Keith EmersonOn Our Show: November 2, 2011
Birth Year: 1944
Origin: Lancashire, England
About Keith Emerson:
Keyboard legend Keith Emerson has been one of the most important figures to emerge from the thriving UK rock scene of the 1960′s and 70′s. He is a leader in the progressive rock movement, fusing rock ‘n’ roll with a myriad of musical styles, such as classical, jazz and world music. A modern wizard of electronic and acoustic keyboards, most notably the organ and synthesizer, he has set a standard for a unique array of instruments. With both “The Nice” and “Emerson, Lake & Palmer,” Emerson has written and recorded some of rock’s most adventurous music and brought it to the masses with unmatched virtuosity and skillful showmanship.
Born November 2, 1944, in Todmorden, Lancashire, England, Keith Emerson became a piano sensation in his hometown of Worthing, Sussex by the time he was 14 years old. In his late teens, he moved to London, joined the band “V.I.P.’s” and later “Gary Farr and the T-Bones,” backing their mentor T-Bone Walker. Some of his early influences were jazz artists Fats Waller, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Jack McDuff and Big John Patton. Classical composers also became influential to his music, including J.S. Bach, Aaron Copland, Demetri Shostokovich, Bela Bartok and Alberto Ginestera amongst others.
In his twenties, he formed “The Nice” with bassist/vocalist Lee Jackson, drummer Brian Davison and guitarist David O’List, which backed ex-Ike and Tina Turner’s singer P.P. Arnold. The group struck out on its own with a unique blend of classical, blues, jazz and rock. Emerson adopted the Hammond Organ as his instrument of choice during this period and after hearing “Switched on Bach” by Walter Carlos, Emerson purchased and experimented with one of the first modular Moog Synthesizers. He became the first artist to tour with “The Moog” internationally with the help of its inventor, Dr. Robert Moog.
In 1970, Emerson formed the legendary group, “Emerson, Lake & Palmer” (ELP) with bassist/vocalist Greg Lake and drummer Carl Palmer. The trio announced their arrival on the scene by tearing into a furious rock adaptation of Mussorgsky’s classic “Pictures At An Exhibition,” which concluded with a barrage of cannon fire. This sound took the world by storm, and the band released six platinum albums between 1970 and 1977. They performed rock festivals and concert halls–in 1977, ELP toured with a handpicked orchestra, which performed Emerson’s “Piano Concerto No.1″.
In 1980, Emerson issued his first solo album, a Caribbean Island-inspired work called “Honky.” In addition, he recorded and released “The Christmas Album,” displaying his own unique interpretation of many classic Christmas songs along with original seasonal pieces. Soon thereafter, he turned to soundtrack composition, producing several film scores between 1979 and 1989, including the orchestral score for Universal Studios feature release, “Nighthawks,” and cult Italian horror master Dario Argento’s “Inferno.” Emerson also realized a full length Japanese animated film entitled “Harmagedon” in which he received a gold record for the main title theme, “Children of The Light” sung by Rosemary Butler. Emerson also composed the music for Marvel Animation’s cartoon action TV series, “Iron Man” in 1994.
Emerson went on to release the occasional collection of new material appearing on-stage. He even reunited with Nice band mates Brian Davison and Lee Jackson for a show in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2002 (Vivacitas). Along with the classic release of the solo piano, “Emerson Plays Emerson” in the same year he penned an autobiography, “Pictures of an Exhibitionist.” In 2005, he released the compilation “Hammer It Out: The Anthology.” He toured in the USA, UK, Europe and Japan in 2004, 2005 & 2006 with his own “Keith Emerson Band,” along with occasional collaborations with various orchestras in Naples, Italy and China to promote the environmental issues.
Emerson has consistently won the Overall Best Keyboardist award in the annual Keyboard Magazine Readers’ Poll since the magazine debuted in 1975 and holds a seat of honor on their advisory board. He was recently honored at The Smithsonian Institution, along with Dr. Robert Moog, for his pioneering work in electronic music. In 2010, Emerson received a prestigious Frankfurt Music Prize.
Emerson released the album, “Keith Emerson Band Featuring Marc Bonilla” with regular collaborator Marc Bonilla and producer Keith Wechsler in mid 2008 worldwide, and toured Eastern Europe, Baltic, and Japan. Both Nice and ELP have reunited over the years. Always experimenting with different styles, Emerson occasionally sits in with jazz orchestras performing new arrangements of ELP pieces as well as standard jazz pieces.
(All information adapted from artist website. Photo by Mari Kawaguchi.)