Landsberg & Yount's Top 25

PRESS RELEASE:
The Top 25 Pianists Of The Century

NEW YORK, Dec 27, 1999/ PRNewswire / - Pops piano Duo Landsberg & Yount have announced their list of the 25 most influential pianists of the Twentieth Century.
The keyboard elite include classical superstar Vladimir Horowitz, Showman Liberace and the piano’s worst nightmare Jerry Lee Lewis.

Over the past two decades, Landsberg & Yount’s appearances with the worlds great orchestras and a string of well received recordings have made Norman Landsberg & Robert Blue Yount the most successful piano duo since the team of Ferrante & Teicher who, not coincidentally, made the list.

“Technical ability was not one of our criteria,” said Yount. “ We considered the impact each of the pianists had on other pianists, or their ability to keep the piano in front of the public. It is, to say the least, an eclectic group.”

American icons Scott Joplin, George Gershwin and Liberace were naturals for the list according to Landsberg.

“Gershwin’s contribution was the worlds most famous piano composition, “Rhapsody In Blue” and Liberace was the ultimate publicist for the instrument, not to mention the candle industry,” said Yount.

Jazz pianists on their list include Dave Brubeck, Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Vince Guaraldi, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Art Tatum, Count Basie and Fats Waller.

Along with Horowitz, Landsberg & Yount gave the nod to classical pianists Van Cliburn, Glen Gould, Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Sergi Rachmaninoff and Arthur Rubinstein.

Also on the list are County pianist Floyd Cramer, Elton John, pops virtuoso Peter Nero and America’s best selling pianist, Roger Williams.

When asked why ‘New Age’ Pianists were overlooked, both agreed the reason was obvious. They failed to elaborate. “Perhaps Yanni or John Tesh will make the 3000 list.” said Yount.

Landsberg & Yount have paid tribute to Gershwin on their latest album. “George Gershwin Then and NOW” (Pair O Dactyl Records). The duo performs with Gershwin thanks to the conversion of his original paper piano rolls to computer files played on a Yamaha Disklavier.

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THE LIST:
The Top 25 Pianists Of The 20th Century
(in alphabetical order)

Count Basie
Dave Brubeck
Van Cliburn
Chick Corea
Floyd Cramer
Bill Evans
Ferrante & Teicher
George Gershwin
Glen Gould
Vince Guaraldi
Vladimir Horowitz
Elton John
Scott Joplin
Jerry Lee Lewis
Liberace
Peter Nero
Ignacy Jan Paderewski
Oscar Peterson
Sergi Rachmaninoff
Artur Rubinstein
George Shearing
Art Tatum
Fats Waller
Roger Williams

Count Basie
Never in piano history has a pianist achieved so much by playing so little.The perfect example of quality over quantity. During the swing era the piano was frequently subordinate to the big band. Masters such as Basie and Duke Ellington used it with grace and power, but more as an ornament than as an elite instrument. Bebop pianists like Bud Powell and in a radically different way, Thelonius Monk reclaimed the piano as a central jazz instrument. But Count Basie understood economy. His three note signature ending is the perfect exclamation point to almost any big band arrangement.

Dave Brubeck
Brubeck was always an innovator never content to rest on his laurels. In the 1960’s he began exploring unusual meters. Contemporary classical composers had been doing this for some time, but jazz for all its freedom and innovation was still mostly tied to 4/4 time. “Take Five”, written in 5/4 was a genuinely popular hit, (Brubeck claimed he was probing the African roots of jazz) and gave him an entire new following. For all his buoyancy, he was also considered cerebral. For many listeners in the 50’s and 60’s Brubeck was the sound of “progressive” jazz. It became “cool” to listen. It still is.

Van Cliburn
It took a tall, lanky, twenty three year old Texan to do what American politicans could not...take Moscow by storm. At the height of the cold war Van Cliburn enchanted the hearts of Americans and Russians alike with an unpretentious personality and impeccable musicanship. After winning the Soviet sponsored Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, Van Cliburn was thrust into a meteoric career that made him a cultural hero tantamount to the Beatles, complete with a New York ticker tape parade down Broadway. Van Cliburn now has his own piano competition held every four years in Fort Worth, Texas.

