Voted “Best Keyboardist of All Time” by Music Radar Magazine, Jordan Rudess is best known as the keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire for platinum-selling Grammy- nominated prog rock band, Dream Theater.
At nine, he entered the Juilliard School of Music Pre-College Division for classical piano training, but by his late teens he had grown increasingly interested in synthesizers and progressive rock music. Against the counsel of his parents and tutors, he turned away from classical piano and tried his hand as a solo progressive rock keyboardist.
After performing in various projects during the 1980s, he gained international attention in 1994 when he was voted “Best New Talent” in the Keyboard Magazine readers’ poll after the release of his Listen solo album. Two of the bands that took notice of Rudess were The Dixie Dregs and Dream Theater, both of whom invited him to join. Rudess chose the Dregs, primarily as being a part-time member of the band would have less of an impact on his young family.
During his time with the Dregs, Rudess formed a “power duo” with drummer Rod Morgenstein. The genesis of this pairing occurred when a power outage caused all of the Dregs’ instruments to fail except Rudess’, so he and Morgenstein improvised with each other until power was restored and the concert could continue. The chemistry between the two was so strong during this jam that they decided to perform together on a regular basis (under the name Rudess/Morgenstein Project or later RMP) and have released a studio and a live record. RMP did a short U.S. tour in November, 2013.
Before joining Dream Theater in January 1999, Jordan connected with John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, bassist Tony Levin of King Crimson and Peter Gabriel notoriety, and recorded two albums with “Liquid Tension Experiment.”
Rudess has been the full-time keyboardist with Dream Theater, since the recording of 1999’s Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. He has recorded seven other studio albums with the group: 2002’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, 2003’s Train of Thought, 2005’s Octavarium, 2007’s Systematic Chaos, 2009’s Black Clouds & Silver Linings , A Dramatic Turn of Events, the self titled Dream Theater, as well as their newest album, The Astonishing, a Rock Opera. The story was written by John Petrucci with music written by John Petrucci and and Jordan Rudess. After touring in three continents around the world with The Astonishing, Dream Theater is preparing to embark on a tour in 2017 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of “Images & Words which will see the groundbreaking album performed in it’s entirety along with selections spanning the bands history.
In addition, he has appeared on the live albums and DVDs Live Scenes From New York, Live at Budokan, Score, Chaos in Motion, Live at Luna Park, and Breaking The Fourth Wall which went to #1 on the Billboard charts.
In addition to working with Dream Theater he occasionally records and performs in other contexts, such as a 2001 one-off duo performance with Petrucci (released as the CD An Evening With John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess), as well as backing up Blackfield on their first short US tour in 2005 and playing a solo opening slot for them on their second in 2007. He also contributed to Steven Wilson’s 2011 album, Grace for Drowning. In 2013, Rudess joined with bassist, Tony Levin, and drummer, Marco Minneman, to create a new supergroup, LMR. In 2015, LMR released their second disc From The Law Offices Of Levin Minnemann Rudess.
In 2010, Rudess composed “Explorations for Keyboard and Orchestra,” his first classical composition. It was premiered in Venezuela on November 19, 2010 by the Chacao Youth Symphony Orchestra and guest conductor Eren Başbuğ. Rudess played all of the keyboard and synthesizer parts. A full symphonic recording of Explorations was released in December 2014 played by Poland’s Sinfonia Consonus.
In 2013 he released “All That Is Now“, a solo acoustic piano recording which works interactively with his app, “Jordan Rudess Explores” and his orchestral album, “Explorations” which features a 50 piece orchestra. In 2015, he released “The Unforgotten Path” which was a collection of original tracks as well as a collection of acoustic piano covers of songs that have inspired his musical life.
Jordan’s interest in state of the art keyboard controllers is another area of his career in which he has achieved success. Jordan owns the successful App development company Wizdom Music, which has developed award-winning apps including: MorphWiz, SampleWiz, Geo Synthesizer, SpaceWiz, SketchWiz, Tachyon, Explores, EarWiz, JordanTron, HarmonyWiz, and GeoShred. MorphWiz won the first ever Billboard award for Best Music Creation App. Wizdom Music has also built apps for Intel, Microsoft and RIM.
He is Chief Music Officer at CME Music, creators of the acclaimed XKey mobile keyboard, as well as the Director of Music Experience for the London-based technology company, Roli Labs, creators of the Seaboard. Jordan has had the honor of being the keynote speaker at MacWorld, Microsoft Build Developer Convention and Project BBQ. In addition, he is the author of 2 keyboard technique books including his latest, “Total Keyboard Wizardry: A Technique and Improvisation Workbook”. Musicians all over the world subscribe to Rudess’ Online Music Conservatory, which offers a full range of courses in everything from harmony and rhythm to improvisation, ear training and technique.
JORDAN RUDESS FAQ’S
Who are your greatest influences?
