The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert

Friends honor the keyboardist's memory through music
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The evening of May 28, 2016, was a night to remember for the family, friends, and fans of Keith Emerson. More than two-dozen top artists filled the historic El Rey Theater with music for the Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert.

The band in full-boogie after a stirring brass and percussion intro to Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.
Photo by Carla Huntington The sold-out event in Los Angeles, Calif., was organized by Emerson’s fiancée Mari Kawaguchi and guitarist/vocalist Marc Bonilla, who acted as musical director, with support from Dirk Schubert of Schubert Systems and Golden Voice.

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The star-studded roster of Emerson’s friends took turns onstage to bring his work to life—Brian Auger, Eddie Jobson, Steve Porcaro, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Jordan Rudess, Steve Lukather, CJ Vanston, Gregg Bissonette, Kae M. Black, and Vinny Colaiuta among them.

Music director Marc Bonilla introducing Rachel Flowers.
Photo by Carla Huntington Considering the number of musicians involved and the tricky stage setup, Bonilla and crew did a fantastic job managing the three-hours- plus concert: Everything flowed smoothly between classics such as “Karn Evil 9,” “The Barbarian,” “Hoedown,” “Tank,” and “The Great Gates of Kiev.” The young keyboardist Rachel Flowers turned in an exceptional unaccompanied solo during “The Endless Enigma,” followed by Vanston burning up the piano on “Take a Pebble.”

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Eddie Jobson literally rocked the house with subsonic frequencies from the Moog Modular.
Photo by Carla Huntington Other highlights of the night included Norwegian conductor Terje Mikkelsen leading an ensemble of brass and percussion through Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” and an emotional version of “Lucky Man” that featured Eddie Jobson soloing on the Moog Modular. (Brian Kehew provided his own Moog for the concert, in lieu of Emerson’s.)

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The concert also included pieces that Emerson was fond of: Organist Auger (with his son, Karma, swinging on the drums) turned in an outstanding rendition of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” after which Aaron Emerson gave a heartfelt rendition of a solo piano composition that his father enjoyed.

Brian Auger manning the drawbars of the Hammond.
Photo by Carla Huntington During the set changes, we watched a slideshow of candid photos of Emerson and heard reminiscences from Kawaguchi and Keith’s family, humorous anecdotes from Auger, and a touching story from Michelle Moog-Koussa, of the Bob Moog Foundation, about the connection between her father and Emerson.

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“While the music and musicians were breathtaking, what was equally as remarkable was the spirit of the attendees,” Michelle told me after the event. “Everyone was wholly present, intensely connected to Keith’s spirit and, for those few hours, to each other. It was one of those nights you that you don’t want to end.”

Read our Keith Emerson Tribute with remembrances from his friends and colleagues.

Some of Keith Emerson's favorite albums by pianists.