Chick Corea
In the mid 1960’s Chick Corea began to shape a new jazz sound beginning with electric piano and graduating to more sophisticated synthesizers. Along with Herbie Hancock and Joe Zawinul, Corea explored these new electronic horizons to produce some of the most original, imaginative and complex sounds heard from a keyboard. A gifted composer, his composition “Spain” has entered into into general jazz repertoire.

Floyd Cramer
In the 1950’s, County Western music had to “twang.” Singers could twang, fiddles and guitars did, and the “steel” guitar was the twangy-est. But the piano? Floyd Cramer and his “bent” note technique became the defining country piano sound. This technique was virtually copied by anyone daring to call themselves a country piano player. Cramer began as a session pianist and after his solo hit “Last Date “ became a featured performer and best selling recording artist.

Bill Evans
Bill Evans seemed to perform neurosurgery at the piano.The impact Evans had on American jazz piano is felt as much today as when it appeared full blown in the late fifties. A whole school of younger pianists have taken Evans’ contribution of harmonic substitutions as a point of departure and have expanded, re-evaluated and developed his subtle and introspective keyboard style. The Evans approach was not only virtuosic but illuminating, shading every phrase and fill with his remarkable touch and precision.

Ferrante & Teicher
The duo piano team of Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher were affectionately dubbed “the movie theme team”. This was a well earned nickname indeed. Starting in 1960 with the international success of their recording “Theme From The Apartment,” F&T brought instrumental film music and duo piano to new heights of popularity. Before the end of the decade they had sold over 20 million records. Their phenomenal backlog of recordings has been packaged and repackaged into an incredible 194 albums. No less than 30 of their albums charted in Billboard between1961 and 1972- statistics impressive enough to turn most rock and roll bands that dominated this era green with envy.

George Gershwin
Gershwin loved to play the piano. He played it magnificently - and at the least provocation. George’s penchant for hogging the piano all night at every social gathering was well known. Gershwin friend, pianist Oscar Levant once remarked, “An Evening with George Gershwin is a George Gershwin evening” Undoubtedly it is Gershwin’s music which is his legacy, but anyone who leaves the world “Rhapsody In Blue”, has influenced piano playing and composition to the max.

Glen Gould
Eccentricities were part of The Gould legend. They included the gloves, scarf and overcoat he wore - even in the heat of summer; the piano stool he carried with him which enabled him to play at eye level with the keyboard; his humming and singing along while he played and his quirky phrasing and unconventional tempos. But it was his mathmatical, fresh playing of Bach on the modern piano that made us rethink the possibilities of his music. He was also extremely protective of his digits. He once begged off shaking a friends hands by saying, “Oh, excuse me, I’m not shaking hands this year.”

Vince Guaraldi
From his days as a sideman with leaders like Cal Tjader and Woody Herman to his cross over “pops” breakthrough in 1962 with “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” and the “Charlie Brown” television specials, Vince Guaraldi’s pop based lyricism created a entire new generation of jazz fans. His playing did not shoot off fireworks in a tecno-wiz way, but its not as simplified as the casual listener may think. His piano solos sometimes dipped into a lush and even dense harmonic sense that marks the Bill Evans / Herbie Hancock school of jazz keyboardist. Charlie Brown’s piano playing friend Schroeder has similar qualities.

Vladimir Horowitz
The impact of Horowitz on the American piano scene was nuclear. He mesmerized audiences and fellow pianists with a technique so astounding that he is considered to be perhaps the greatest pianist of the century if not in pianistic history. Fellow pianists listened closely with a I-hear-it-but-I-don’t-beleive-it look on their face. As a technician he was demonic; blinding scales, thunderous chords, dazzling finger work and machine gun octaves. No matter how difficult the piece, Horowitz seemed to barely work up a sweat. His own transcription of Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever “ would leave an audience stunned and his smoking Steinway begging for mercy. His well known eccentricities add to a portrait of a man who became one of the most controversial, extraordinarily popular and towering musicians of this or any other century.

