Six of the Best New Keyboard Artists Across Multiple Genres
a question we get all the time: What up-and-coming artists are inspiring the
next generation of players and putting keyboards and electronic instruments
front and center? The following artists span a multitude of musical styles, and
while they may not have started their careers only yesterday, they’re just
beginning to get the recognition they deserve outside of deep-muso circles.
They have one other thing in common, too: We’ve seen them all perform live, and
were blown away in every case.
first encounter with Oakland, California’s Kev Choice was at revered jazz club
Yoshi’s, where he performed his original hip-hop opera “The Chosen One” with
live rhythm, string, and horn sections. His right hand played voicings and
solos worthy of Chick Corea, his left hand coaxed Zawinul-like synth textures
from the Roland Juno-G atop the piano, and his voice spoke poetry about a
possibly messianic child born to struggling musicians. We managed to scrape our
jaws off the floor by last call. Whether you’re a hip-hop fan or not so much,
Kev Choice will change everything you think you know about the genre.
was your early music education like?
had a fascination with piano from a very early age but didn’t begin formal
training until age 11 at Westlake Junior High. I took piano class as an
elective, in seventh grade, which was offered in Oakland public schools at
the time. After four months, I did my first recital playing Muzio Clemente’s “Sonatina.”
After my first year, I was accepted into UC Berkeley’s Young Musicians Program.
came first: Wanting to be a pianist, or wanting to be a hip-hop M.C.?
mother was an avid music fan, and kept a collection of records in the living
room that I remember listening to as early as eight years old. She had
everything from Sugar Hill Records, Prince, the Whispers, Michael Jackson,
Maze, and more classic soul. My uncle and cousin were aspiring rappers and DJs,
so they had all the latest hip-hop records at the time from EPMD, Rakim, Big
Daddy Kane, and so on. This was before
I started playing piano. As far as playing piano and being an M.C., it kind of
all happened simultaneously, because as I was beginning to write rhymes, I
was also beginning to play, and had a little keyboard I use to record little
beats to rap over.
were your big influences at school? At
Xavier University in New Orleans, where I got my bachelor’s, it was Professor
James Oakes, a concert pianist who specialized in African-American classical
composers. The first thing my jazz teacher Herman Lebeaux did was to give me a
Bud Powell record and say, “Go woodshed to this.” Getting my master’s degree at
University of Southern Illinois, Dr. Willard Delphin was a huge influence.
was the importance of formal education versus everything but?
were both integral. As an undergrad, I was doing classical piano competitions
and freestyle rap battles around New
Orleans. From the beginning I took to non-formal ways of playing music, but I’d
apply my knowledge of theory to enhance whatever I was doing as a hip-hop
producer or M.C. After I got my degrees and started playing in hip-hop,
R&B, and soul bands, most of the music wasn’t written down, so it developed
my ear greatly to have to learn from
keyboards are in your rig right now?
Yamaha Motif for its extreme versatility and quality keyboard sounds. It has
wide array of Rhodes, nice pianos, and cool synths and strings. I also have a
Roland Juno-G, which I love for the synths, basses, and cool pads. Recently, I
got a Roland JX-8P, which has great synth strings and brass that I use to pad
and add textures while I solo.
2001, a 15-year-old Rachelle Lynn Gislason won a contest, allowing her to open
for Nelly Furtado in their shared hometown of Victoria, British Columbia. The
calibre of her performance won her a standing ovation—the first of a train of
accomplishments that’s steadily been gathering steam. Her vocal range and
keyboard chops are matched only by the stylistic diversity of her original
album, Green Lights.
How would you describe your sound?
Pop, soul, alternative rock. I’m big into
melody, probably because of my jazz and classical background, and I’ve been
told my music sounds like movie music. That makes sense, since I have a passion
for film scores and would love to write them one day.
You come from a very musical family. Describe their
influence on you.
My dad is a brilliant electric guitarist
and multi-instrumentalist; he toured with Bryan Adams in the band Sweeney Todd.
He taught me how to rock out on the piano at a very early age, and more
recently, drummed on my whole
record. By the time I was eight, I was hammering out songs such as “Taking It to
the Streets” by the Doobie Brothers. My pipes are from my mom, who’s a
phenomenal vocalist. When I was just six weeks old, she flew to L.A. with me to
sing on the show Star Search. She’s
also worked with David Foster. It’s
pretty fantastic to have parents who are just as passionate about music as I
What formal training is in your background?
started learning piano at age four, and had private lessons through age 17. I
studied classical but dominantly jazz for about six of those years. My favorite
piano teacher was George Essihos, who introduced me to jazz voicings and improvisation.
He’d tell me, “There’s no such thing as a bad note—only better ones!”
are your top musical heroes?
