Bits 'n' Pieces: Time just cruises by for local pianist Jim Fischer

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

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Although many pianists play “As Time Goes By,” Jim Fischer has performed the tune while steaming toward Casablanca.

Fischer works an enviable gig as a piano bar entertainer with the Holland America Line.

On a recent Atlantic crossing cruise, he posted on his Facebook page: “I played ‘As Time Goes By’ from ‘Casablanca’ last night. Gibraltar on the port side and Tangier on the starboard side just past midnight.”

Fischer has cruised to Alaska, the Mexican Riviera, the Caribbean, down the coast of Venezuela and through the Panama Canal.

He has crossed the Atlantic and cruised the Mediterranean as far as Istanbul.

How many miles has he logged since starting this gig in 2004? He’s lost track.

His port of call favorites include taking in San Marco Square in Venice, Italy; visiting the busy Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey ;and hiking high above Skagway, Alaska.

Nice gig if you can get it

Fischer plays piano on the Holland American cruise ship MS Noordam, a Vista class ship with a 1,918 passenger capacity and a crew of 800. Amenities include a fitness center, spa, movie theater, casino showroom, three pools and -- most important to Fischer -- a piano bar.

He performs three to four hours a night, seven days a week. His most recent contract was 37 days.

“That’s a crazy amount of piano playing and singing,” he said.

“I do different theme nights: ‘Name That Tune,’ Billy Joel hits, Elton John night, and James Taylor night because of the physical resemblance. I have a singin’ and swingin’ night and a sing-along night. On the longer runs, I have to be a bit more creative to keep it fresh.”

“I work hard as a high-energy piano man,” he said. “One night a guest told me, ‘I’ve never had so much fun watching a guy having so much fun doing what he’s doing.’”

After all those tens of thousands of miles of entertaining, what is his most requested song? Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”

“I have a guest hold the harmonica in my mouth at strategic moments,” he said.

You don’t have to cruise the seven seas to hear Fischer perform. Catch his local performances every Wednesday night from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., beginning May 23, at Top Shelf Grill, 600 Main St. or at the Applebee’s restaurants in Hazel Dell and Salmon Creek on the weekends. For a complete schedule, visit http://www.jimfischer.net/.

Bits ’n’ Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you’d like to share, email bits@columbian.com.