Holiday Gift Special
by Robbie Gennet
You can't get these from Netflix or your cable provider's video-on-demand service, but these DVDs are sure to please the keyboard-playing musicians in your life. All are available from such online retail sources as Amazon.
1. VARIOUS ARTISTS, Keyboard Wizards
A compilation with some great early footage of well-known and less-known classic keyboardists. Highlights include Jon Lord with Deep Purple playing "Wring That Neck" on Danish television, Vincent Crane with Atomic Rooster jamming "Breakthrough," and Ken Hensley playing with Uriah Heep on a scorching live version of "July Morning." Add to that choice cuts from Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, Geoff Downes, and more, and you've got a great time capsule of classic rock keyboard playing.
2. TRAFFIC, The Last Great Traffic Jam
Shot on the 1994 Traffic reunion tour, this live DVD is a great trip through the Traffic catalog with Steve Winwood and the late, great Jim Capaldi. Backing up Winwood on keys is Mike McEvoy and both men showcase their skills on classic tunes from the original jam band including "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" and "Glad." Lots of B-3 and piano plus some truly great live organic music and a loving tribute to Capaldi.
3. VARIOUS ARTISTS, Jazz Legends: Boogie-Woogie
Featuring black and white films of various artists back in the day, you can see greats like Teddy Wilson, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade "Lux" Lewis in action. But the true highlights are those who you may never have heard of before and won't soon forget: the brilliant Martha Davis' scorching boogie live at the Apollo, Gene Rodgers goofy take on "Jukebox Boogie" with a super-fast left hand, the dapper Maurice Rocco crooning and playing to the ladies, Harry "the Hipster" Gibson's solo boogie (with dancers!) and Robert Crum's precise and studied take on "Adventures in Boogie-Woogie." Many of these are lip-sync'ed (or piano-sync'ed, as it were) but there are riffs and licks that will have you reaching for the rewind button over and over again.
4. BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST, Berlin: A Concert for the People
Long in the vaults 1980 live show in front of 250,000 Germans on the steps of the Reichstag when Berlin was still divided. Two keyboard players join two of the three core guys who play some keys, meaning a lot of classic keyboard rigs and a whole lot of synths. The band was huge overseas in a way they never approached in America, so the adulation of the huge crowd is quite surprising to audiences this side of the pond. Musically, the band is talented and they definitely put their keyboards to work.
5. ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA, Live - The Early Years
This DVD features Richard Tandy on Minimoog, Wurlitzer, Mellotron, and piano. Live in 1973, 1974, and 1976. Need we say more? It's amazing to see Jeff Lynne and ELO so early in the game without all the big-budget staging that came later. What you see is a great band playing spot-on versions of their early hits, and how competent they were in pulling it off is nothing short of revelatory.
6. RICK WAKEMAN, The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Live at Hampton Court Palace in 2009. Wakeman staged this with huge production to bring his creation to life and give it the best treatment possible. His talented son Adam Wakeman joins on keys with a full orchestra and choir and energetically revisits the material with the elder Wakeman triumphantly poised at the helm. How could this not be epic? If you're a fan of the original record, this will make your year.
7. CLINT EASTWOOD (director), Piano Blues
Part of a seven-part series, this film features interviews with Ray Charles, Doctor John, Marcia Ball, Pinetop Perkins, Dave Brubeck, and Jay McShann, among others, plus a treasure trove of archival performances by some of the greats. Eastwood's love of jazz has been long known but the attention he gives to blues piano players here is marvelous and quite inspiring. And, we might add, well-directed.
8. YES, 9012Live
Yes recorded this live album in Canada in 1985 and filmed it with the latest in video graphics at the time, directed by indie-film darling Steven Soderbergh. The outfits and hairdos might be dated, but the energy of this Trevor Rabin-led version of Yes is strong. Highlights include a supercharged "Roundabout" and the epic "Hold On." Another thing that makes this tour notable is that keyboardist Tony Kaye hadn't been with the band since leaving in 1971. His dual keyboard rig definitely got some updating since then, and in this film you'll feast your eyes on half a dozen classic axes including a Kawai electric grand piano and a then-ubiquitous Yamaha DX7.
9. RUSH, 2112 & Moving Pictures
This documentary covers the making of the eponymous records, featuring all the amazing studio insight into their recording and production. If you're a Rush fan, then you're familiar with the synth work on both records, from the epic multi-part "2112" itself to the bands still biggest hit to date, "Tom Sawyer." Seeing and hearing about how these amazing albums were recorded is a real treat.
10. EMERSON LAKE AND PALMER, Pictures at an Exhibition
Filmed live in 1970, this performance is a little rough around the edges but it's a great live document of ELP in their earliest days. The rawness tempers the loftiness of the material they were covering and the band powers through the piece admirably with Keith Emerson's organ playing dominating the mix and his shiny outfit dominating the stage. Ah, the days when keyboard wizards were heroes . . .
EXTRA: Gino Vannelli- Live in Montreal. Currently out of print but viewable on YouTube, witness the awesome power of Gino Vannelli live at his peak featuring the exceptional keyboard work of his brother, Joe Vannelli.