by Matt Beck
ONE LOOK AT GREG PHILLINGANES’ RÉSUMÉ AND YOU’LL QUICKLY UNDERSTAND
why he has risen to the top of modern music. Greg has toured and/or recorded with
Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Herbie Hancock, Paul McCartney, and
Donald Fagen, to name a few. Narrowing down his chameleon-like keyboard command
to a mere “five ways” would be impossible, but these examples are a great way to start
incorporating his ethic into your own playing.
Good keyboard solos have the sense of phrasing
and breath that’s physically inherent to singing
or playing a wind instrument. A great example
of how Phillinganes applies this is in “One Hundred
Ways” from Quincy Jones’ album The Dude.
Greg’s solo is singable, tasty, and interesting to
listen to. He also uses a brassy synth sound
with an almost vocal quality that compliments
singer James Ingram’s voice perfectly. Ex. 1 is in the style of that classic solo.
Next, Phillinganes can deliver a grooving,
down-home piano part at the drop of a hat. Check
out his solo on Donald Fagen’s “Ruby Baby” from
The Nightfly for the an example of how he effortlessly
combines “straight-ahead” Jazz, Blues, and
beyond. Ex. 2 is in a similar style.
Ex. 3 is reminiscent of Greg’s synth bass line on
Donald Fagen’s “Walk Between Raindrops,” again from The Nightfly. Notice how he breaks the walking
bass line up, much like a real bass player would.
Phillinganes is revered not only for his dexterity,
but also for his expressive approach to
everything he plays. Electronic textures seem to
spring to life under his command. A perfect example
of his dynamic musicianship is the synth
solo from Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” Ex. 4 contains
elements of that style.
Finally, Phillinganes is never one to play it
safe, and often pushes a song’s harmonic limits
in both comping and solo passages—but
never goes too far. He did that often during
his tenure with the group Toto. Ex. 5 demonstrates
his penchant for mellifluous motivic
and harmonic development.
“Part of why Greg Phillinganes is so sought-after is that he can cover any type of part on keyboards,”
says Matt Beck, who plays keyboards and guitar with Rob Thomas and Rod Stewart. “He can easily
bounce between keyboard, horn, string, and bass parts, or cover them simultaneously.” Beck also plays
for the Broadway musical Spider-Man, and recently released his solo outing Anything Which Gives You
Pleasure. Follow him on Twitter at @mattymay.