Wednesday, June 3, 2015

It's Been A Long Time Since I've Played This Much Piano

Keyboard geekiness ahead...

I began as a musician playing my Mom's spinet piano and took piano lessons from 4th through 7th grade from Ms. Lipton. I wasn't a great student, but I played in all the recitals and was given the "Beethoven Award" at 7th grade graduation. I'm pretty sure every student got some award from Ms. Lipton.

I stopped playing until high school when Rick Wakeman and Yes would light a fire under my musical interest. I built a synthesizer from a kit and bought a Farfisa Mini-Compact organ. I eventually added a Fender Rhodes electric piano to my collection many years later, but for all intents and purposes, I mostly played on synth-action keyboards. Keyboards with little resistance when you press down on the keys. For hundreds of performances and studio sessions.

Fast forward to 2013 when I upgraded my main performance keyboard to a pretty top-of-the-line Korg Kronos X workstation, a keyboard that replicates all the sounds I need for all my bands, including pianos, electric pianos, organs, synthesizers, sound effects makers, strings, choirs, horns, well, you name it, it does it. I bought the 61-key version of the keyboard, specifically because it weighs much less than the next step up with the piano-action keyboard. But I loved the feel the piano-action provided and the way it sounded with the real piano and electric piano sounds, as well as the orchestral sounds.

So I asked around and my friend John Rossi III offered me one of his older, now unused StudioLogic SL880 Pro 88-key piano action controllers that makes no sound by itself, but is used to control other keyboards via MIDI.

When it arrived, I hooked it up and yes, it is big and heavy, and it makes the Kronos sound great. And then it sat in my studio for two years.

Until Kim invited me to do this monumental tour. To be able to play with the finesse on the songs with piano and have the extra octaves of sound for lots of other sounds I'm using on tour, I quickly started to figure out how to get a piano-action controller into my rig.

The StudioLogic was not my first choice to take on the road. This particular keyboard is well known for being finicky. Mine had a "feels solid, yet feels fragile" quality to it, that until I opened it up and made it tour-worthy by tightening up screws and bolts and taping connectors together, seemed a little risky. After researching options, that all turned out to be too expensive, I settled on taking out what I already owned, and so far, the StudioLogic is working out great. I love the feel and when I'm rehearsing with it at home with headphones on, it sounds like and feels like I'm sitting in front of a real piano. I've actually starting preferring playing the piano-action on the StudioLogic to the synth-action on the Korg.

Two of the centerpiece songs from the Good Graces Close to the Sun album ("Under the Weather" and "Cold in California") feature some gospel-y, country-fied piano, and I'm having to stretch my skills to incorporate as much of that 'spririt' as I can (because I am not a gospel-y/country-fied piano player by any means). So I am playing much more piano, practicing these songs on this piano-action keyboard. It's been several decades since I've played this much piano. I'm loving rediscovering it.

The last time I spent playing this much piano and practicing this much was when I moved to Brooklyn, NY with no job and had a lot of time on my hands. I practiced scales on my Rhodes and composed and recorded songs everyday for months. It was probably a peak in my musical dexterity. I hope to be close by the time we finish this tour.

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