Until I was 7, my mom was seriously concerned about my musical ability. I matched pitches like Kobe dishes assists. Then I started playing piano, and everything changed.
James Taylor was my first concert, Eve 6 my first love, Ben Folds my first awestruck experience, Aida my first Broadway musical, Wyclef my best concert, and Alfredo Rodriguez my musical genius standard bearer. Yup. Range.
A lot of us pay lip service to loving music; I really, really do.
I was a 100% Spotify guy until my need to play Filous' Heartbeats remix on loop brought me to SoundCloud. This playlist aspires to hours of chill-yet-energizing vibes great for getting into a creative work groove, or for ambient energy to fuel your dinner party. I prefer to hit shuffle and let it ride.
Objectively this might be my best playlist. Perfect for romantic dinners, for ambient reading music, or to simply insert some calm in your life. With 200+ songs, you can listen for days without tiring.
Confession: I dance alone in my apartment to this mix all the damn time. This is the type of dance music you don't hear in clubs but love hearing at music festivals.
I did this in 2009 for the first time - a mix of my 20 all-time favorite songs. It's excruciatingly difficult for a music lover like me, but man is it an awesome time capsule. When I did this again in 2016, just five songs remained from the OG 2009 mix: "Meaningless Love," "Sweetest Girl," "Inside Out," "Sweetness," and "Take a Picture."
My piano performances
MUSIC AS POETRY: LUdovico einaudi's "i giorni"
Ludovico is my favorite living pianist. Not only do I get immense joy from playing his pieces, but I've found I get stronger audience reaction with his music than I do any other composer.
I Giorni has an unmistakably beautiful melody, and builds like few other pieces I've played. The ending is pure joy.
LEGIT JAZZ IMPROV USING just three notes: the d-minor pentatonic scale
I fell in love with the D-minor pentatonic scale (jazz/blues) while taking a music improv class at USC. The scale is technically simple - five white keys, anchoring on D and skipping E and B - but magical in its ability to produce pleasing music with a limited set of keys.
And so, after some choice inspiration one night, I challenged myself to record something using just three right-hand keys - D, F, G.
I eventually open up the right hand to a much wider range, but keep the difficulty level low.
music as cinema: LUDOVICO EINAUDI's "ANDARE"
After listening to even one Ludovico piece, the fact he composes film scores comes as no surprise. "Andare" is perhaps his most cinematic piece. Though it's a 5/10 in technical difficulty, as a solo piano piece it's a 9/10 in storytelling difficulty because it's meant to be played with a string quartet behind you (plus a Raindrop prelude-esque looping two note recorded sequence). It took me months to feel I was doing this piece justice. It's best listened to with a glass of wine and a desire to reflect.
This Alfredo Rodriguez performance will forever alter your understanding of the genius outlier
Nobody in the audience, save for the guy introducing him, knew who Alfredo Rodriguez was. Raised in Cuba, he'd just arrived in the US. We were three hours into an interminably long event at USC. Dozens were asleep. Then this happened...
UPDATE: I'm crushed. The video was removed from YouTube. For now, we'll have to settle for his home studio video.
I distinctly remember smiling and shaking my head for minutes after he left the stage, barely comprehending what I'd just seen and relishing in that incomprehensibility.
After leaving the event - it had to have been almost midnight - I saw Alfredo pacing back and forth in the middle of USC's campus, clearly lost in his own thoughts.
I walked up to him, shook his hand and told him that was the greatest performance I'd ever seen, then walked away thinking, "Maybe the most talented living pianist on Earth, chilling out in near-total anonymity."
NARRATING HIS PERFORMANCE:
* 0:46 to 3:06 - Nearly certain this is improvised. It isn't part of the piece he played. I'd love to have a "I'm feeling a two-minute, uber-dramatic prelude" card in my back pocket.
* 2:47 to 3:06 - You could feel it was about to go down.
* 3:06 to 3:57 - If this were the Olympics, this piece gets a 10 in difficulty rating. Yet, dude never hits a bad note. Never! He's playing like 10 notes per second during this opening, and nope, not even a miniature flub.
* 3:57 to 4:18 - 99.99% of piano players in the world can't get away with that shit. Lifting one arm in the air... rocking violently back and forth... You have to be really, really damn good to not look like a fool.
* 4:18 to 4:35 - Did I mention he never hits a bad note? How clean is this part? He's an alien.
* 4:45 to 5:40 - Annnnd he's closing his eyes. I mean, I can do that when playing K-Ci & JoJo. Oh, cool, now he's not even looking at the piano. Casual.
* 6:32 to 6:45 - You know with old school video games when you tried to convulse your arm muscles to press the "punch" button as fast as possible? Yeah. Dude just did this, with both arms, up and down the f***ing piano.
* 6:58 to 7:09 - WHERE AM I? HOW SPEAK WORDS?
* 7:09 to 7:17 - You don't clap in the middle of a performance. But you know what? We're gonna f***ing clap. I'm in full support of this.
* 7:49 - If they ever made a "Step Up" for piano battles, pretty sure the final battle ends like this.