45th Post: (45) Pianists/Keyboarders

Lets talk piano history a bit before looking at 45 pianists that have been the best in our world. The piano’s ancestry can be traced back through various instruments such as the clavichord, harpsichord, and dulcimer. But if it were traced back even further, one would find that the piano is a descendant of the monochord. In other words, based on its ancestry the piano can be classified as a string instrument. Although the piano can be classified as a string instrument due to the fact that the sounds come from the vibration of strings, it can also be classified as a percussion instrument because a hammer strikes those strings. In this way it is similar to a dulcimer.
The dulcimer is an instrument that originated in the Middle East and spread to Europe in the 11th century. It features a simple resonating box with strings stretched on top of it. Much like a piano, a small hammer is used to hit the strings, which is why the dulcimer is considered to be a direct ancestor of the piano.

German Scheitholtz Dulcimer – 900 AD

The piano is also considered to be a part of the keyboard family. The history of instruments with keyboards dates far back and originates from the organ, which sends bursts of air through pipes to make sound. Craftsmen improved upon the organ to develop an instrument that was a step closer to the piano, the clavichord.
The clavichord first appeared in the 14th century and became popular during the Renaissance Era. Pressing a key would send a brass rod, called a tangent, to strike the string and cause vibrations that emit sound over a range of four to five octaves.

Clavichord – 14th century
Photo credit: Christian Kintz

Created in Italy in around 1500, the harpsichord later spread to France, Germany, Flanders, and Great Britain. When a key is pressed, a plectrum attached to a long strip of wood called a jack plucks the string to make music.
This system of strings and soundboard, and the overall structure of the instrument resemble those that can be found in a piano.

Harpsichord -1500

The piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) of Italy.

Bartolomeo Cristofori

Cristofori was unsatisfied by the lack of control that musicians had over the volume level of the harpsichord. He is credited for switching out the plucking mechanism with a hammer to create the modern piano in around the year 1700.
The instrument was actually first named “clavicembalo col piano e forte” (literally, a harpsichord that can play soft and loud noises). This was shortened to the now common name, “piano.”

Bartolomeo Cristofori
Forte Piano – 1700
Photo credit: metmuseum

Pianists and keyboard players are the heart and soul of a band…among history’s best…

Photo credit: skoove.com

Here are our 45 world’s best pianists and keyboard player (individual stories follow):

Oleg Akkuratov (blind), Dmitri Alexeev, Alessio Bax, Ricardo Castro, Frederico Colli, Michael Dalbeuto, Keith Emerson (Lake & Palmer band), Helene Grimaud, Sofya Gulyak, Tieran Hamasyan, Marc-Andre Hamelin, Jan Hammer, Anna Han, Herbie Hancock, Ian Hobson, Ilya Itin, Ethan Iverson, Sunwook Kim, Jon Kimura-Parker, Lang Lang, Jon Lord (Deep Purple band), Louis Lorte, Radu Lupu, Kate Liu, Eric Lu, Brad Mehloau, Thelonious Monk, Rafael Orozco, Vladimir Ovchinnikov, Ian Pace, Murray Perahia, Oscar Peterson, Artur Pizarro, Michael Roll, Jordan Rudness, Dimitris Sgourus, Anntti Siirala, Art Tatum, Anna Tsybuleva, Rick Wakeman (Yes band), Yuta Wang, Roger Williams, Matthew Whitaker (blind), Bernie Worrell, Richard Wright (Pink Floyd band).

Roger Williams
Photo credit: rogerwilliamsmusic.com

Roger Williams (born Louis Jacob Weertz, October 1, 1924 – October 8, 2011) was an American popular music pianist. Described by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the most popular instrumentalists of the mid-20th century”, and “the rare instrumental pop artist to strike a lasting commercial chord,” Williams had 22 hit singles – including the chart-topping “Autumn Leaves” in 1955 (https://youtu.be/88Js16yeHl4) (RQ 10) and “Born Free” in 1966 (https://youtu.be/npDeOGxwgoQ) (RQ 10) and another 38 hit albums between 1955 and 1972.

