Learning new songs is part and parcel of our daily existence as a piano player who plays live music regularly. The challenge is sifting through all the new music and finding what works and what doesn’t work.
In my opinion most of the Pop and Country music these days has become homogenized. For those of you that didn’t grow up in the 60s ‘homogenized’ is not a sexual connotation. It means that everything is made the same. Some might say made to the same standard of quality. But I think what has happened is that most of the popular songs have the same chord changes and a drought of tasty melodies. I know there are some great and talented songwriters out there. But by the time their tune gets to the producer and to the recording process, there are changes that get made to make the song palatable. Axis of Awesome did this comedy music bit that has become a perfect example of what I’m taking about
That’s okay by me. I don’t mind. I just know, as a writer, there are so many possibilities harmonically and melodically speaking, that there is no excuse for this. Even if a song were to have one ‘mystery chord’ in there somewhere, it would go a long way. It could be laziness. It could be ignorance.
But I think what has happened is when people like something, the creators replicate it because they know it’s a winning formula. This is true in every successful business. The music business is no different.
I think Adele has had some good success with adding tasty chords into her songs. Bruno Mars is copying many of the greats that came before him. They are both quite open about the fact that they are standing the shoulders of the giants who came before them.
My job is a piano player is to interpret what is out there and make it my own. For example, I don’t use massive amounts of music production techniques at our performances. I know some players use backing tracks and drum machines, even at dueling pianos shows. That’s cool. I never found it all that inspiring. As a piano player who works a lot I find I get inspiration from the people who are listening. I like that kind of energy rather than a technical energy.
The idea is that then the piano player turns the song into something of his own. Since we are all standing on the shoulders of the great ones who came before us, the only thing left for us to do is to personalize it.
That’s one of the things I learned early on as I was an aspiring musician learning to become a professional piano player. I used to think “Who is the best piano player?”. But then I realized it’s all one magic trick. Once you learn that one trick everything else after that is about adding the personality you were born with or that you are willing to let shine through.
So when I learn a new One Direction song or something from Jason Aldean, it doesn’t matter to me that all the same chords sequences are being used over and over again. I try to find the essence of the tune and make it my own. Sometimes I get it right, other times I need to keep learning.
Chicago is filled with the best piano players.
Everyone of us are filled with awe for anyone who is talented. With us piano players, it is more than a mutual admiration society. We all know each other and we all look out for each other. So it is with a mixture of shock and horror mixed with a sense of duty that I need to post this to my site.
My good friend and fellow comedian Dave Allen recently had brain surgery to remove a lesion that has left him with limited use of his right hand and has seriously hampered his speech.
Many of you who also know Dave, know what a tremendously talented man he is. His ability to deliver spot on impersonations in a wide variety of settings is second to no one that I’ve ever worked with. And you know I’ve worked with a lot of very talented people.
Dave has established himself as one of the best piano players in Chicago for years now. He has been working professionally as a piano player in the area since his teens and he has probably forgotten more tunes than I have ever known.
I sat across from him on one particularly slow night in a bar on a dueling pianos gig and watched him fire off the entire White Album from the Beatles.
I don’t know with any certainty what you were doing with your teen aged years. But I now know for sure what Dave Allen was doing with his.
One winter we took a long drive out to some corporate gig out in Iowa. All the way out there Dave was speaking in a new accent he was working on. His boys were totally into some new movie at the time. If I’m not mistaken, (and I’ve known to be from time to time) it was the first version of ‘Cars’ and Dave was working on some slow tawkin’ redneck voice. Every conversation was peppered with a response in that lawng particular drawl. 5 hour trip. There’s Dave munchin’ on pistachio seeds and spittin’ out colloquialisms.
On the way back – all 5 hours – he was working on an Indian voice. Some middle eastern guy who owned a quickie mart or something. I don’t even know what he was talking about but it made a long road trip with no radio in the truck disappear like the best dessert you’ve ever tasted.
Dave Allen one of Chicago’s Best Piano Players
Dave Allen and Jake
He is a loving husband and father to his two boys. When you see them together you know he connects with them the way he does with an audience; deeply and with sincerity.
So please contribute to Dave. He may be out of work for a long time. But with your love and prayers (and knowing Dave) he’ll be back before we know it.
So if you can’t send money, even just $100, then send positive vibes.
He’s a really good guy and the entertainment world needs him back.
We all do. Thanks
So I think I’m finally figuring out how to use Priceline.com to my advantage. Since I travel so much as a piano player for hire, I figured it’s worth making it work for me and our family budget.
But I’m wondering something …
Who the hell picks these paintings?
Not that they’re bad or anything. I’m just kind of wondering cuz they are exceptionally non-descript.
There’s nothing about them that make you go, “Oh. That’s really cool. I think I should get some for my collection. Let me call my art broker and see if he can cut me a deal on a bulk purchase.”
And what the hell is with this smell?
These NON-SMOKING rooms smell all perfumey. And not that good kind of perfumey, like wow I need some of this funk in my house right now too. It’ll go great with those paintings I just bought.
I would rather have the old stale cigarette smoke from yesteryear.
No. Wait. I wouldn’t. That was REALLY disgusting.
But this new smell seems like it’s designed to be cat house friendly or something. I can hear the voice over on the radio spot: “It smells like a brothel, but bring the kids anyway. It’s safe and won’t deform their growth. Plus, it’ll create all kinds of fresh and special memories you can share for a lifetime.”
Oh well. The price was right. Here’s to shopping on the Internet.
Bye for now.
What do you get when you hire a musician?
Do you really know what you are paying for? Really!?!
I could tell you. I certainly would be within my rights to tell you. But I am also in the realm of letting the picture tell the story.
Here is a graphic that can tell what you get when you hire a musician way better than I ever could. I am a piano player. I sing and I tell jokes. This isn’t the kind of job you have when you are looking for a position with an hourly wage. Why?
Here. Take as look-see.
Musician For Hire: Checklist
Taking requests behind the piano is a series of calculated risks. We piano players either want a decent tip AND satisfy a customer OR we will choose to ignore their request in order to keep the energy of the room moving in the direction you want it to go.
I have that dilemma anytime I offer to play requests. So it is a delicate balance in a crowded room.
Don’t Shake The Piano Players Hand
Requests serve a great function overall. In some situations it is necessary to take requests. It improves the bottom line. No matter if it’s a dueling pianos show or a solo piano bar gig, tips can be an additional extra coupla ducats in the buckets. They rarely add up to anything substantial. But everybody thinks that it is necessary in our society in America. Thank you. It is appreciated.
However the main reason to take requests is this: People want to feel like they are controlling the show; like they have some sort of say so in the goings on for the evening. That’s okay. We see it all the time in modern marketing; online polls, social proof, statistics supporting your buying decision.
Making requests is a microcosm of this same human instinct – a need to make a difference.
Even when making requests is not a part of an evening of piano music, say for example, when I am just performing at a cocktail party or a networking event, folks like to make a request in order to have something to talk to the musician about.
We love talking to people. As piano players, we crave the interaction. Okay, well at least I do. Come up and talk to me. Just don’t try and shake my hand.
Sometimes people don’t know what songs to ask for. I see them all the time on their phones “looking up songs to request’. Here’s a little secret … there is no right or wrong way to make a request.
Then there’s the guy or gal who want to stump the piano player. “Hey, do you know some Zappa?” Chances are we are already well prepared for this.
Then there are the requests for the latest wave of a current popular artist. Someone who is not well respected. “Can you play some Brittney Spears? Lady Gaga? Can you play Gangnam Style … but sing it with Korean lyrics?”
That last one was made by a young exchange student who had recently returned from the Asian country.
No matter what reason we find for everyone making requests during an evening of piano music, as professional piano players we are prepared for about 85-90% of your requests. Even ragtime. Yes we know how to play The Entertainer by Joplin. Doesn’t everybody?
People always ask, “How do you know so many songs?” The answer is, “This is my job. I spend a lot of time during the day looking up and learning and then memorizing new songs. It is part of my daily and weekly regimen.” Not only does it make me a better piano music entertainer, it keeps things interesting for me when you come up to me, try and shake my hand and ask “Can you play some ….?”
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