The Piano: Not Just for Classical and Jazz

Bach. Beethoven. Chopin. Great music for piano students, to be sure, and I love playing them. But the music that got me really excited when I was a kid and first taking piano lessons – the music that made me want to practice until my mom made me stop and go to bed – was the pop music my friends and I were listening to. Elton John, Carole King, and a little later on, Billy Joel, were creating such an exciting sound for the piano. Who hasn’t heard Scenes from an Italian Restaurant and wanted to be a piano player?

While other budding musicians in the ’70s and ’80s were emulating the great rock drummers of the era and working on playing the guitar licks of Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, I was trying to sound like session musician Nicky Hopkins (The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks) and Rick Wakeman (Yes). What a great feeling when a friend told me I sounded “just like the Cat Stevens record” when I played Morning Has Broken!

I know most think of guitar, bass and drums as the instruments of choice in pop and rock music and think of the piano in terms of classical and jazz performances. But artists from Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles to Stevie Wonder and Carly Simon to Ben Folds, Alicia Keys and Sara Bareilles have ensured that the piano has its place in great pop and rock performances throughout the last 50 years. What do you think is the greatest piano performance of all time?