Anna Han and Kate Liu

Here are two younger pianists from the U.S.A.: Anna Han and Kate Liu. They are two competitors vying to win the 20th Leeds contest held every three years. The Leeds is one of the world’s foremost music competitions. Since the first competition in 1963, it has attracted the world’s finest young pianists, drawn by the opportunities offered by the outstanding prize package, the challenge of demanding repertoire, a stellar jury – and a warm welcome from the City of Leeds.

In April of this year, there are just over 60 pianists competing from the following countries: Armenia (1), Austria (1), Belgium (1), Bulgaria (1), Canada (2), China (9), Croatia (1), Denmark (1), France (4), Germany (2), Iran (1), Israel (1), Italy (3), Japan (5), Kazakhstan (1), Lithuania (1), Morocco (1), Peru (1), Poland (2), Romania (1), Russia (4), Slovenia (1), South Korea (5), Tajikistan (1), Turkey (1), United Kingdom (4), Ukraine (3) and the USA (3).

Anna Han (24 years old) The Washington Post says Anna Han is as “prodigiously gifted… a display of imagination, taste and pianistic firepower far beyond her years,” Anna strives to deliver heartfelt performances through a variety of classical piano repertoire. She has given solo, concerto, and chamber performances in such venues as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Alice Tully Hall, the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., The Kosciuszko Foundation, SubCulture New York, New World Center in Miami, the Lied Center of Kansas, Canisius College, Scottsdale Center for the Arts, and the Warsaw Philharmonic Chamber Hall in Poland. She has soloed with the Chandler Symphony Orchestra, the Downtown Sinfonietta (in White Plains, New York), the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, the Kansas Sinfonietta, Music Academy of the West Festival Orchestra, the MusicaNova Symphony Orchestra, the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, the West Valley Symphony, and the Verde Valley Sinfonietta. An example of her work: Bach: French suite No.2 in C minor (https://youtu.be/7XXwveIs1ns) RQ 8.

Han is currently an emerging artist resident at the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance, where she has performed nearly five hours of Beethoven’s solo and chamber music in live, in-person concerts since October as part of their Beethoven anniversary celebration. She looks forward to three more concerts before the end of the season in December. Highlights of the previous year included solo recitals at the Bohemian National Hall, Fairfield University’s Quick Center for the Arts, Rockefeller University’s Caspary Auditorium, and the Salmagundi Club; appearances at the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music School and Festival and Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival Winter Workshop; and concerto performances with the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra and West Valley Symphony Orchestra. She was the third prize winner of the 2019 Hilton Head International Piano Competition, as well a semi-finalist at the 2019 China International Music Competition. She was also awarded a 2019 Salon de Virtuosi Career Grant.

An avid chamber musician, Anna spent three summers at the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music School and Festival, four winters at Juilliard ChamberFest, and two winters at the Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival. She is a founding member of the Munin Piano Trio, along with violinist Rebecca Benjamin and cellist Frankie Carr. Additionally, she has done a broad exploration of ensembles, such as piano quartet, piano quintet, and clarinet trio, performing in venues from Alice Tully Hall to the New York Bar Association to Brayton Hall in the Caribbean Island of Turks and Caicos. A passionate advocate for the traditional masterpieces that have enchanted audiences for centuries, she has also explored new avenues of musical expression with an array of collaborators. Recently, she has presented the surprising sound palette of John Corigliano’s Chiaroscuro (1997) for two pianos tuned a quarter tone apart; Charles Wuorinen’s Metagong (2008) for two pianos and two percussion; a series of original arrangements of works for organ and piano duo in collaboration with organist Daniel Ficarri; Jerome Begin’s Strange Gardens (2015) for 2 pianos, 2 bass clarinets, 2 percussion, and vocoder; and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69 as a fortepianist. She commissioned Malaysian composer Tengku Irfan [What’s Up, Kid? (2018)], expanding the literature available for clarinet, cello, and piano trio.