In R&B, Stevie Wonder. For rock, Led Zepplin. From my pop songwriter
perspective, Alanis Morissette, Chantal Kreviazuk, and Sarah McLachlan. For
jazz, Bill Evans.
keyboards are in your rig now, and why did you choose them?
I grew up with a Yamaha G2 baby grand, so having a rich and dynamic acoustic
piano sound is paramount. I had a Yamaha S80, then an S90, and loved their
balance of piano and synth. For a track called “Innocence,” I used the S80
arpeggiator on organ along with one of its awesome string patches. I’ve been
using the Motif ES8 for the last few years.
I’ve been collaborating
with some great songwriters in Nashville. Two writing teams in particular are Daryl
and Lee Ann Burgess, and Jon and Sally Tiven. I’ve been invited onboard a new publishing company,
The Committee, founded by Morris Hayes [keyboardist and musical director for
Prince] and Nicholas O’Toole [film composer and Open Labs expert] as a songwriter.
first discovered Wes Bailey when his band, Moon Taxi, played a show in San
Francisco. Though his solos were as blazing as the best jam-band keyboardists
we know of, his playing also had a keen sense of phrasing, melodic statement,
and multi-keyboarding that suggested he was a much deeper musician than your
average modal-and-blues-scale jammer. Talking to him confirmed our suspicions
How do you
describe your sound?
Taxi is a melting pot. We used to be a jam band, but now our music is
considered by many to be progressive indie rock. When we play live, I’m
constantly trying to widen our sonic landscape. I’m usually playing three sounds
on every song: big poly synths, screeching organ, and frenzied arpeggios all at
What formal training have you had?
took lessons from age nine to 21, but faked my way through most of it. I’d be
assigned a Mozart piece but would always do my own interpretation. It fooled my
mom but not my teacher; fortunately he encouraged that kind of freedom. I’ve
been a jazz theory nut since high school, though, and you can’t fake
Who are your musical heroes?
really started to care about the music my teacher assigned when we got into Gershwin
and Scott Joplin. The groove so many of their tunes had was ultimately my segue
into jazz and funk. When I got into playing in bands, I became obsessed with [guitarist]
Trey Anastasio of Phish. He’s been my main influence in composition and soloing
was your earliest memory of synth, B-3, or a sound beyond acoustic piano?
saw the musical Cats when I was eight,
and was entranced with all the crazy synth sounds. That show came out in the
early ‘80s and you can hear them from the first note of the overture. I’ll also
never forget the first time I saw a DVD of John Medeski playing B-3 organ. My first synth was a Yamaha S90—great
What’s in your
love the piano sound on my Yamaha S90ES. The Nord Electro 2 is my favorite organ
sound, and its Clav, Wurly, and Rhodes sounds are fantastic as well. Then
there’s the MicroKorg, which has all my favorite vintage synth sounds all in
one tiny keyboard.
This year has been
incredible so far. We released our album in February and have played some great
festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza since. We’re currently putting
together the songs for what will become our next record.
ELECTRONIC DANCE MUSC
Matt Lange’s achievements
in electronic music are the envy of peers and veterans alike. Graduate from
Berklee’s Music Synthesis program? For starters. Co-program BT’s seminal electronic
album, “These Hopeful Machines”? Check. Release numerous dance hits on the
prestigious imprint Anjunadeep? Done. Develop sample libraries for top-notch
companies like Sample Magic and WaveAlchemy? No sweat. Run his own artist label
on Beatport and iTunes? Yep—and all by age 26.
How did you get started in
My parents had me take
piano lessons when I was five, though I got bored with them at the time and
just wanted to be outside playing. When I was eight I joined the Grace Church
Boys Choir in New York City, and was avidly involved for the following six years
until my voice changed. That lead to playing guitar in a hardcore punk/metal
band, and as we grew apart musically I felt the need to teach myself how to record
so that essentially I didn’t need a band anymore.
What were your years like at Berklee?
Berklee was an amazing
place to be as an aspiring producer. I always assumed I’d be in the Music
Production and Engineering program, but soon found Music Synthesis, which
combined elements of MP&E with sound design and music for picture. Two
professors in particular really pushed me: Dr. Richard Boulanger and Dr. Jeff
Baust. Dr. B [Boulanger], the driving force behind Max/MSP and CSound at
Berklee, really honed me in on composition and arrangement, where Jeff pushed
me on the technical front. Dr. B’s recommendation eventually led to my working
How did you become an EDM artist?
Working with BT opened a
lot of doors in the EDM [electronic dance music] scene, so I thought that if I
played by “their rules” for a couple of years, then later I could do what I
really wanted once I had a following. It was a borderline naïve assumption, I
know. Around the same time, I started developing sample libraries as a source
of income. I created a small one at first for Sample Magic, and soon after, Wave
Alchemy approached me about work that later got released as their Tech House and Minimal library.
