The Piano Man brought music and generosity to Tampa Bay

Carl’s Piano Bar had a devoted following, a large fishbowl to offer tips, and hundreds of songs that everyone knew.

There was a small gumball machine on top of the piano, a TV on the wall presumably tuned to a NASCAR race, and littered with laminated playlists for beginners.

Carl’s Piano Bar had a pianist named Carl Fuerstman who was playing in Tampa Bay with a show and fans.

They’ve played here for over 40 years, including Ten Beach Drive, Woody’s Waterfront and Billy’s Stone Crab. But it wasn’t just his music selection, talent, and knack for remembering locals and snowbird names that made him a star.

When Fuerstman sat down to play, he was in the spotlight for everyone.

He died of Legionella pneumonia on November 15th. he was 68 years old.

St. Petersburg Times photo of musician Karl Furstmann (1991 left, 1998 right). He has performed in Tampa Bay for decades. [ St. Petersburg Times via ]

a place you want to go

Raised in North Carolina, Firstman came to Florida in the early ’80s after years of playing in bands. He auditioned at his drive to Ten Beach in St. Petersburg. 1998 Petersburg Times.

He made more than three times what they paid him in tips and realized he was on to something.

Jeff Etter was one of many people who heard Fuerstman play and followed him here and there for decades.

“The minute you walked in, you knew what Carl was,” he said.

The pianist could watch NASCAR while having side conversations, chewing gum, and playing. His repertoire ranged from The Beach Boys to “The Phantom of the Opera” to The Black Eyed Peas. And Furstmann knew he was making space for his generation. They may no longer feel at home in a nightclub, but they weren’t ready to stay yet.

“Piano bars are comfortable and fun for everyone,” he told The Times in 1998. I just realized there is no venue. I love that I can give them a place to go. “

Carl Fuerstman and Sheri Brown have been together for 36 years. She was a bartender and he played the piano in bars and restaurants in the area. Brown believes they only worked in the same place at the same time for one night.
Carl Fuerstman and Sheri Brown have been together for 36 years. She was a bartender and he played the piano in bars and restaurants in the area. Brown believes they only worked in the same place at the same time for one night. [ Courtesy Bob Sackett ]


Decades ago, Sheri Brown saw a band play and decided to become a bassist.

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“But I ended up becoming a piano player.”

She works as a bartender, and the only time she and Furstmann worked in the same place on the same night was on purpose.

The couple have been together for 36 years, Brown says. They worked her 20 years and paid off the house in Reddington Shores. For 22 years they have saved him 10% of tips for trips to Kenya and Tanzania. Together with their friends they traveled to Italy, France, Spain and the Caribbean. And wherever there was a piano, Furstmann would play one of his songs.

Their home includes Adam and Sophie, a rambunctious Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Furzmann, three pianos and multiple speakers, microphones and lighting fixtures.

Whether playing or just listening, Brown said there was always music.

Pianist Karl Furstmann performed at Karl's Piano Bar in St. Petersburg.  Pete Beach on October 10, 2009.
Pianist Karl Furstmann performed at Karl’s Piano Bar in St. Petersburg. Pete Beach on October 10, 2009. [ 2009 | Tampa Bay Times ]

big tipper

Furstmann entertained behind the piano and stepped away from it.

“As an entertainer, he was everyone’s friend,” said longtime friend Lynn Easterman.

And as a friend, he was there for his ups and downs.

For years, Easterman and her late husband traveled with Fuerstmann and Brown, tailgating for the Buccaneers and cheering for the Rays. I helped my friends whenever they needed it, including with their garden project.

Bob and Sue Sackett turned fans into friends and always arrived early to secure front row seats to Furstmann’s shows. When Sue had breast cancer, Fuustmann sat with Sue during radiation and chemotherapy.

“If people had really paid attention to his performance,” said Bruce Kaplan, a longtime friend who hired Furstmann to perform at a restaurant he owned for many years. He was aware of his generosity. “

He showed it in the names he remembered, the friendships he built, and the spaces he created for people to sing and dance and have fun. He made a living on what he had and always left a big tip when it was his turn.

Also, unlike many musicians, he never played for 40 minutes and rested for 20 minutes.

“Carl never got up,” Kaplan said. “He was playing three hours, four hours, five hours straight.”

Piano Man was not afraid to lose a customer.

“He knew people were trying to come see him. He wanted to give them 100 percent.”

Pointer news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article.

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