Born in Mesa, Arizona, Anna began her musical journey in a class of four year olds at the East Valley Yamaha Music School. Classes in improvisation, ear training, composition, and other general musical skills at Yamaha would continue to supplement her training in early years. Anna started taking private piano lessons at age five with Mr. Fei Xu at New Century Conservatory in Chandler, Arizona. Over the following 13 years, he trained and inspired her to rapidly and thoughtfully learn demanding repertoire, developing a technique that undergirded her growing career at a young age. When she was eleven, she became the national first place winner of the Baldwin Junior Piano division of the 2007 Music Teachers National Association Competition, having barely made the age cutoff. In the same year, she made her orchestra debut with the Chandler Symphony Orchestra, playing Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

In the following years, Anna swept prizes at numerous international piano competitions, including the New York International Piano Competition, New Orleans International Piano Competition for Young Artists, the Gina Bachauer International Junior Piano Competition, the Missouri Southern International Piano Competition, and the International Institute for Young Musicians (IIYM) International Piano Competition, where she remains the only person in its 15-year history to have won first prize twice. She was named a Silver Award Winner by the National YoungArts Foundation in 2013, and a United States Presidential Scholar in the Arts in 2014. Her performances of Chopin earned her recognition as a scholarship recipient from the National Chopin Foundation of the United States and as a semi-finalist at the Ninth National Chopin Piano Competition of the United States.

Anna received her Bachelor and Masters degrees at The Juilliard School under the tutelage of Robert McDonald, where she developed much of her interest in both chamber music and teaching. As a sophomore, she became the winner of the 2016 Juilliard Gina Bachauer Piano Competition, and received the Kovner Fellowship the following year. She received the William Schuman Prize for outstanding achievement and leadership in music upon graduation in 2020.

Kate Liu (26 years old)

Kate was born on May 23,1994. She is from Winnetka, Illinois and has been playing the piano since she was 4 years old.

Liu has gained international acclaim after winning the Bronze Medal and Best Mazurka Prize at the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Poland. She was also awarded the audience favorite prize voted by the Polish public on the Polish National Radio.

As a soloist, Kate has performed in many important venues, such as the Seoul Arts Center, Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre, Carnegie’s Weill Hall, Severance Hall in Cleveland, La Maison Symphonique de Montréal, Warsaw National Philharmonic, Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Shanghai Concert Hall, Osaka Symphony Hall, Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra Hall, Phillip’s Collection, and others. She has collaborated with orchestras including the Cleveland Orchestra, Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, Polish Radio Orchestra, Poznan Philharmonic, Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra, Daegu Symphony Orchestra, Rochester Philharmonic, Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra, and Evanston Symphony Orchestra. Her debut album of works by Chopin was released on the Fryderyk Chopin Institute label in 2016. An example of her work: Beethoven: Sonata No. 31 Op. 110. (https://youtu.be/30QpoqPRQH8) RQ 9.

Born in Singapore, Kate began playing the piano when she was four years old and moved to the United States when she was eight. Early on in her career, she won 1st Prizes at the Third Asia-Pacific International Chopin Competition and the New York International Piano Competition. She received a Bachelor’s degree from the Curtis Institute of Music and is currently pursuing graduate studies at The Juilliard School with Robert McDonald and Yoheved Kaplinsky. Her previous private studies were at the Music Institute of Chicago with Alan Chow, Micah Yui and Emilio del Rosario.

Past LEED winners & samples of their work:

2018 (USA) Lu, Eric (1997-) https://youtu.be/qeJBEbRn1YA Préludes, Op. 28: No. 15 in D-Flat Major, “Raindrop.”

2015 (Ukraine) Tsybeleva, Anna (1990-). https://youtu.be/drKU_nOxr5c Fantasien, Op. 116: III. Capriccio.

2012 (Italy) Colli, Federico (1988-) Https://youtu.be/UX8xBU-aPbQ Scarlatti: 4 Sonatas.