Elton John
OK, we know that this P.T. Barnum of the keyboard is not a pianist per se, but during the eighties and nineties, few have been able to raise the visibility and popularity of the piano with younger people more than Elton John. This talented Britisher, who’s real name is Reg Dwight, displays extravagant stage antics and costumes worthy of Liberace. His name, face, and music is inextricably connected with the piano. Elton John an influential pianist,? OK, maybe not. But as a goodwill ambassador extraordinaire for our beloved instrument, this Captain Fantastic of the ivories is a superstar!

Scott Joplin
In 1979, Marvin Hamlisch, and the Academy Award winning film “The Sting”, brought back the music of an early pioneer of ragtime and jazz. Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” became one of the most popular piano hit’s of the 70’s, and gave us a closer look at this extraordinary composer / pianists brief but bright career. Joplin’s rags continue to delight, (is their anyone who doesn’t smile while listening to Maple Leaf Rag?) and his influence was felt and acknowledged by Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and George Gershwin.

Jerry Lee Lewis
A man not associated with subtly, Jerry Lee Lewis has been quoted thus : “I can play more piano with my d - - k, (rhymes with hick) than most piano players can play with all ten fingers.” This remarkable feat notwithstanding, Jerry Lee Lewis was the first to bring Rock n’ Roll piano to millions beginning in the 1950’s. He didn’t so much play the piano as attack, mug, beat, and otherwise thrash the poor beast to death. This technique of “smash mouth” piano did not go unnoticed later by Keith Emmerson and the band The Who.

Liberace
Where to begin. The candelabra, outrageous costumes, a piano shaped swimming pool, his mother, his brother, the smile, the voice, all belonging exclusively to “Mr. Showmanship”, Walter Valentino Liberace. No doubt the only pianist in history to arrive on stage in a Rhinestone studded Rolls Royce and make his exit while flying (ala Mary Martin.) This legendary superstar never failed to delight, with his unique style of piano playing, not classical, not jazz, but a hybrid ornamental style all his own. He entertained countless millions of devoted fans through his own television show, recordings, live concerts and even the movies. Ignoring the jibes of his many critics, he laughingly replied, “I’m crying all the way to the bank.” He eventually bought the bank.

Peter Nero
Hail the conquering Nero! The ultimate pops pianist, Brooklyn born Peter Nero has established an impressive forty year career as a virtuoso pianist, composer, arranger and conductor. At fourteen, then Bernie Nierow, was attending New York's High School of Music and Arts and won a scholarship to the Julliard School of Music. In his early twenties, his early recordings for RCA established the “Nero style”, which frequently combines contemporary hits with classical masterworks and brilliant jazz improvisation. His recordings of “Mountain Greenery” and “I Got Rhythm” are studies in virtuosic pop piano playing. Nero’s career has produced two grammy awards, ten grammy nominations, a million selling gold album, "Summer Of ‘42", a movie score and over 66 albums selling into the millions.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski
A great explosion of hair, his romantic and courtly presence combined with magnetism, glamour, and a dose of world politics, (he was Prime Minister of Poland), Ignacy Jan Paderewski was pianism personified to an adoring public. But was he the greatest pianist of his time? Probably not. His very early recordings, circa 1911, confirm this. He frequently took the easy way out, simplifying difficult passages, and when the going got tough simply slowing down. Yet few pianists could have thrilled a public for so long without having had something that few artists in history could equal; a projection of personality and style that was awesome. What with his private railroad car, his personal chef, aides, his wife and her aides, butler, masseur, physician and tuner, his tours were more like regal processions. He was an unparalleled showman who used his fallable pianistic gifts to hew for himself a fantastic career. So while his critics were counting his wrong notes, he was counting his dollars.

