Category Archives: keith emerson

Goodbye and Farewell, Keith Emerson

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Keith Emerson and Kathie Touin

Keith and the author at the Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles, in 1993 after an Emerson, Lake & Palmer concert (photo: © Kathie Touin)

Last night I was stunned to hear the news that Keith Emerson had died. This morning it seems that he killed himself. I’m heartbroken and devastated beyond words, but I feel I need to say something about what he has meant to me.

Keith’s music crashed into my life 34 years ago and turned everything upside down. He is the reason I became a professional musician and have spent my life trying to live up to the standard he set for rock keyboardists. His work has kept me going through some of the darkest days of my life, and helped me celebrate some of the brightest.

I met Keith 21 years ago and we became friends. He was funny, kind, generous, silly, occasionally thorny and never anything less than supportive of my music.

Kathie Touin, Keith Emerson and Charlie 1993

Myself with Keith wearing a t-shirt bearing my cockatiel’s namesake, Charlie Parker (photo: © Kathie Touin)

I haven’t seen him often over the past few years, though we’ve stayed in touch. I was delighted to be able to attend his concert at the Barbican in London last July and give him a long-overdue hug.

His was an immense talent, and I’m struggling to accept that his voice is now silent. It’s unthinkable that I won’t get a ridiculous email in my inbox, or be able to pick up the phone and listen to his wild tales of life during ELP’s heyday.

I was recording the string part on a song for my new album yesterday, probably at the time this awful event was playing out halfway across the world in Santa Monica, California. Though I’d written the song about someone else, the lyrics seem almost eerily appropriate now. But then Keith and I always had an uncanny connection.

I thought I’d post the lyrics here as a tribute to Keith, though the song won’t be completed for a little while yet.

Thank you, Doctor Emo. I will miss you terribly. But we will still connect every time I sit at the piano and play your music.

Lotsa luv,

Kathie Touin

BETWEEN HEAVEN AND THE SKY

The leaves were drifting down
when I heard the lonely sound
a barren fruit tree in the wind
that lost its voice that once could sing

And underneath a rosy moon
I knew that you’d be leaving very soon
but you were never meant for me
You were far too rare a thing

You always moved through the world
like a ghost
Darker than ocean
and paler than sky
Like a cup that has broken
you fill me but I lose you
somewhere amongst all the stars
where you shine

I never thought you’d come to stay
an errant star that rainy day
but how was I to ever know
How deep your footprints on my soul

You always moved through the world
like a ghost
Darker than ocean
and paler than sky
Like a cup that has broken
you fill me but I lose you
somewhere amongst all the stars
where you shine

Somewhere between heaven and the sky
I hope you have found the answers why
You dog-eared the pages of my past
I hope you’ve found calmness and peace at least

And now I wander here alone
beneath a sky so wildly blown
but I can hear you calling me
that cloudy voice I’ll always know

You always moved through the world
like a ghost
Darker than ocean
and paler than sky
Like a cup that has broken
you fill me but I lose you
somewhere amongst all the stars
where you shine

© K. Touin 2014/2016 (BMI)

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Anyone here speak jazz?

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I don’t speak jazz. That’s what I’ve claimed for years. I understand it to a large degree, I can analyse a tune, re-harmonise chord progressions and work out substitute dominants and ii V I progressions but it’s not a language I’m fluent in as a player.

Last night I watched an Arena programme on the excellent BBC Four channel in honour of Dave Brubeck’s 90th birthday. As hard as it is to admit, I haven’t listened to or played jazz in years, so I came to this programme almost with fresh ears. Throughout I was struck by his lush and beautiful chord voicings. I’m not sure this had ever really registered with me, and I found this startling.

I arrived at jazz via progressive rock. My early piano lessons were classically based, and on my own I messed around with learning Beatles songs and other rock and pop music, working out the chords more or less from where they were written above the piano music for guitar.

After the fateful night when I first heard Keith Emerson tearing furiously through a live version of Take A Pebble, on a King Biscuit Flower Hour radio programme, I immersed myself in progressive rock. While the classical influences were immediately obvious in most keyboardists of this genre, it was Emerson’s more subtle jazz influences that caught my ear. I decided I needed to learn to play jazz in order to understand what he was doing.

During my high school years I was blessed with a brilliant genius of a private teacher who had started his professional music life as a concert pianist and then veered off into playing in jazz ensembles. He was the perfect catalyst for my now obsessive desire to be GOOD.

He introduced me to the fundamentals of jazz, including improvisation which helped my prog-rock leanings immeasurably. This in turn led me to apply to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, which I attended straight out of high school.

When I arrived at Berklee, I was immediately out of my depth and knew it – this was a Serious Jazz School. It’s a brilliant place and those years were the toughest and most exhilarating of my entire life. But I never could quite get my head around jazz – the approach was technical but in a way I didn’t understand. I loved the harmony classes but couldn’t find this cohesion in the tunes. I decided I didn’t have a natural knack for jazz and just got on with learning what I could apply to the direction I was headed musically.

Then, as with most musicians around that I age I would guess, it was all about technique and chops (skill) for me. When learning how to solo, we were taught what notes you could use to solo in which keys, what chords were ‘allowed’ to go with which modes… I didn’t want this – I just wanted to play. Of course, a musician needs tools and a vocabulary to pull from, especially when improvising. But I felt this was all too clinical and just used what seemed useful (as well as doing what I had to do to avoid being graded down).