2009 (Russia) Gulyak, Sofya (1979-) https://youtu.be/3O_R2EBs1_g Maurice Ravel: “La Valse” Fazielli Concert Hall.

2006 (South Korea) Kim, Sunwook (1988-). https://youtu.be/j3iIlvYn4WQ. Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15: II. Adagio.

2003 (Finland) Siirala, Antti (1979-). https://youtu.be/f0nlJXooIVc. Godowsky: Passacaglia in B Minor.

2000 (Italy) Bax, Alessio (1977-) https://youtu.be/KDeIgB3Cr20 Rachmaninoff: Prelude in C-sharp minor, Op.3, No.2 

1996 (Russia) Itin, Ilya. (1967-) https://youtu.be/1jVUzSWaPTU F. CHOPIN NOCTURNE Op. 27 No. 2 D Flat Major 

1993 (Brazil) Castro, Ricardo (1964-) https://youtu.be/5iM_rTVtj6k Beethoven 5 with Simon Rattle 

1990 (Portugal) Pizarro, Artur (1968-) https://youtu.be/qFZxY5ZBQ18 Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor Op. 30 

1987 (Russia) Ovchinnikov, Vladimir (1958-) https://youtu.be/35fYr7bwhpw Liszt Mephisto Waltz No 1 

1984 (Canada) Parker, Jon Kimura (1959-) https://youtu.be/iRXNtzMR9ts Rachmaninoff: Prelude Op. 23, No. 5 

1981 (UK) Hobson, Ian (1952-) https://youtu.be/2hB1lQMau7Q Prokofiev Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 

1978 (France) Dalbeuto, Michael (1955-) https://youtu.be/2JWoJCv9WvU Fauré: Nocturne n°6 

1975 (Russia) Alexeev, Dmitri (1947-) https://youtu.be/GO1ngWJqZAU Schumann Arabeske & Piano Sonata no. 1 

1972 (USA) Perahia, Murray. (1947-) https://youtu.be/352qLWqKN-U Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata 3rd Movement

1969 (Romania) Lupu, Radu. (1945-) https://youtu.be/BatjiA6VPWI Live in Bologna 2017 

1966 (Spain) Orozco, Rafael. (1946-1996). https://youtu.be/TbKRRTHwM6M. Chopin Etude No. 1 Op. 10.

1963 (UK) Roll, Michael. (1946-) https://youtu.be/aDEv28dnt7Q Stravinsky Concerto (3rd movt.)

Oleg Akkuratov
Photo credit: novat.nsk.ru

Oleg Borisovich Akkuratov is a Russian pianist, jazz improviser and singer who suffers from amaurosis – complete blindness. He is a virtuoso performer of jazz and classical works and a laureate of the Prize of the President of the Russian Federation for young cultural workers (2019). Recently (February 17, 2021), he played and sang “Baby I Love You” during his The Voice audition (https://youtu.be/mQx5APB-yzY) (RQ 10).

Akkuratov (32 years old) was born on October 21, 1989, in the city of Yeisk, Krasnodar Territory. Blind from birth, at the age of four, the boy began to show extraordinary musical abilities, playing the melodies he heard on the piano. The teachers of the Yeisk School of Music immediately took the boy to the 1st grade. And two years later he entered a specialized music school for blind and visually impaired children in the city of Armavir, Krasnodar Territory. Later, in parallel with his studies at school, Oleg studied at the Moscow State College of Music of Variety and Jazz Art, in the class of teacher Mikhail Okun. Akkuratov entered the pop and jazz department of the Institute of Music of the Moscow University of Culture and Art after graduating from the College of Music in 2008. In 2015, Akkuratov graduated with honors from the Rostov State Conservatory in 2017 – Postgraduate studies in chamber music. During his studies, Akkuratov took part in concerts and became a laureate of various music competitions, including international ones. Previously, he lived in the village of Morevka near Yeisk. He worked as a soloist of the Russian Opera Theater, artistic director and soloist of the Eisk Jazz Orchestra MICH-Band (piano).

