Magazine article Gramophone

Keith Emerson: The Emerson, Lake & Palmer Keyboardist on Learning the Piano, Discovering the Organ, and the Role of Classical Music in His Work

Magazine article Gramophone

Keith Emerson: The Emerson, Lake & Palmer Keyboardist on Learning the Piano, Discovering the Organ, and the Role of Classical Music in His Work

Article excerpt

While we were at school, we went to the Worthing Assembly Hall where an orchestra played a variety of things that they thought would appeal to 10-year-olds, such as Grieg's Peer Gynt Suite. I can still remember the themes. One of the first things I attempted to do with my band The Nice was one of Grieg's pieces and it worked wonderfully well. It was a good start.

My father had an accordion, which I was too young to hold up -1 couldn't squeeze the notes out of it. Then we moved house--a fine instrument (an upright piano) was hauled in and my dad played that. I started music lessons at the age of eight. I just felt, 'Oh, I want to do that'. You have to go through Beethoven's Fur Elise, through the Mozart sonatas. Then I learned jazz chord progressions through a number of postal courses. You basically learnt by listening to records.

Where did the love of organ come from? Because I'd played so many lousy pianos! They were all out of tune, with cigarette burns on them, and they were horrible. The keyboardist Brian Auger and I had both encountered the same difficulty--how could we sound like Jimmy Smith? I had a Hammond L-100, and then suddenly Brian got to know that Jimmy played the Hammond B-3, so what did I do? I saved up my money and went down to the Portsmouth organ centre, and I remember my father paid the deposit because, as he said, 'Well, that's the instrument for you'. Brian's upbringing was pretty much the same as mine. You couldn't buy a Blue Note record, you had to order it, which took two weeks, but you wanted to hear the real thing. As it ended up, Brian played his style of funky jazz and I went on to play funky classical music. But all the way through, from the '60s, we've admired each other for different reasons.

I had a little jazz trio, and we'd play dinner and dance music. At the beginning you were allowed to play die standards of the time: you'd play the One Note Samba for example Stan Getz was very popular so you'd learn the chords for that. Then later in the evening, they'd say, 'OK guys, play what you want'. So I'd improvise and experiment by incorporating something that I'd found in Bach--maybe the Toccata and Fugue in D minor or something--then we'd go back into the jazz. And a lot of people would come up to me at the end and say, 'Wow, that was cool, what did you play in the middle? You should play more of that.'

I remember once walking down the Embankment past the Royal Festival Hall with my fiancee, and I saw the London Philharmonic were playing. …

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