Oscar Peterson
The heir apparent to Art Tatum’s keyboard sorcery is Oscar Peterson. This Canadian born pianist has an encyclopedic mastery of jazz piano and has probably recorded more music than any other jazz pianist in history. Many believe Oscar combines the best elements of a jazz piano using stride, swing, as well as bop, producing a big band sound without the band. Peterson’s athletic left hand combine with his fluid, nonstop, melodic right hand makes for a case study in the man who can do it all.

Sergi Rachmaninoff
The lank, dour, unsmiling figure of Sergi Rachmaninoff, with his cast iron face and shaved head, could easily be mistaken for an escaped convict. At the piano he displayed one of the most colossal techniques in pianistic history. If Sergi had never played a note his abilities as a composer would have landed him in the piano hall of fame. His Second Piano Concerto is one of the top five performed and recorded and his familiar Prelude in C sharp minor, (which he grew to loath), is standard repertiore. His musical ideas were as big as hands. He could play a left hand chord of C, E-flat, G,C, and G, (If you are a pianist, run to your keyboard and try it), and would account for the murderous figurations in his own music. Rachmaninoff became a professional pianist late in life through economic necessity. Up to then he had used the piano primarily to introduce his own music. But his polish and unflawed perfection at the keyboard, doomed him to a life on the concert stage. What a pity.

Artur Rubinstein
As the man, so his music. Rubinstein loved people, loved life and loved to play the piano. He was a polished,witty, and highly intelligent man, all reflected in his playing. Great sentiment without sentimentality, brilliance without unnecessary virtuosity. He was always considered to be the ultimate romantic pianist. Mozart and Bach played a relatively small part of his repertoire. His Chopin playing - and he was considered to be the greatest of all Chopin-ist - unfolds with poetry and aristocrity. A natural pianist with well designed hands (broad palms, spatulate fingers, a little finger almost as long as his middle one and a healthy stretch that could take in a twelfth: C to G), Rubinstein found he memorized instantly and had to practice hardly at all. (now, isn’t that just too bad) Even in his nineties his playing remained that of a young man in love with wine, women and song.

George Shearing
In 1957, Jack Kerouac wrote : “They urged him to get up and play. He did. He played innumerable choruses with amazing chords that mounted higher and higher till the sweat splashed all over the piano, and everybody listened in awe and fright. They led him off the stand after an hour. He went back to his dark corner, old god Shearing, and the boys said, “there ain’t nothin’ left after that.” When George Shearing unveiled his innovative quintet sound in 1949, it seemed to straddle the worlds of chamber music and bebop combos. The Shearing “sound” while undeniably jazz, shows a restraint and attention to development that could set standards for any pianist.

Art Tatum
Born with cataracts, blind in one eye and diminishing vision in the other, Art Tatum had a reputation for pianistic dexterity that astounded even Vladimir Horowitz. His dazzling improvisations are studies in melodic, harmonic and rhythmic sophistication. Listening to his recording of “Willow Weep For Me” , most jazz pianists weep for their inadequacies. Fats Waller was once giving a concert when he spotted Art Tatum in the audience and made a comment that could have become Tatums epithet: “I play the piano, but God is in the house.”

Fats Waller
Piano great James P. Johnson, once said, “Some little people have music in them, but Fats, he was all music, and you know how big he was.” (For the record he was 5 feet 101/2 inches tall and weighed 285 pounds.) The success of Fats Waller’s piano playing, songs, records, movies and radio appearances made him one of the first jazz piano superstars. Fats raised the art of stride piano to its highest level and in doing so became one of the originators of swing music. Listening to the joy and laughter of “Ain’t Misbehavin,” we can revel in his genius and say right along with him, “One never knows, do one?”

Roger Williams
Probably the only pianist to ever have worked as a lumberjack to pay for his musical studies, Roger Williams, named as Billboard magazine’s “America’s #1 selling popular pianist in history”, qualifies for the title “Mr. Piano.” His first single, “Autumn Leaves,” sold more than three million copies and led to a string of piano hits. He has over 100 albums to his credit including seventeen gold albums. Williams, originally Louis Weertz, attended the Julliard School of Music and studied with jazz great Teddy Wilson.

 

 

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