Akkuratov took part in a concert with the opera singer Montserrat Caballe, performed with Evelyn Glennie. He took part in the world premiere of the international charitable action “Thousands of Cities of the World”, performed at the residence of the Pope as the UNESCO World Consolidated Choir.

Oleg plays jazz and classical pieces. He sings in many languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and others. Lyudmila Gurchenko dedicated her debut directorial work to Akkuratov – the film “Colorful Twilight” shot in 2009. November 24, 2009, was the hero of Andrey Malakhov program “Let them talk”.

In 2013, Oleg Akkuratov began to work closely with People’s Artist of Russia Igor Butman. As a member of the Igor Butman Quartet and the Moscow Jazz Orchestra, Akkuratov toured Latvia, Israel, the Netherlands, Italy, India, the USA and Canada and many other countries.

In 2013, Oleg Akkuratov performed at the Igor Butman festival “Triumph of Jazz”. In May of the same year, Akkuratov, along with double bass player Keith Davis, drummer Mark Whitfield and saxophonist Francesco Kafiso, took part in Igor Butman’s international project “The Future of Jazz” and the projects “Chereshnevy Les” in Moscow, “Aquajazz. Sochi Jazz Festival” in Sochi.

In March 2014, his performance completed the closing ceremony of the XI Paralympic Games in Sochi. In April 2015, at the invitation of Winton Marsalis, Akkuratov performed at the Rose Hall of New York’s Lincoln Center with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. On February 1, 2017, in the Svetlanov Hall of the Moscow International House of Music, Akkuratov’s first big solo concert with Igor Butman’s participation took place. In October of the same year, Akkuratov, as part of his own trio, performed for several thousand guests of the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students in Sochi.

In 2018, Oleg took part in the Gala Concert of the International Day of Jazz organized by UNESCO, was awarded the Moscow Mayor’s Prize, and also took second place at the prestigious Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition, held in the homeland of jazz, in the USA.

Art Tatum (1909-1956)
Photo credit: philsternarchieves.com

Saxophonist Benny Green wrote that Tatum was the only jazz musician to “attempt to conceive a style based upon all styles, to master the mannerisms of all schools, and then synthesize those into something personal.” Tatum was able to transform the styles of preceding jazz piano through virtuosity: where other pianists had employed repetitive rhythmic patterns and relatively simple decoration, he created “harmonic sweeps of colour unpredictable and ever-changing shifts of rhythm. Musicologist Lewis Porter identified three aspects of Tatum’s playing that a casual listener might miss: the dissonance in his chords; his advanced use of substitute chord progressions; and his occasional use of bitonality (playing in two keys at the same time). He recorded commercially from 1932 until near his death. He recorded nearly 400 titles, if airchecks and informal, private recordings. An example of one of his recordings: “The Best of Art Tatum” (https://youtu.be/IZERfh28Od0) (RQ 10).

Thelonious Monk (1917-1982)
Photo credit: sfjazz.org

Thelonious Sphere Monk was an American jazz pianist and composer. He had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire. Monk is the second-most-recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington. Monk’s compositions and improvisations feature dissonances and angular melodic twists and are consistent with his unorthodox approach to the piano, which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of switched key releases, silences, and hesitations. An example of one of his many works is: “Monk’s Dream” (https://youtu.be/icFRHJ9VZaw) (RQ 10+).

Herbie Hancock (1940-)
Photo credit: masterclass.com

Herbert Jeffrey Hancock is an American pianist, keyboardist, bandleader, composer, and actor. Hancock started his career with Donald Bryd. He shortly thereafter joined the Mikes Davis Quintet, where he helped to redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section and was one of the primary architects of the post-bop sound. In the 1970s, Hancock experimented with jazz fusion, funk and electro styles. One of his greatest recordings: “Just Around the Corner.” (https://youtu.be/ogKDBbi2thA). (RQ 10+).

