Player Piano Recording Artists

When the player piano was gaining popularity in the early 20th century, music roll manufacturers like Aeolian - the company who created the Duo-Art, QRS, Welte-Mignon, and Ampico - recorded works and performances of famous pianists and composers. Some of these musicians had exclusive contracts with these companies to record and produce music rolls. MPAL holds a number of rolls by such pianists as Scott Joplin, Thomas 'Fats' Waller, Liberace, Rudolph Ganz, Alfred Cortot, Max Kortlander, to name a few! Take a look at the featured recording artists below to learn more.

J. Lawrence Cook (1899-1976) is known as the most prolific piano roll artist in history - some estimate that he put out between 10,00 and 20,000 different roll recordings during his lifetime, although he wrote that "[we all] know that there just haven't been that many Ragtime numbers, no matter how many people consider them as their favorites." Thomas 'Fats' Waller worked with Cook, and was impressed by how well he could imitate Waller's style. Cook would often record Waller's tunes in his place, and these rolls would list the performer as 'Fats' Waller, rather than Cook or Waller's full name. "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue" was a dixieland tune written in 1925, originally recorded by The California Ramblers. Both Bing Crosby and Gene Austin achieved great popularity with their recordings of this tune. 

Arden & Ohman were piano duo partners between 1922-1932, but both were musicians and entertainers in their own right. Victor Arden was a stage name for Lewis John Fuiks (1893-1962), and he wrote and recorded many piano rolls and other tunes during his lifetime. Phil Ohman, or Fillmore Wellington Ohman (1896-1954), was also a film composer, and alongside recording piano rolls and records, composed for films such as Captain Caution (1940) and Million Dollar Weekend (1948). Arden & Ohman were pit pianists in many of George Gershwin's musicals, and later the pair developed a large studio orchestra whose recordings of Broadway songs became quite popular. "Swanee River Moon" was written and composed by H. Pitman Clarke in 1921, and has been recorded by many artists over the years. 

Felix Arndt (1889-1918) was an American pianist and composer of popular music, well-known for his light and entertaining style. The recording above is of his most famous work, "Nola", written in 1915 as an engagement gift for his fiancée and later wife, Nola Locke. The piano solo, called a "keyboard novelty", gained popularity quickly, and many arrangements and recordings of it had great success decades after its initial publication. Arndt had a three-year contract as a staff musician recording for the Aeolian Duo-Art piano, during which he produced over 3000 rolls. In 1918, he began work for QRS, when the company took over the music roll market. He unfortunately died during the world-wide epidemic of 1918 in New York City, only 29 years old.


Click the items below to see some other works being performed by player piano recording artists, or check out our catalog of rolls on the MPAL website to see if we have works by a specific performer.

  • Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue (Has Anybody Seen My Gal)
    Recording of "Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue (Has Anybody Seen My Gal)", performed by J. Lawrence (Jean Lawrence) Cook. Perforated roll intended for use on player pianos. Lyrics to song printed on piano roll.
  • The Impossible Dream
    Recording of "The Impossible Dream", arranged and performed by Liberace. Perforated roll intended for use on player pianos. Lyrics to song printed on piano roll.
  • Minuet Op. 14, No. 1
    Recording of "Minuet Op. 14, No. 1", composed and performed by Ignace Jan Paderewski. Perforated roll intended for use on player pianos.
  • Swanee River Moon
    Recording of "Swanee River Moon", composed by H. Pitman Clarke, performed by Victor Arden and Phil Ohman. Perforated roll intended for use on player pianos. Lyrics to song printed on piano roll.
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