Keith Emerson

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Keith Emerson : biography

2 November 1944 –

The so-called "Monster Moog," built from numerous modules, weighed in at a whopping 550 pounds, stood 10 feet tall and took 4 roadies to move. Even with its unpredictability, it became an indispensable component of not only ELP’s concerts but also Emerson’s. "Mr. Emerson’s towering, 10-foot-tall, 550-pound Monster Moog, as he called it, was an indispensable part of the group’s concerts, even though it was often unreliable and difficult to play."

He is known for his technical skill and for his live antics, including using knives to wedge down specific keys of his Hammond organ during solos, playing the organ upside down while having it lie over him and backwards while standing behind it, and has cited guitarist Jimi Hendrix and English organist Don Shinn as his chief theatrical influences. He also employed a special rig to rotate his piano end-over-end while he was playing it, though this of course is purely for visual effect, as a piano cannot operate as an instrument while upside down.

Emerson has performed several notable rock arrangements of classical compositions, ranging from J. S. Bach via Modest Mussorgsky to 20th-century composers such as Béla Bartók, Aaron Copland, Leoš Janáček and Alberto Ginastera. Occasionally Emerson has quoted from classical and jazz works without giving credit, particularly early in his career, from the late 1960s until 1972. The song "Rondo" by The Nice is a 4/4 interpretation of Blue Rondo à la Turk by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, originally in 9/8 time signature. The piece is introduced by an extensive excerpt from Bach’s Italian Concerto, third movement. With the additions of Bach and Emerson’s own improvisations, the work may be regarded as Emerson’s personal arrangement of Brubeck’s classic.

On ELP’s eponymous first album, Emerson’s classical quotes went largely uncredited. "The Barbarian" is heavily influenced by "Allegro barbaro" by Bartók, and "Knife Edge" was virtually a note-for-note restatement of "Sinfonietta" by Janáček. Note-for-note extracts were taken from pieces by Bartók, Janáček and Bach, mixed in with some original material, and credited completely to Emerson, Lake, Palmer and roadie Richard Fraser. By 1971, with the releases Pictures at an Exhibition and Trilogy, Emerson began to fully credit classical composers, Modest Mussorgsky for the piano piece which inspired the first album, and Aaron Copland for "Hoedown" on the second. Emerson was adamant that he did not use Maurice Ravel’s orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition in developing his own version.

Emerson provided music for a number of films since 1980, including Dario Argento’s Inferno and World of Horror, the 1981 thriller Nighthawks and, more recently, Godzilla: Final Wars. He was also the composer for the short-lived 1994 animated television series Iron Man.

In 1990 Emerson toured with The Best, a short-lived supergroup which also included John Entwistle, Joe Walsh, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and Simon Phillips.

In 2002 Emerson re-formed and toured with The Nice, though performing a longer set of ELP music using a backing band including guitarist/vocalist Dave Kilminster.

In 2004, Emerson published his autobiography entitled Pictures of an Exhibitionist, which dealt with his entire career, particularly focusing on his early days with The Nice, and his nearly career-ending nerve-graft surgery in 1993. Emerson was the headliner of both the first and third Moogfest, a festival held in honour of Robert Moog at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York City in 2004 and 2006 respectively.

Emerson opened the Led Zeppelin reunion/Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert at the O2 Arena in London on 10 December 2007, along with Chris Squire and Alan White (Yes) and Simon Kirke (Bad Company/Free). The supergroup played the new arrangement of "Fanfare for the Common Man (Emerson, Lake & Palmer song)".