Astronauts, Etc.: Me and My Piano Playlist
After deciding on the first few tracks, I realized the emerging theme of this playlist had to do with special moments of artist with piano (acoustic or otherwise).
I just got a new upright myself and it’s such a powerful, inspiring instrument. In fact, I’m a little miffed that it’s nearly time to go on tour, because that means it will be a few months before I can sit down and have some quality time with it.
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The Beach Boys, “Surf’s Up” Piano Demo (Master Take)
This is a top three Beach Boys recording for me. It’s not heavily arranged like most of their music. The bareness lets you glimpse into Brian’s unguarded soul. And the chord progression and wandering melody get me in my gut every time.
Manfred Mann Chapter Three, “Where Am I Going”
I love the contrast on this song between the pretty, lyrical piano playing and Mike Hugg’s sandpaper voice.
Brian Eno, “By this River”
This one is a lesson in simplicity. To me it feels like a musical watercolor, both lyrically and in the arrangement.
Piero Umiliani, “Volto Di Donna” (Original Demo)
I like that you can hear the excitement in this demo — that feeling of playing a new composition for the first time. There’s something special about capturing that freshness.
The Kinks, “I Go to Sleep”
Another demo, and my favorite Kinks song. I didn’t know about it until I heard a radio interview with Ray Davies and this recording came up.
Fleetwood Mac, “Dreams” (Take 2)
A more stripped-down version of the hit. It becomes a different song without the driving rhythm section. You can hear Stevie really getting into it.
Maurice Ravel, “Pavane Pour une Infante Difunte”
This is a recording of Ravel playing his most beautiful song. It was made using piano rolls, an old recording medium where the notes would literally be punched into a roll of paper as the pianist played. To reproduce the sound, the paper roll would then be fed into another piano capable of reading it.
Tobias Jesso Jr., “True Love”
I think ‘True Love’ was the first song Tobias Jesso Jr. ever released to the world. It was rough and raw and communicated a candor that I didn’t hear quite as much in the full-length he put out a couple of years later (though that album was beautiful).
Charles Mingus, “Myself When I Am Real”
My introduction to this song was in a Mingus class in college. I hadn’t known that Mingus was a killer pianist in addition to being a bass legend. I remember being floored by it and it still takes me away each time I hear it.
Roy Ayers Ubiquity, “Better Days”
Not as stripped down as the others on this list, but this song hinges on the piano. A nice mixture of optimism and melancholy — fitting for our strange times.
Steve Kuhn, “The Meaning of Love”
Three people independently recommended this song to me in the course of a week. When I finally heard it, I was completely wrecked. You know when you resonate with a song 100%, almost to the point where it’s uncomfortable? Like a glass that’s on the verge of shattering when you play its resonant frequency too loud? That’s me with this song.
(Photo credit: Brendan Nakahara)
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