You know when you're listening to Jon Kimura Parker. One of Canada's most distinctive pianists, "Jackie" Parker's energy and verve come through in every performance — whether he's playing his own transcription of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, celebrating the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz by way of William Hirtz's fantasy on its musical themes or jamming with the Police's Stewart Copeland.
We asked Parker to come up with a playlist of some of his favourite piano music. It is exactly as eclectic and dynamic as you might expect.
1. Alicia de Larrocha: Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3
"Rocky 3" has had great performances with all the powerhouse pianists, but this performance is special for different reasons: the musical commitment is extraordinary, ideas original, tempi never showy.
2. George Cziffra: Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 8
Sheer style, some piano pyrotechnics and plenty of paprika.
3. Oscar Peterson: 'Manha de Carnaval/If'
My favourite jazz track of all time. Beautiful tone, gorgeous improvisations. I learned it by ear and played it (very badly, compared to Oscar) as an encore for many years.
4. Orli Shaham (and Jon Kimura Parker): John Adams's Hallelujah Junction
I wouldn't normally volunteer one of my own recordings except that this CD really is a celebration of American music written by composers with whom Orli Shaham has a close relationship. It was a thrill to play Hallelujah Junction with her, a piece where the two interlocked American Steinways are meant to create a collective jangle of sound throughout.
Editor's note: The full recording isn't available online, but here's a mini-documentary about the making of the CD with some lovely playing in it.
5. Genesis: 'Firth of Fifth'
The pianist is Tony Banks [pictured], and I couldn't believe that a progressive rock album (which my friend Marco introduced me to in high school) would feature a piano solo so prominently. I promptly learned it by ear and played it for all my friends.
So much rock music of that era did not work as a solo piano piece — I remember trying to play Deep Purple on the piano and it was a total failure. But a lot of prog rock worked perfectly — the complex rhythms, unpredictable phrase shapes; these were so familiar to me from classical composers.
Recently I've re-entered the rock world a little, in a new collaboration with former Police drummer Stewart Copeland called "Off the Score." Suddenly my misspent youth results in an important familiarity with a lot of great tunes.
6. Elton John: 'Bennie and the Jets'
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was the very first album that I bought, in 1974 as a 14-year-old. In those days, if you played an album enough times, you actually wore it out, and eventually I had to buy another copy. Decades later, when my daughter was the same age, 14, I took my family to hear Elton's Million Dollar Piano show in Las Vegas. When he got to the solo in "Bennie and the Jets," he did this crazy rock improv thing at the piano that just showed his incredible creative genius. I met Elton backstage at Carnegie Hall once — what a thrill!
7. Chick Corea: 'Got a Match?'
An iconic jazz pianist playing one of his own compositions. You can hear the classical twist in the opening of this composition; it almost sounds like a jazzy version of a Bach fugue. I heard Chick perform this live at the JVC Jazz Festival in New York at Lincoln Center, about two hours after hearing Oscar Peterson perform in Carnegie Hall! Only in New York … Chick performed this on a wearable Yamaha keyboard, slung around his neck like a guitar. I thought it was the coolest keyboard ever.
8. Byron Janis: Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3
This is the recording I grew up listening to and just wore out the record. It's a staggering performance of a concerto that I couldn't wait to learn myself (and became the first concerto that I recorded, with André Previn, years later) and of course the famous Mercury Living Presence sound is astonishing. At the time it was extraordinary that Mercury could go to Russia to even make the recording. Janis brings out the humour, steely power, lyricism and sarcasm of this concerto perfectly.
9. Vladimir Cosma: 'Promenade Sentimentale' from the movie Diva
I loved the movie when it came out, and this track I found haunting. I learned it by ear and it was a favourite encore of mine for some time. It’s pretty clearly inspired by the music of Eric Satie (I’m not even sure that it’s not Satie), but it’s played with exaggerated reverb and creates a lovely atmosphere.