88 Keys to Freedom: Segues Through the History of American Piano Music
The music of another time often reveals the most intimate language of the people then, the images and emotions that they truly considered to be real and valued. To experience their interior world, the sound of the music is one of the quickest triggers to evoke sensations, deep proto-memories that seem to create a shared pathway of understandings from their time to ours – a more effective link than perhaps most written histories can provide. Just hearing the sound immediately builds this bridge across time, the way that a scent may suddenly bring back a feeling from your childhood, or upon touching someone’s hand you may suddenly realize that you love them.
The most innovative and revolutionary musical thoughts in America have often first announced themselves in works for the piano: the strange scenes in the 18th-century battle pieces; the exciting new virtuosity and experimental Romantic harmonies of Benjamin Carr and others; the first African-American syncopations from Francis “Frank” Johnson’s band entering a greater public’s consciousness in the 1820s, the totally unique and wildly imaginative creations of the “Beethoven of Kentucky” (Anthony Philip Heinrich) in the 1830s and 1840s; the multicultural music of Gottschalk; “Blind” Tom Bethune’s extraordinary ability to imitate natural sounds and immediately recall over 7000 works at the keyboard; America’s response to German romanticism; the breakthrough of all kinds of regional styles; the rise of ragtime and honky-tonk in the late 19th century; the piano’s crucial role in the first film soundtracks; the profoundly visionary keyboard creations of Ives and Griffes; and the inside-the-piano experiments of Henry Cowell, and later, John Cage; the birth of jazz and the emergence of the “swing” feeling from Jelly Roll Morton and the pianists of the 1920s; the “bad boys” and “bad girl” of music with their dissonance intended to wake up the world for better or worse to a new century; the mutual interchange of pop and concert styles; bebop, indeterminacy, hyper-complexity; minimalism and microtonality; the vast range of spontaneous playing; the continuing evolution of improvised styles; music that incorporates recent technologies and music that avoids them; music that eludes easy definition; and more
And, even more than that connection established through the appreciation of particular “works” from composers, pianists, and composer-performers, there is a time bridge created by the intimate kinesthetic experience of approaching the keyboard for the first time, an experience shared by untold millions over the centuries. At first there is the absolute surprise of pushing down a key and producing a sound. That action spontaneously unites the senses of touch, vision, and hearing. Only a heartbeat later, you have the expectation that repeating the same action will evoke similar results, and at some point an urge arises to use the keyboard as a medium to imitate other sounds you have experienced or imagined.
From that time on, touch, envisioning, and sounds in themselves vie for the newly-born pianist’s attention—that is the subject highlighted in this brief history of American piano music and demonstrated through certain innovative compositions and performers who brought into existence uniquely different approaches to creating music on the keyboard.
- The Keyboard Is Filled with Sweet Tunes and Rousing Rhythms
- The Keyboard as a Battleground
- The Keyboard and The Maid and The Love of My Heart
- Papa Heinrich’s Keyboard in the Wilderness
- The Keyboard as a Banjo, a rippling Spring, and the Singer of a Lullaby
- The Keyboard for a New Kind of Virtuoso
- The Keyboard klingt etwas voll und Deutsches in Amerika
- The Keyboard visits the Plains, the Desert, Chinatown and Spanish California
- The Great Ragtime Keyboard Craze
- The Keyboard as a Field of Memories
- From the Keyboard, Past the Hammers, to the Strings Inside
- The Keyboard Images Jump Onto The Wall
- Transformation at the Keyboard: The Birth of Jazz etc.
- The Blue Keyboard’s Sleepless Night
- Bad Boys and Bad Girl at the Keyboard
- The Keyboard Goes Bop!
- The Keyboard of Eternal Change
- The Architectural and the Cool Keyboard
- The Patterns Begin to Move
- The Keyboard in New Surroundings
- A Few More Recent Jazz Piano Greats
- The Heavens Above, The Keyboard Below
- The Perfect and Transparent Keyboard
- Thanks and Some Additional Favorite Piano Repertoire