What’s the most insane thing you’ve done to
create a unique sound?
Off the top of my head, I
can’t think of anything totally
insane. Typically I start my sound design process with recordings I make, and
they could be anything from field recordings to taking a screwdriver to an
electric guitar, to taking a cello bow to various metals. I’m really attracted to organic, modulating,
What are your favorite tools for audio
U&I Metasynth, Native
Instruments Kontakt and Reaktor, CSound, and GRM Tools. As far as hardware goes, I have an Eventide
DSP4000 which I totally abuse, as well as a Fractal Audio AxeFX II, which,
while marketed as a guitar processor, is an amazing sound design tool.
Keyboardist and composer Craig Taborn has been creating a
sonic storm since bursting onto the Jazz scene in the 1990s. A sought-after
sideman who’s equally at home on both acoustic and electronic instruments,
Taborn rocketed to international acclaim with his 2011 solo piano release Avenging Angel, his debut for imprint
What formal training have you had?
I had two years of piano lessons in the beginner/classical
model starting at age 12, then three years with a great piano teacher in
Minneapolis named Peter Murray, who guided me in the basics of jazz
improvisation and taught me quite a bit about the larger question of music-making
Who are your musical
A list would be arbitrary, but a few essentials include
Horace Silver, Led Zeppelin, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Minutemen, Miles Davis, Voivod,
Anthony Braxton, Brian Eno, Morton Feldman, and Vince Clarke.
What was your earliest memory of synth, B-3, or a
keyboard sound beyond acoustic
Probably a combination of some Ilhan Mimaroglu recordings with
a lot of the electronic music my older brother was into when I was about 12: Kraftwerk,
Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, and so on. The industrial stuff and the
Mimaroglu made me go crazy for aggressive synth sounds, which led me to ask for
my first synth—a Moog Satellite I got as a Christmas gift when I was 12.
What’s in your rig now?
My favorite rig is a good Steinway D piano. With the Chris
Potter Underground, I use an 88-key Rhodes Suitcase. With David Torn and my own
Junk Magic group—both heavily electronic—the recordings have Mellotron, Wurly,
Minimoog, Hammond B-3, Rhodes, Farfisa, and also some circuit-bent gear. I also
use quite a bit of computer processing with things I designed in Max/MSP.
A new piano trio recording to be released next spring
on ECM. There’s also a new Dave Holland band called Prism recorded that has
Kevin Eubanks and Eric Harland. I play piano and Rhodes in it and it runs a
gamut from some harder “fusion” to acoustic jazz and spacey, chamber-y kinds of
things. Also, more work with the pianist Vijay Iyer, and a group I’m getting
together to do more electronic music.
Speed and precision
are currency among jazz organists. However, the groove and grease of greats
like Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff are harder to come by—some would say you
either got it or you don’t. Akiko
Tsuruga has it all. Though her playing lacks nothing technically, she swings hard
and visibly pours emotion—usually sheer joy—into every note. When she pulls
full drawbars for block chord solos, step back and give the awesomeness some room.
What was your early musical training like?
I studied at a Yamaha music school. I played all kind of music: pops,
classical, jazz, fusion. As a college student, I played classical organ at
What was the
first time you heard the sound of the organ and thought, “That’s what I want to do”?
My first Hammond record was The
Cat by Jimmy Smith. When I was three, my parents bought a small Yamaha
Electone spinet. When it was delivered, the person from the music played a
couple of tunes, and I thought, “I want to learn to play that!” That was the
beginning of my life in music.
Who are your main
influences on the Hammond?
Dr. Lonnie Smith. I met him in Japan before I moved to New York City.
After moving, I started hanging out with him and watched his playing as much as
I could. Sometime we’d practice together and I learned difference between his
playing and mine by ear. By watching him, I also learned how to build up a solo,
how to use the expression pedal, how to play bass pedals, and he showed me a
great trick about big block chord voicings.
What’s in your
rig these days?
I have a Hammond A100 and Leslie 122 at my place, which I play every day.
For gigs, I’ve been playing three or four days a week at a club called Showman’s
in Harlem, and I bring the Hammond SK1 or SK2, often with a Roland KC100 or
Hartke Kickback 12 amp, or a Leslie 2101 Mk. 2 speaker system. Other than a
vintage 122, my favorite Leslie to play through is the Hammond model 3300.
Who would be in
your dream band?
Wes Montgomery, Stanley Turrentine, and Grady Tate! Also, Art Blakey,
Grant Green, Philly Joe Jones, and John Coltrane.
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