Oscar Peterson (1925-2007)
Photo credit: jazziz.com – Lean Crowley

Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, was a Canadian jazz pianist, virtuoso and composer. He was called the “Maharaja of the keyboard” by Duke Ellington, simply “O.P.” by his friends, and informally in the jazz community as “the King of inside swing.” He released over 200 recordings, won eight Grammy Awards, and received numerous other awards and honours. He is considered one of the greatest jazz pianists, and played thousands of concerts worldwide in a career lasting more than 60 years. “If You Could See Me Now” (https://youtu.be/14P5rwe7ark) (RQ 10) is an excellent example of one if his best recordings.

Today’s best on the keyboard

Matthew Whitaker (blind & only 19 years old!)
Photo credit: dlmediamusic.com

Matthew Whitaker (born April 3, 2001) is an American jazz pianist. Blind since birth, he has performed at venues including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center and the Apollo Theater, where, at 10, he was the opening performer for Stevie Wonder induction into the Apollo Theater’s Hall of Fame. Whitaker is the subject of Thrive, a 13-minute documentary about “the prodigious talent and irrepressible spirit of a musically precocious 12-year-old blind boy.”

On March 6, 2017, he released his first album, Outta the Box. Other musicians on the album include Christian McBride, Dave Stryker, Will Calhoun, Sammy Figueroa, Melissa Walker, and James Carter. In April 2017, Whitaker performed on the Ellen Degeneres Show and competed on Fox’s Showtime at the Apollo, winning first place. Whitaker has toured Europe, the Middle East and Asia. An example of one of his recordings: “Live Session for Jazz FM” (https://youtu.be/Ir6zixUUo7g) (RQ 10).

Another Eight Famous Keyboard Players:

From the UK:

Jon Lord
Photo credit: last.fm

John Douglas Lord (9 June 1941 – 16 July 2012) was an English orchestral and rock composer, pianist, and Hammond organ player known for his pioneering work in fusing rock with classical or baroque forms, especially with Deep Purple. In 1968, Lord co-founded Deep Purple, a hard rock band of which he was regarded as the leader until 1970. Together with the other members, he collaborated on most of his band’s most popular songs. One of his best solos was “Lazy” (https://youtu.be/ANSUu5GwWOY) (RQ 10).

Rick Wakeman
Photo credit: The Music Aficionado

Richard Christopher Wakeman (born 18 May 1949) is an English keyboardist, songwriter, producer, television and radio presenter, actor and author. He is best known for being in the progressive rock band Yes across five tenures between 1971 and 2004 and for his solo albums released in the 1970s. His solo (unnamed) was simply unbelievable: (https://youtu.be/WV-gddts3I0) (RQ9).

Richard Wright
Photo credit: redbrick

Richard William Wright (28 July 1943 – 15 September 2008) was an English musician who was a co-founder, keyboardist, and vocalist in the progressive rock band Pink Floyd, performing on all but one of their albums and playing on all of their tours. One of his best solos was “Fat Old Son” (https://youtu.be/xOx03KOi4W4) (RQ 8).

Keith Emerson
Photo credit: mu:zines

Keith Noel Emerson (2 November 1944 – 11 March 2016) was an English keyboardist, songwriter, and composer. He played keyboards in a number of bands before finding his first commercial success with the Nice in the late 1960s. He became internationally famous for his work with the Nice, which included writing rock arrangements of classical music. After leaving the Nice in 1970, he was a founding member of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, one of the early progressive rock super groups. Emerson, Lake & Palmer were commercially successful through much of the 1970s, becoming one of the best-known progressive rock groups of the era. Emerson wrote and arranged much of ELP’s music on albums such as Targus (1971) and Brain Salad Surgery (1973), combining his own original compositions with classical or traditional pieces adapted into a rock format. One of his greatest solos was “Fanfare of the Common Man” (https://youtu.be/yRbiYJYVWH8) (RQ 8).

