofs. So Baxter's girlfriend, Kathy Ford, consulted a map.

"This is kind of like a treasure hunt," she said.

They searched for three in Centro Ybor, and Ford stopped to ask a waiter for directions.

"Kind of hard to hide a piano," Baxter said.

He almost passed another rainbow-colored piano, but Ford yelled out when she spotted it. Baxter turned around, sat down at the bench and played the upbeat 1960s hit Music to Watch Girls By.

The crowd inside the nearby sports bar cared more about the Wisconsin Badgers winning their football game, but he received enthusiastic applause from a teenager on her cell phone.

Down the road, Jovan Randolph was also armed with a map. He heard about the pianos through the social networking Web site Facebook. Though he doesn't play the piano, he loves art and planned to snap photos of each. It took him and a friend about an hour to find all 10.

"It was really nicely put together," said Randolph, 22. "You get to see places in Ybor that you don't usually get to see."

His favorite was the black piano by NY NY Pizza on Seventh Avenue that was embellished with a Fred Astaire-like figure dancing.

Baxter liked that one, too. But after he finished his rock 'n' roll rendition of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata outside Gameworks, he declared "Liberace's next!" and he and Ford went off to find the silver piano adorned with a charcoal sketch of Liberace.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

'Please play me,' coax 10 pianos in Ybor City 11/14/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 14, 2009 9:14pm]
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