Richmond, VA – I first heard of Jordan Rudess when I covered Dream Theater in March of this year. His work captured both my eye and ear as I focused on his complex keyboard (and other) play that night at the Warner Theater in Washington DC. I was thrilled to see he was making an appearance at the Tin Pan in Richmond, VA on July 11, 2022 and I could not wait to experience his solo work. I had no idea what I was in for, as not only was the audience treated to an awesome musical performance, but we were educated on technology and techniques that will and are changing the music industry as we speak.
Jordan took to the stage with a huge smile, as the awaiting Tin Pan audience cheered. He proceeded to play a piece that I did not recognize, which was because, as Jordan put it, he improvised to get a good feel for the audience. We were already eating it up!
If you know Jordan’s work, you know he is no stranger to improvisation. Before the show I had the chance to talk to him a little about his career and his evolution and found out that his improvisational notoriety originated early in his Julliard tenure. What started as Bach Prelude soon turned improvisational to the dismay of his teacher (you do not improvise at Julliard). Thankfully he was able to continue to improvise at Julliard, albeit far down the hall from his teacher’s studio!
After playing a beautiful “Bach Partita #5 in G Minor“, Jordan let us behind the curtain to inform us he also does some work for Universal Music. Donning headphones, he played a new piece, that has yet to be named, which he called, “Piece #1”. It was at this point we first witnessed his fluency in technology as he also controlled the backing tracks to accompany him. He was a solo act with an ‘orchestra’ on the computer. Technology is great!!
I admit, a backing track on a computer is pretty standard in today’s live performance world. That was not where the tech stopped on this night. We were introduced to an App that he works with called Moises. This app is a game changer as it has the ability to divide a single music track into individual instrument and vocal tracks. It also displays chords and even allows changes in pitch and other musical changes. In his first demo, he played “Moonchild” by King Crimson with Greg Lake vocals (vocals separated using Moises). It was awesome!!
That was not the first Moises appearance. After he did a club piece called, “Stardust” adding some blues improvisation. He did a Yes tune, “Soon” with Jon Anderson vocals. He followed up with Elton John’s, “Your Song“, playing around with the sound a bit (deep slow vocals and back to normal) and removed the instrument tracks so it was just Elton’s voice with Jordan on the piano. The demonstrated power of Moises was amazing!
In an unexpected twist, Jordan showed he could sing (a few octaves lower than the original) as he sang Dream Theater’s “Beneath the Surface” with a little Rudess improv thrown in for good measure. As he put it, “The best thing about doing these solo shows is I can do whatever the hell I want!”.
The education was not limited to technology. Jordan asked us if we were interested in learning a 23/8 time signature (and quickly shut that down), or 17/8 (and also shut that down), settling on teaching us 11/8. We all clapped the beat (4 sets of 2 beats with a 3 to finish before repeating). Jordan then improvised to our (sometimes) off 11/8 skin percussion rhythm. It was a lot of fun.
The music education then transitioned from the time signatures to tech once again with an app he helped develop, with a team at Stanford, called GeoShred, which puts very realistic instrumental sounds on an iPad or Android device (he noted that he had used GeoShred to play cello parts on the last Dream Theater tour). He played some improvised blues, including a little face plant on the iPad.
If piano, tech, singing, and more tech were not enough, we were next introduced to Jordan on the guitar. While he says he has about 50 years to go before he catches up with Petrucci, he was pretty good as he played another Universal Music track called, “Piece #2”.
As the night wound down, Jordan talked a little about his experience with David Bowie, playing and singing a cover of “Space Oddity” (while not known for his vocals, he was really good… I would say he did Bowie proud!!). To close out the night he did a wonderful medley of Dream Theater tunes. It was a fitting end to an awesome musical and educational performance.
I admit, I was not taken totally by surprise by the educational nature of the performance, as Jordan provides lessons on the Yousic platform. Even before the performance Jordan graciously agreed to talk (and educate) me on all things related to Jordan and music.
As it turns out his improvisational skills have been incorporated into a lot of Dream Theater music. He shared about his early career when band members would yell various styles and he would improvise to the desired style. Many of those pieces were incorporated into the album they were working on.
While I did not know the tech focus of the performance at the time, I had asked him, with all the options for music production (not just label reliance), does he have any advice for up and coming artists. He told me he was glad he got into the business during a simpler time when options were fewer, adding that it is easy to get overwhelmed by all the ways to get one’s music out and it was important to be educated in the various options. Very good advice.
With all the tech and music education Jordan had provided, when asked whether he preferred digital or analog keys, he thought about if for a second and said if he were on a desert island and had a choice, he would choose an analog piano over digital. This makes sense, as it was his love for the piano that started it all.
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Jordan Rudess Setlist
Partita no. 5 in G major (Johann Sebastian Bach)
Piece # 1 for Universal Music Orchestral Track
Moon Child (Moises App demo – Greg Lake vocals)
Brain Damage / Entangled (Pink Floyd / Genesis covers)
Soon (Yes cover) (Moises app Jon Anderson/Yes vocals)
Your Song (Moises app demo, Elton John vocals)
Beneath the Surface (Dream Theater) (Jordan sings)
11/8 Groove Improvisation (with audience clap timing participation)
GeoShred (technology demo) Blues
Piece # 2 for Universal Orchestral Track (guitar solo)
Space Oddity (David Bowie cover) (Jordan sings)
Dream Theater Medley – Illumination Theory / In the Presence of Enemies Pt. 1 / These Walls / The Ministry of Lost Souls / Pale Blue Dot / Act II: Scene Seven: I. The Dance of Eternity / Overture 1928 / Octavarium / The Root of All Evil / A View From the Top of the World / In the Presence of Enemies Pt. 2
Show Date: July 11, 2022