From Prague, Czechoslovakia:

Jan Hammer
Photo credit: soundonsound

Jan Hammer (born 17 April 1948) is a Czech-American musician, composer and record producer. He first gained his most visible audience while playing keyboards with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early 1970s, as well as his film scores for television and film including “Miami Vice Theme” and “Crocket’s Theme” (https://youtu.be/TRCQmNMOqUY) (RQ 10), from the 1980s television program, Miami Vice. He has continued to work as both a musical performer and producer, expanding to producing film later in his career.

From the United States:

Jordan Rudess
Photo credit: sonicperspectives

Jordan Rudess (born Jordan Charles Rudes; November 4, 1956) is an American keyboardist and composer best known as a member of the progressive metal bands Dream Theater and the super group Liquid Tension Experiment. An example of his work was at “Live At Budokan” (https://youtu.be/_klj5ji8NVo) (RQ 9).

Bernie Worrell
Photo credit: nytimes.com

George Bernard Worrell, Jr. (April 19, 1944 – June 24, 2016) was an American keyboardist and record producer best known as a founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic and for his work with Talking Heads. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, inducted in 1997 with fifteen other members of Parliament-Funkadelic. Worrell was described by Jon Pareles of The New York Times as “the kind of sideman who is as influential as some bandleaders.” Great example of his work is when he utilizes a Moog Sub Phatty: (https://youtu.be/YX4b7gnb7bs) (RQ 10).

by Steinway & Sons – $2,400,000

Classical Piano Players – Best in our World

Louis Lortie (from Canada)
Photo credit: victoriarowsell.co.uk

Louis Lortie, (born 27 April 1959) is a Canadian pianist. An international soloist, with over 45 recordings on the Chandos Records label, Lortie is particularly known for his interpretations of Ravel, Chopin and Beethoven. Lortie won First Prize in the Rerruccio Busoni International Piano Competition in 1984. In the same year, he won the fourth place prize at the Leeds Competition. He was named an Officer of the Order of Canada, and was made a Knight of the National Order of Quebec as well as receiving an honorary doctorate from Universite Laval. An example of his work: Beethoven’s “Piano Sonata No17 in D minor.” (https://youtu.be/4gMBXfRs43M) (RQ 10).

Tieran Hamasyan (from Armenia)
Photo credit: visitgyumri.com

Tigran Hamasyan (born July 17, 1987) is an Armenian jazz pianist. He plays mostly original compositions, which are strongly influenced by the Armenian folk tradition, often using its scales and modalities. In addition to Tigran’s folk influence, he is influenced by American jazz traditions and to some extent, as on his album Red Hail, by progressive rock. His solo album A Fable is most strongly influenced by Armenian folk music. Even on his most overt jazz compositions and renditions of well-known jazz pieces, his improvisations often contain embellishments based on scales from Middle Eastern/South Western Asian traditions. An example of his work: “New Maps” (https://youtu.be/mo7miuAHBbo) (RQ 10+).

Yuja Wang (from China)
Photo credit: palau.musica.cat

Yuja Wang (born February 10, 1987) is a Chinese classical pianist. She was born in Beijing, began studying piano there at age six, and went on to study at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. By the age of 21, she was already an internationally recognized concert pianist, giving recitals around the world. She has a recording contract with Deutsche Gramophone. In an interview with the Los Angeles, she said: “For me, playing music is about transporting to another way of life, another way of being. An actress does that.” She lives in New York City. An example of her work: “Shubert/Liszt, etc.” (https://youtu.be/6Ypx9fH-OHk) (RQ 8).

Brad Mehldau (from the USA)
Photo credit: discogs.com

Bradford Alexander Mehldau (born August 23, 1970) is an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger. Aspects of pop, rock, and classical music, including German Romanticism, have been absorbed into Mehldau’s writing and playing. Through his use of some traditional elements of jazz without being restricted by them, simultaneous playing of different melodies in separate hands, and incorporation of pop and rock pieces, Mehldau has influenced musicians in and beyond jazz in their approaches to writing, playing, and choice of repertoire. Mehldau’s performances often employ unusual rhythmic meters; for example, he plays his arrangement of “All Things You Are” on Art of the Trio 4 in 7/4 time, and “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” on Art of the Trio 1 in 5/4. An example of one of his works: “Empty Concertgebouw Sessions” (https://youtu.be/5NTmoL_vogQ) (RQ 10).

