Who Are The Keyboard Virtuosos Of Today?

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Our listener Geoffrey recently left us a voicemail posing an interesting question: who are the virtuosic keyboard players of today -- à la '70s prog rock heroes Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman

Stephen Fortner, editor-in-chief of Keyboard Magazine, joins us to help get to the bottom of our listener Geoffrey's question -- and to talk about the identity crisis that keyboards are facing today. 


The Modern-Day Keyboard Landscape List, by Stephen Fortner:

Hard rock, metal, and prog keyboardists, i.e. the "new Rick Wakemans and Keith Emersons":

Jordan Rudess: Keyboard player in popular prog band DREAM THEATER, solo artist, and very active music evangelist and educator. Trained at Julliard but will rock your face off.

Derek Sherinian: Main gig has been with Billy Idol since forever. Also Alice Cooper. Was also in Dream Theater in the beginning. His own hard rock and prog gigs include Planet X, and supergroup Black Country Communion, which also features Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, and Jason Bonham.

Don Airey: Not exactly new but very undersung. Currently in the re-formed Deep Purple next to Steve Morse (of pioneering hard-fusion band the Dregs) on guitar. Did the synth-organ intro to Ozzy's "Mr. Crowley." Has played with a Who's Who of heavy metal acts.

Adam Holzman: Miles Davis' keyboardist and musical director back when he was going electronic (albums like "Tutu") but has the other foot firmly planted in prog. Current project: Touring with prog rock icon Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree).

Adam Wakeman: Rick Wakeman's son, very talented keyboardist currently playing with Ozzy and Black Sabbath.

Rami Jaffe: Though not known for hard rock in his main band the Wallflowers, he did do four tours with the Foo Fighters.

Ryo Okumoto: Of the prog band Spock's Beard.

Janne Warman: Of Children of Bodom, Finnish progressive metal band.

Jens Johannson: Of Swedish band Stratovarius.

Erik Norlander: American independent prog rock keyboardist. Main project: the Rocket Scientists.

Tony Beliveau: Of the Crash Kings. Makes a Clavinet (the instrument known from Stevie Wonder's "Superstition") sound like a distorted wailing lead guitar.


Funk, fusion, rock, and pop "sidemen" and artists who don't get a lot of mainstream press, but are universally respected and envied by musicians:


Greg Phillinganes: Most recorded and hired session and touring keyboardist ever.

Mike Garson: Not brand new, but lifelong career with David Bowie. Architect of the mind-blowing piano solo on "Aladdin Sane" and sought-after soloist and composer in his own right. Has worked extensively with Nine Inch Nails as well.

Michael Bearden: Has played with Whitney, Madonna, J-Lo, Stevie. Most recently was musical director of Michael Jackson's planned "This Is It!" comeback concerts in London.

Tim Carmon: Main gig is with Eric Clapton, but discography is all over the map. Accomplished producer and gospel musician as well.

Scott Kinsey: Of Tribal Tech.

Lisa Harriton: Longtime keyboardist in Smashing Pumpkins.

Richard Hilton: Keyboardist in Chic, who've been enjoying a big resurgence in the wake of Nile Rodgers' collaboration with Daft Punk.


Other notables: 

Kristeen Young: She's more in the "singer-songwriter" category, but her playing absolutely shreds. Her regular gig was opening for Morrissey.

Emily Bear: She's 11 or 12 years old, and a definite keyboard virtuoso. Her playing caught the attention of Quincy Jones, and her first album, out on Concord, is called "Diversity." We're expecting great things from her in the years to come.

Matt Wong: I first heard him at a studio party in San Francisco. Still a teen. 

James Blake: More singer-songwriter than keyboard virtuoso.

Hiromi (Uehara): She brings a prog-like element to jazz. Google her videos--her playing is insane!

Jeff Lorber: Longtime pioneer of the jazz-fusion genre.

Joey DeFranceso: De facto heir to the Jimmy Smith jazz organ throne.

George Duke: Duke recently passed away, but was a godfather of multi-keyboarding, i.e. playing several instruments at once onstage. His notable credits include Frank Zappa and Cannonball Adderly.

Jon Regen: He's at the forefront of the singer-songwriter scene in NYC, and tours internationally.

Josh Charles: An incredible modern and young proponent of New Orleans style piano. He studied with the legendary James Booker.