A Tribute to Keith Emerson

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Michelle Moog-Koussa
"In an age when rock music experienced perhaps its biggest paradigm shift, Keith Emerson was at the forefront, his unparalleled talents ushering in a new era with his fearless fusing of disparate musical genres and influences. Keith's fearless embrace of the mammoth and sometimes unwieldy new technology of the Moog modular synthesizer, an instrument whose use he pioneered in live rock performance, was a testament to his nature as an artist and a visionary. The extent of his inspiration on Bob Moog, and legions of fans the world over, cannot be overstated." 

Jack Hotop, composer, performer, synthesist and Korg developer
"If Elvis and the Beatles were named the best entertainer and group of the last century, then I think it's only fair to say that Keith Emerson deserves to be named the best keyboardist of the last century as well.

"Throughout the years, Keith consistently won the Overall Best Keyboardist award in Keyboard magazine's annual reader's poll, along with many other category awards.

"Some keyboard players call Keith Emerson The King; band mates and fellow musicians have referred to him as Fingers; and some close friends simply called him EMO.

"Stylistically speaking, Keith and ELP were the perfect storm. They pioneered and combined rock, classical, and jazz styles seamlessly. Each member was formidable in the studio, and especially when they were on stage. They raised the bar with Hammond wrestling and stabbing, Moog Ribbon Controller assaults, 360° piano spins, revolving drums, timpani, tubular bells, drum-synth solos, bass, bass pedals, guitars, and vocals from one of the best rock tenors of all time. Arguably, they were the best sounding rock trio to emerge from the '60s.

Keith Emerson Eruption/Trilogy: A tribute by Jack Hotop

"Beyond that Keith Emerson proved himself to be a formidable composer with his Piano Concerto No. 1 from Works, Volume 1 and the film scores from Inferno and Night Hawks. His piano gems "Close To Home" from Black Moon and "Land Of The Rising Sun" (a composed message and musical work for the people in Japan on March 11, 2011, the day of the monstrous earthquake and Tsunami) are both lyrical and stunning.

"Way back when, after a few years of piano lessons and playing in high school bands, I discovered the music from The Nice and ELP. I was overwhelmed musically and sonically, and so was every other keyboard player I knew. When I heard Switched On Bach and the first ELP album, I was introduced to an instrument that would change my life forever, the synthesizer—specifically the Moog synthesizer. I became obsessed with learning the music from The Nice and ELP and took great pride performing "Take A Pebble," "Hoe Down," "Fanfare," "Peter Gunn," "Eruption," "Trilogy," and "Karn Evil #9."

"The day finally came in 1983 to take Keith out for sushi in NYC. I was the total nervous fan boy. Keith quickly put me at ease, and we began talking about his music, his sounds, and his influences. Keith was a music aficionado. He loved everything from Aaron Copland to Zez Confrey, and he told legendary stories about meeting Alberto Ginastera, Oscar Peterson, Jimmy Smith, Dave Brubeck, and Leonard Bernstein—his idols and mentors. We also talked about music history and contemporary music. It was an immediate bond.

"Over the years we maintained a very close relationship. I've supplied Keith with sounds for Korg keyboards for many years, as a courtesy and as a labor of love. It was the least I could do for the man who influenced me and every musician I know more than anyone else I can think of.
"The news of his passing has been overwhelming for me and for fans and musicians throughout the world.

"Time and time again, I keep hearing from friends that "he touched my soul" and "he made me want to become a musician."

If there is any great thing that we do while we are here on the planet, let it be said with words like this, spoken by those who love and remember us. So, go listen, reflect, and learn: I know that's what Keith would want us all to do."

Jerry Kovarsky, author, Keyboard contributor and former product manager at Korg, Ensoniq and Casio
“How do I convey how important Keith Emerson and his music was to me, and countless others? I got interested in music seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and started trying to play, being influenced by all the usual classic rock artists. But when Keith burst on the scene it all changed. He was a bravura performer, composer, and hero for all budding keyboardists. Suddenly, being the keyboardist was as full of machismo as the lead guitar player, and he showed how we could carry the whole show with keyboards. Well… he could carry the show. The rest of just dreamed we could be so good.

“More than just the playing and showmanship, Keith helped introduce so many of us to great classical composers and pieces. I wasn’t interested in classical studies until I got into his music. When I played “Knife Edge” for my teacher, he said, “That’s Bach in there; that’s what I’ve been trying to get you into!” It took Keith to make it cool and interesting for me. Listen to his playing in the Nice to hear a clear Dave Brubeck influence as well. Keith’s compositions are stellar and should be treated as masterpieces of 20th and 21st century music.

“The biggest joy of my career in the music products industry has been getting to not only meet, but also work with and become friends with many of my heroes. And no one looms larger than Keith. We first met when ELP were preparing their 1992 “comeback” tour and they needed some Ensoniq gear. I never got over a little bit of fanboy whenever we hung out, but he grew to trust me as a friend, not just a guy who got him gear. Many readers will find it surprising to know that Keith was very shy in public and could be somewhat withdrawn until he got to know someone. But once you proved to be a true friend, and not just wanting to be seen in his aura, he opened up. I have so many memories of laugh-filled dinners with him and his other close keyboard buddies such as Brian Auger, Steve Porcaro, CJ Vanston, Jack Hotop among others.

“We should all take some time and revisit his work with The Nice, ELP and beyond: Keith Emerson was one of the most iconic keyboard players and composers of our generation. While we mourn, let us celebrate his unique artistry and massive influence on all things keyboard.”

[Below, Keyboard author Jerry Kovarsky has kindly shared some of his personal photos and memories with us in tribute to Keith Emerson. We hope you enjoy them. -- Gino Robair, Editor]