A classically trained, virtuoso, superlative showman whose first four albums were all top-20 sellers. An acclaimed rock star who rejected that accolade, who never listened to rock music, who preferred jazz and classical. A composer of symphonies, piano concertos, movie soundtracks, and legendary rock epics.
Keith Emerson is dead.
Emerson, who mastered as many as a dozen keyboards on stage, including bleeding-edge technology, and had the ability to play upside-down could, in the end, not master the demons inside of him. The musical genius of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer shot himself in the head, at age 71.
It is cliché to say we will never know why. Keith was a month away from premieres with symphonies in Japan and Berlin of his newest piano concerto. He had led a quiet, productive, life since retiring from the rock scene some 25 years ago. He was never linked to the industry’s seedier drug and alcohol excesses.
What I do know is that Keith Emerson has had a lasting influence on my life. By popularizing progressive rock versions of classical music such as Copeland’s Hoedown and Fanfare for the Common Man, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Emerson made it ok, even cool, for the high-school me to proudly enjoy classical and jazz music as well as rock. Listening to him spurred me to start playing piano again, an interest that gave me untold thousands of hours of enjoyment.
Keith Emerson, you may not have thought yourself a rock star, but that is exactly what you were in my life.