Top 10 keyboardists, ever (with video).

Page McConnell

Didja really think I'd do a "Best keyboardist" list without Phish's most dignified player? This dude knows how to texturize like few others and build a spacey odyssey of synthesized sonics, and he knows how to bring the dirty funk with his B3 technique and an ear for when and how to wield it. He has a rather nice singing voice, too. Here's McConnell at one of the recent Hampton Coliseum reunion shows playing "Frankenstein" on keytar. That's right, I said keytar, what of it?

Tori Amos

My first taste of feminism came from the fiery-haired songstress and she's technically the first musician I ever saw perform live (I barely count the first, a David Bowie concert my mom dragged me to in the mid-1980s when her friend flaked, because I was too young to enjoy it). This video of "Silent All These Years" from her debut solo album, Little Earthquakes, is an old school taste of Tori, the footage from her performances on the Live at Montreaux 1991 & 1992 DVD. Favorite line from the song: "Boy you'd best pray that I bleed real soon / How's that thought for ya?"

Ivan Neville

He usually goes unnoticed because of his more illustrious relatives -- dad Aaron Neville, and uncles Cyril and Art. But Ivan can funk things up like no one's business, especially when he's playing with his own outfit, Dumpstaphunk. Here he is laying down the grooves on John Fogerty's "Fortunate Son" as a rotating member of the New Orleans Social Club.

Fiona Apple

What can I say? I'm particularly fond of little Miss Apple. The soulful, smokiness of her vocal tone and clever nonconformist lyricism play well against some pretty stellar key-banging. Although she's not the most prolific artist -- she hasn't put out a new album in four years, though she's released all manner of tidbits via iTunes -- what she does produce is always worthy of the wait. Here she is performing "Not About Love," one of my favorites from her 2005 album, Extraordinary Machine.

John Medeski

The keyboardist for neo-jazz trio Medeski Martin and Wood is, in one word, awesome. He plays acoustic piano and a range of keys -- Hammond B3, melodica, mellotron, clavinet, Wurlitzer electric piano, and moog, among others -- and he's a genious with subtlety. Here he is bringing the hotness to "End of the World Party" with MMW at a December 2005 show in Tokoyo, Japan.

Regina Spektor

As you may have already guessed, I have a soft spot for accomplished lady key player-songwriters, specifically those with gorgeous vocals and the ability to use them to deliver serious emotional impact without seeming disengenuine. The Russian-born songstress brings a little international flavor to her odes (some even sung in her native tongue), and those are some catchy odes, to boot. If you high-quality piano-driven pop music and don't own Begin to Hope -- among the best albums of 2006 -- you are missing out, for sure. (For more on her upcoming fifth album, far, and the video for the first single, click here.) Here's a 2006 TV performance of "Fidelity" from that album.

Ben Folds

No list of keyboardists would be complete without Mr. Piano Pop himself, Ben Folds. Here's him playing "Rockin' the Suburbs" on a 2006 episode of Carson Daly.

Robert Walter

Walter has nurtured quite the respectable solo career since the soul-jazz keyboardist came onto the scene more than 15 years ago with the Greyboy Allstars and helped pioneer a new brand of West Coast funk. Here's a vid of him playing "Money Shot" with his solo band, Robert Walter's 20th Congress.

Robert Walter's 20th Congress w/Stanton Moore - 'Money Shot'

Brian Eno

You may not think of Eno when you're putting together your list of all-time bests keyboardists, but the dude virtually created the ambient genre of electronic music with his key and synth skills. This video features Eno brewing up some nice atmospheric textures in a collaborative performance of "Prophesy" with Indian-British musician Nitin Sawhney, as part of Eno's 2007 "Stop The War" benefit concert.

There are plenty of people I left out, but that's not so surprising as this is an entirely subjective list. So, who'd I miss?

Several days ago, while watching Marco Benevento fire up his piano on a YouTube video, I got to thinking — who are some of the best keyboardists around right now, the ones who truly bring chops to the table, either via instrumental compositions, or songwriting, or both? I've tried to go less obvious — no one's questioning the skills of Gregg Allman, or Keith Emerson, or Count Basie, or Richard Wright, or George Duke, or Dr. John, or interchangeable piano men Billy Joel and Elton John, or even the wondrous Stevie Wonder. We all already know those dudes are at the top. But what about some of the less obvious, but no less great? In the vein of Ivan's Top 5 Bass Players Ever — except that, despite the title of my post, I'm not really claiming these are the best key players ever, just my favorites — I've put together the following list, in no particular order, and with video.

Marco Benevento

He's among the most talented keyboardists around right now, in my humble opinion. He's pretty hip to current technology and usually incorporates it into his compositions. I've seen him play in his main band with drummer Joe Russo, the Benevento/Russo Duo, I've seen him perform as part of a Led Zeppelin tribute, Bustle in Your Hedgerow, I've seen him tear it up with Russo, Mike Gordon and Trey Anastasio during the GRAB tour, and I've seen him in his solo project, a trio with badass bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Matt Chamberlain. The following video Marco with his trio playing "Twin Killers" from a May 13 show in Philly.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.