The serious jazz players there practised licks endlessly. One horn player used to wander around the halls of the dorm, which unusually was a pentagonal shape, so you could literally go around in near-circles, practising lick after lick. My roommate and I would hear him go by and say, ‘Ah, that’s lick number 218.’ The next time he came around – ‘Oh, that must be lick number 35.’ I was never any good at memorising and it was beyond me how these players could store up entire catalogues of these musical phrases to be trotted out at will.

So there were things in this jazz world I couldn’t relate to, and I retreated more and more, to the point that for years after I left the college I didn’t even listen to jazz, let alone play it. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a reflection on Berklee, this is just me.  I’ve never liked to be dictated to and, as music is such an intensely personal thing, I probably shut out some of the instruction that might have helped me had it not collided with my stubborn determination to do things my own way.

After years with jazz music being on the periphery of my life, I watched this programme about Dave Brubeck. And what really struck me about his playing, even though I have seen him in concert and listened to his music years ago, was the beauty and complexity of his chord voicings.

I’ve always thrived on harmony. From being a ten year old trying to work out all the harmonies to The Beatles’ songs, to immersing myself in modal harmony at Berklee, to working out the arrangements and backing vocal tracks to my own CDs, it’s been a constant source of fascination and inspiration for me.

After the programme ended last night, I sat for a moment and wondered if maybe I’d always approached jazz all wrong. What would happen if I forgot about the ‘right’ way to solo or comp and just approached it harmonically? Comping – playing chords under lead lines – was always a weak point for me. I could voicelead – get from one chord to the next – but I couldn’t make the stuff happening underneath the solo sound at all interesting. Maybe this has been the problem all along.

So I’m going to dig out those CDs which have been languishing for so long, dig out some tunes, and spend some time playing around with chords.  Who knows? Maybe I’ll discover that I can speak jazz. At least conversationally. And that might be enough.

Kathie Touin

Soliloquy Deluxe – my new CD release

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I’m very proud to announce the release of my new CD, Soliloquy Deluxe. It is a collection of some of my favourite classical piano pieces, a few things I wrote myself, and a gorgeous piece by Keith Emerson.

This CD may seem like quite a departure from my previous release, Butterfly Bones, which was made up of my own original songs and had me playing and singing on it. This one is solo piano, but it has a little bit of history behind it.

My first official CD release was the original Soliloquy. I chose the pieces I performed from ones that I love playing, some of them from back when I first began playing piano. It was a mix of styles, moods and time periods, including Bach, Chopin, MacDowell, Debussy, and some less well known pieces by other composers.

The initial run of Soliloquy sold out and not long after the record label quietly folded. I hoped that someday I could get the album back out on the market. So many people had told me how much they loved it, whether it was because they found it relaxing, emotional or just because it reminded them of their own childhood piano lessons.

This summer, I decided the time was right to finally bring Soliloquy back to life. I’m in a space between the last CD of my own songs and the next one, still recovering from my ankle operation, and this seemed like a good time to have another look at Soliloquy.

I had it re-mastered by the ever-fabulous Adam Helal at Q Sound here in London, changed the running order around a bit, and added a handful of bonus tracks.

These came from a solo piano demo I had completed at the urging of my then manager, way back in the early 90s. I gave this demo to the record company, Sundown, they then signed me, and produced the first version of Soliloquy.

I decided it would be fun to include these original demo tracks. There is an earlier version of my composition Silver Song, two others of mine, and the Emerson piece. I sent Keith the recording to check that it was okay with him to include the track and he very kindly gave permission.

Another change I made was to remove the one and only edit that had been put in the album, on the first track, Shepherd Song. Originally I was told it wasn’t long enough. It always bothered me the edit had been put in, because I intentionally recorded the album live so it would sound spontaneous and natural. I’m very pleased that it has now been restored to its original short but sweet self.

I hope you love the cover art as much as I do. The original is hanging on my lounge wall in pride of place. It is the creation of artist NM Burdikin, a multi-talented American friend of mine who now lives in Colchester here in the UK. I never get tired of looking at it – such a wonderful blend of colours and styles. Just look closely at the trunk of the tree, and what about those reflections of the trees in the water? Amazing. Please go look at her website to see more of her work at http://www.burdikin.homestead.com/.

I also want to mention Ricardo Memez who did the photography for the CD. I had a very enjoyable afternoon at his studio near Little Venice in London that resulted in the portrait in the CD and some great new promo shots. He also captured the brilliant clarity of the front cover art. He’s a very talented photographer, and you can see samples of his work on his website at http://www.ricardomemez.co.uk/

Finally, I just want to make a small mention here of how sad I am that due to the new RIAA restrictions on internet radio stations, the lovely Radio Samantha in Bristol had their final broadcast last night (Sunday 3rd September). This is a shame because everyone there has been very supportive of my music, and featured my CD Butterfly Bones regularly on several programmes. Thanks to PJ and everyone else at Samantha who has been so great. Of course, we artists need to be paid for our work getting airplay, but for those of us who fall outside the grand sweep of the performance rights societies’ sampling, the exposure is invaluable. Hopefully we can find a happy medium for everyone involved before too long.

I hope you enjoy the new CD.

All the best,
Kathie Touin