A few hundred years ago, classical pianists would impress audiences by improvising cadenzas in the middle of a concerto — riffing, we would say today. Now improvisation is firmly in the realm of jazz. But a new record called Marvelous Fantasy explores the connection between jazz and classical improvisation. It’s by the 30-year-old jazz pianist Harold O’Neal.
Not many people have a resume like O’Neal’s: the Kansas City native is a kickboxer, karate teacher, and breakdancer (he performed in a Jay-Z video) as well as a student of Romantic piano music. O’Neal got turned on to music as a kid watching the Donald & Daffy Duck dueling pianos scene in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. “They’re playing ‘Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2.’ and I said ‘wow, that’s amazing, what is that? I want to learn that.’”
On his new record O’Neal looks to French impressionist composers like Maurice Ravel. “My gut was saying take these classical pieces that I like and just analyze them — harmonically, structurally, the mechanics of what they’re doing technically and break it down and turn it into a drill,” he explains to Kurt Andersen. “Basically I run the drill enough until it becomes second nature and I just throw it in the bag of improvisation.”
Video: “Marvelous Fantasy”
Video: Harold O'Neal breakdances in the studio
Video: "The Lovers"
AtanosArtist: Harold O'NealAlbum: Marvelous FantasyLabel: Smalls Records
Marvelous FantasyArtist: Harold O'NealAlbum: Marvelous FantasyLabel: Smalls Records
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minorArtist: Roger WoodwardAlbum: BWV 903: FantasiaLabel: Celestial Harmonies
Marvelous FantasyArtist: Harold O'NealAlbum: Live in Studio 360
The LoversArtist: Harold O'NealAlbum: Live in Studio 360
Boat on the OceanArtist: Maurice RavelAlbum: Reflections
Little OnesArtist: Harold O'NealAlbum: Marvelous FantasyLabel: Smalls Records