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George Gershwin (1898-1937) got a late start, playing piano beginning at the age of 12. So consumed by music was young Gershwin, of New York, that he quit school to be a song-plugger (a person who sells songs) for the Remick Music Publishers. Tiring of this job, he sought work as a rehearsal pianist on Broadway. With his brother Ira as lyricist, he penned such classics as “I Got Rhythm” and “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” He is the respected composer of successful Broadway shows, symphonic music, and the American opera, Porgy and Bess. More than any other composer before him, Gershwin pushed the boundaries of bringing commercial-sounding music into the snobbish concert hall. And, by the way, he was a darn good pianist, too!
Thomas Wright Waller (1904-1943) played organ for his father’s Baptist church services in New York. Mastering the organ’s keys, he quickly took up piano, too. He was hired by the Lincoln Theatre in Harlem to accompany silent movies with his playing. At the age of 17, he began making piano rolls (see the sidebar “Roll me another piano”). A few years later, he began recording and broadcasting his own compositions. He teamed with lyricist Andy Razaf and the pair produced such hits as “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” “Black and Blue,” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” After successful records and tours around the world, he settled down and wrote a Broadway show, Early to Bed. I guess “settling down” is now defined as writing a Broadway show, not lying on the couch with a big glass of iced tea.
286 Part VII: The Part of Tens
Roll me another piano
In the early 1900s, an invention called the pianola, or player piano, became the precursor to MIDI sequencing (see Chapter 16 for more onthe World of MIDI). Perhaps thatcom-parison is a stretch, but both have the same basic principle: making a keyboard play by itself.
The pianola holds a piano roll, a large roll of perforated paper containing holes punched in precise locations. As the piano roll turns, jets of air pass through the tiny holes and operate the hammers of the piano. When producing a piano roll, the pianist plays and causes the
perforations on a piano roll to be punched in a precise location, allowing you to hear exactly how that pianist played it.
In recent years, several record companies have released piano roll recordings of some of the great composers and pianists. Through the wonders of modern technology and old piano rolls, you can hear the likes of Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Ravel, and James P. Johnson playing their masterpieces the way they intended them to be played. It still doesn't rival a time machine, but I guess it will have to do.
They tfrote the songs
Listen to these recordings and you’ll realize who put the “show” in the word showstoppers:
J' Duke Ellington: The Essence of Duke Ellington (CBS); Piano Reflections (Blue Note).
- George Gershwin: George Gershwin Plays George Gershwin (Pearl - UK); Rhapsody in Blue, Earl Wild with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops (RCA).
- Fats Waller: Turn On the Heat — The Fats Waller Piano Solos (RCA).
Ten Ways to Go Beyond This Book
In This Chapter
^ Books, movies, and Web sites that can help you be a better player ^ Playing with friends
? Listening to all types of music, whether live or recorded ^ Enjoying the wider world of pianoness
Although this book certainly provides you with a basic understanding of how a piano works and how to start playing, I admit that it does not provide you with absolutely everything you need to know about the piano.
In your pursuit of eternal piano prowess, you may think, “What now?” This chapter gives you a few ideas of where to go from here — with one major exception. Hiring a piano teacher is such an important option that I devoted a whole chapter to it: Chapter 20.
Studying Method Books
If you’re not ready to hire a piano teacher, an excellent resource for the beginning musician is what the industry calls method books.
A method book is an instructional book, or series of books, designed to teach you how to play a musical instrument in a strategic, proven, methodical manner. Countless volumes of these books exist, each featuring its own “method to the madness,” whether old-fashioned or new-and-improved.
Like any series of “how-to” books, methods come in all shapes, sizes, and various levels of skill — from beginner to advanced. After reading Piano For Dummies, you should be ready for an intermediate-level method.
Visit a sheet music store, and you can find rock methods, classical methods, jazz methods, country methods — the list is endless. Pick one that’s right for you and, most importantly, one that looks fun and interesting.
288 Part VII: The Part of Tens
Although no book can replace a live, human teacher, I highly recommend method books as an inexpensive, viable option for continuing to master the piano. To get you started, the following method books are worth checking out: