Keith Emerson

In 1997, I had the privilege of being at Claude Nobs' chalet for the entire Montreux Jazz Festival. I played the main stage, opening for Eric Clapton and others (between a duo with Jeff Healey, the BB King Jam and other sit-ins, I was on the main stage at Strawinski 5 times that year) and spent every afternoon playing the piano at Claude's Artist and Sponsor parties. It was a wonderful experience, and I met everyone who came up to Caux, with lots of jamming going on.

EL&P came up one afternoon and I spoke with Keith about Music. As a teenager I had some of their early records before drifting away into the Blues, and understood them to be three virtuosi who had banded together to make the best music they could. They sure did ! I had enjoyed their concert the night before, and was intrigued with how Keith came up with and realized the musical ideas he expressed so well. (This was always The Main Topic at Claude's -- realization of ideas -- and Claude was a Master of that as much as any of the artists !)

I surmised that Keith played around at home for a weekend, taping everything and then cherry picked the ideas. He concurred, and we marveled at how composers like Debussy, who didn't have the luxury of taping equipment, had to actually remember the beautiful sounds like flowed like the ocean and the wind, and then write them down ! We have it easy nowadays, yet the Well we draw from is the same as She has ever been.

"Is Strawinski what you play for fun and for inspiration?" I asked.

"Actually, it's Rachmaninoff," he replied. That explains the glorious lyricism. 

What most impressed me about him was the concert the night before. He laid down in front of the Hammond (the back side of the organ) and pulled the organ down on top of him, the keyboard facing upside down to him, and played the Bach Toccata in D minor UPSIDE DOWN and BACKWARDS !!!!!! It was a marvel only a Mozart could have done. I am amazed to this day. Had he lived in another day, he might have spent his life as a legendary church organist or professor somewhere and we would have been denied his wonderful inspiration. It's a better world we live in today.

Here's to you, Keith Emerson. I am grateful to have met you.