Ethan Iverson (from the USA)
Photo credit: musicsprings.wordpress.com

Ethan Iverson (born February 11, 1973) is a pianist, composer, and critic was best known for his work in the avant-garde jazz trio The Bad Plus with bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King. In 2017, the Bad Plus announced that Iverson would be leaving the Bad Plus and that Orrin Evans would replace him. In the autumn of 2019 on the ECM label Iverson, with trumpeter Tom Harrell, released quartet album Common Practice recorded at the historic New York jazz club the Village Vanguard. He currently studies with John Bloomfield and serves on the faculty at New England Conservatory. An example of his work: “Thrift Store” (https://youtu.be/TDbAQ56QIpk) (RQ 10+).

Helene Grimaud (from France)
Photo credit: The SanDiego Story

Hélène Grimaud (born 7 November 1969) is a French classical pianist and the founder of the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York. In 1987, she launched her professional career with a solo recital in Paris and in 1988 she made her debut with the Orchestre de Paris under Daniel Barenboim. Grimaud made her debut with the New York Philharmonic, under Kurt Masur, in 1999, and her Carnegie Hall debut, playing the Schumann concerto, in 2002. She performed repeatedly at the BBC Proms, including at the Last Night of the BBC Proms in London in September 2008, playing the piano part of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia. Critics have praised Grimaud’s willingness to reinterpret works and take chances, and compared her to Glenn Gould. An example of her works: “Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 1.” (https://youtu.be/2ji8cTeL6OY) (RQ 10).

There are 100s of other exceptionally talented pianists that could be mentioned, but I will include four more here:

Marc-Andre Hamelin
Photo credit: ninalarge.com

Marc-Andre Hamelin. (born September 5, 1961), is a Canadian virtuoso pianist and composer. He is recognized worldwide for the originality and technical proficiency of his performances of the classic repertoire. He has received 11 Grammy Award nominations. An example of his works: “Variations on a Theme by Paganini” (https://youtu.be/3N1przkk5tA). (RQ 9).

Lang Lang
Photo credit: well-tempered ear

Lang Lang. (born 14 June 1982) is a Chinese concert pianist who has performed with leading orchestras in China, the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. Active since the 1990s, he was the first Chinese pianist to be engaged by the Berlin Philharmonic and Vienna Philharmonic orchestras. An example of his works: “Fur Elise.” (https://youtu.be/s71I_EWJk7I) (RQ 10).

Dimitris Sgouros
Photo credit: crunchbase

Dimitris Sgouros. (Born 30 August 1969) is a Greek classical pianist. Widely acclaimed for his prodigious musical talent as a boy. He graduated from Royal Academy of Music in London with the highest marks the institution had ever awarded. Besides his musical talents, Sgouros has undertaken postgraduate studies in mathematics at the University of Oxford. Sgouros is one of the world’s leading concert pianists. One of his works: “Liszt – Etudes d’exècution transcendante Nos. 1 & 2” (https://youtu.be/9XqzDwuDaiQ) (RQ 10+).

Ian Pace
Photo credit: Alchetron

Ian Pace. (born in 1968) is a British pianist. Pace studied at Chetham’s School of Music. The Queen’s College, Oxford and the Juilliard School in NewYork. His main teacher was the Hungarian pianist Gyorgy Sandor. He is particularly well known for playing music of the 20th and 21st centuries, especially contemporary British, French, German and Italian music. Also, as a musicologist, his areas of speciality are 19th-century performance practice, music and society, the work of Theodor Adorno, and post-1945 modernism. Pace is also known for his leftist views on music and musicology and his advocacy of modernist aesthetics. An example of his works: “Maxim Kolomiiets – Rejection.” (https://youtu.be/pTR-kaQFmFg) (RQ 8).