Piano prodigy graces Jazz Guys.

P.E.I. piano prodigy Max Keenlyside performed at Jazz Guys last Saturday evening. During his three hour performance, the third-year music student presented a history lesson in American ragtime and jazz piano. With a short introduction before each number, he laid out the composer, his origin, and, from time to time, a short story about the life the composer led. Combined with the music itself, a vivid picture was painted of the history of ragtime piano and the music that had influenced his compositions alongside the birth and origins of the jazz style of piano.

The show he played was divided into three segments: The first was made up of songs from across the United States, spanning from New York to New Orleans, most originating in the Golden Age of Jazz. Songs by Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith, Fats Waller, and James P. Johnson were all featured in the first segment, completing the trifecta of the greats of the stride piano early in the evening, and setting the evening firmly in the Golden Age of Jazz.

In the second segment, Keenlyside played a ragtime version of the national anthem which picked up speed and intensity as it progressed. At the end, he played some of his original music which was framed perfectly right in the middle of all his musical influences. He made clear what had gone into the creation of the pieces and what their heritage was, all in all really adding to their quality.

The third part was when the requests took off, taking the performance through the echelons of 1930s pop music, with the focus on songs in the Harlem stride style (known for laying the groundwork for modern jazz piano). More Willie the Lion was played as per an audience request, as well as more James P. Johnson, tying in nicely with the stride music Keenlyside began the night with. The set included a ragtime version of Chopin’s “Nocturne” that was a refreshingly upbeat take on the famous piano solo. The performance ended in a bang that came in the form of The Lion’s “Fingerbuster,” a song that is true to its name, showing off the remarkable dexterity it takes to perform.

His portable five-octave piano was a work of art in itself and fit perfectly into the music that it emitted. Built for touring before keyboards were around, the relic of a previous age had a remarkable clear resonance as a result of each key having only two strings, rather than the typical three, and seemed to take the authenticity of his escapade through the history of ragtime and jazz piano up a notch. The loss of two octaves made a little bit of improvisation necessary, but it was smoothly handled with no loss of enjoyment.

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