Frank Benner
piano technician

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piano stories

The humming of Glenn Gould

When one listens to the recordings of Glenn Gould, one can often hear him hum as he plays.
Often it is a completely different tune than the one his score tells him to play. It is very obvious on those moments his creativity as a composer is at work.
Gould is not only aware of the actual score, but also of a bigger structure behind the notes he has to play. A structure he can see in the composition.
It is as if Gould creates an unusual picture of the structure of the composition, the themes, the climaxes, the shape etc.
He exceeds the emotional and psychological conditions necessary to perform a piece.

Gould does not seem to be exclusively interpreting in an erudite, technical and artistic way, but furthermore with a level of commitment to the composition.
His performance becomes an account of musical structure.

Singing along to a main tune one can do without thinking about the structure of the composition. It is as if one drives a familiar route toward ones destination. If at the same time one sings a different voice, one needs to have a greater understanding of the structure of the composition.
Imagine you drive on the highway and decide to turn off; you need to pay attention to the right moment to do so.
To simultaneously sing a completely new melody commends an understanding that can be compared with an overview of the whole road map with all the possible side roads and exits.

Together with the humming one can see gestures, like those of a conductor, as if he is communicating with other performers.
One could say he connects the conceptual image of the composition with the physical playing.
The most important aspect: he disconnects from that playing and disappears into the inner world of his musical imagination.

The humming and gestures are not for fun, they are as important as the characteristic touch of an instrument. 

The Most Happy Piano
Errol Garner

Born in Pittsburgh in 1921, Errol Garner started playing piano at the age of two.
He never learned to read music, probably because it was never a necessity for him. He learned to play the 'novelty' styles of Zez Confrey and others from listening to 78 records, a style which used steady left hand chord rhythms to support very free right-hand melodic interpretations.
This provided a perfect basis for the hard-swinging jazz style that Garner was to pioneer.

At the age of seven, Garner began appearing on radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh with a group called the Candy Kids, and by the age of eleven he was playing on the Allegheny riverboats.

Garner began to attract attention after he moved to New York in the early forties, and shortly afterwards he made his first recordings. By 1950, Garner had established himself an international reputation, and from that point until his death on January 2, 1977, he made countless tours both at home and abroad, and produced a huge volume of recorded work.

Garner's style evolved out of the 'novelty rags' of the twenties. More contemporary jazz influences include Earl Hines, another Pittsburgh native, and the rhythm compings of Freddie Green (Count Basie's longtime guitarist).
But Garner was ultimately a very idiosyncratic player, and he doesn't fit well into any of the standard piano style groupings of 40's and 50's jazz.
His characteristic traits are of course his steady, guitaristic, left hand compings, and, most obviously, his octaval treatments of melodies and solo lines.

The major seventh arpeggio in octaves which introduces Garner's biggest hit, Misty is an example.
Another typical Garnerism is the pizzicato, super-syncopated introduction. These intros are often highly independent of the main part of the piece. They range from fanciful to sassy, but always their choppy staccato serves to highten the driving effect once Garner turns on his relentless left hand rhythm.

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