In terms of Rock keyboardists: Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, and Patrick Moraz. As for bands: Gentle Giant, YES, Genesis, Pink Floyd, ELP, King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix, Autechre, and Aphex Twin.
My background is in classical piano and composition so really everything I do stems from this foundation.
What are your all time favorite albums?
Electric Ladyland – Hendrix
Free Hand – Gentle Giant
Dark Side of the Moon- Pink Floyd
Tarkus – ELP
Close to the Edge – YES
Trick of the Tail – Genesis
Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson
Favorite recorded keyboard solo played by Patrick Moraz with the group Refugee. The cut is entitled “Someday”.
How do you make so much sound with one keyboard?
The way I change sounds is with a single pedal. In Dream Theater on the last tour I used the Korg Oasys 88 note keyboard. Every time I step on my pedal (which is assigned to data increment) with my left foot, it changes the keyboard layout and sounds completely. I use the “COMBI” mode of the Oasys. One-second I might have strings in the R. H. trombones mixed with timpani in the L. H. and when I hit the pedal I’ve got Voices, Piano and Chimes in the RH and a huge sound effect in the LH. Also each pedal step brings me sequentially through our performance.
What music are you listening to these days?
When I am preparing for a tour, the only music I have time to listen to is Dream Theater. But, these days my favorite music picks are: Sigur Ros, Super Furry Animals, Autechre, Radio Head, Porcupine Tree. Of course, I always revisit my old friends: Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, ELP, Hendrix
How did you get into playing synthesizers and rock music?
When I was 17 and still at the Juilliard School of Music pre-college division, high school friends began to turn me on to progressive rock like Yes and Gentle Giant. Specifically, when I heard Tarkus by ELP, it confirmed to me the power that a rock keyboardist could present. I realized that the style of music I had been composing since elementary school had elements of progressive rock. I knew then that rock and synthesizers were a natural direction for my musical future.
Words of wizdom for musicians just starting out?
Expose yourself to many kinds of different music forms. Playing an instrument is like a physical sport in that you have to train your muscles to accomplish the music you have in your head. Unless you are only using a computer to make music, this is a serious commitment. It’s going to take a daily focus and discipline. Like an athlete who has to been in top form. Before I go on tour, I go into serious training – practicing with metronome, making sure my skill is at its highest level. WARNING: Be careful when you are working hard on an instrument to give your hands time to relax and free any tension that has accumulated. I will often practice with one hand until it becomes tired or slightly tense and then shake it out and switch hands.
How did you learn to improvise? Is it important to learn to improvise?
My first piano teacher decided to teach me basic chords so that I could look at a guitar book and be able to play any song just from the chords. I learned all of the inversions of every major and minor chord and of course, over the years have become comfortable getting to any chord in any inversion quickly. This was a foundation for being able to improvise. Improvisation has a lot to do with being able to play what is in your head. The more patterns and riffs you can get to fluently, the more possible it will be to improvise. Realize that one can improvise using only a few notes. One of the exercises I recommend is to just take 3 notes like E, D above it and the octave E above the D and within 4 beats create a pattern and repeat it exactly in the next 4 beats. Then without stopping, in the next measure, create something new. And repeat. Is it important to learn to improvise; I think that it is what music is all about. If you can’t improvise, it’s time to starting learning how. I taught my daughters how to improvise on the piano before they learned how to read notes.
How long do you practice every day?
It varies depending upon my work schedule. I’ve developed some tabletop finger exercises that I practice for a few hours every day to keep my fingers in shape. I can do those exercises no matter what else is going on (travelling, movies, conversations, restaurants etc.)
What do you practice?
If I have the time to sit down at my Steinway, I like to spend at least one hour doing technical exercises. These include basic things like scales and arpeggios but extend to my own exercises that develop the technique I require. See my online conservatory to check out some ideas for technique building. One of my favorite things to do is to open up a really challenging classical piece of music and go directly to the hardest part and work on it. Some pieces I’ve worked on recently are the Chopin Etudes.
How did you get into playing piano?
When I was in 2nd grade, there was a piano in my classroom. My teacher called my mother to tell her that I was accompanying the children in their school songs really beautifully. My mother was very surprised, because as far as she knew I had never touched a piano, since I don’t come from a musical family and there were no instruments in my house!
My mother enjoys the arts and was excited to support my interest in music. So, my parents bought a small white Estey baby grand piano and found a local piano teacher. The first lesson I was taught the basic stuff….. middle C, D, E, quarter notes…… When the teacher came back for the 2nd lesson, I had created a theme and variation on my first lesson in musical hieroglyphics. He offered to teach me for free. My teacher decided to pay little attention to the basics of reading music and instead taught me how to play chords and read guitar style charts. That did not last long. When my mother realized I had a real talent, she quickly found me a very serious teacher!
Within a year, I was being prepared for my Juilliard audition by my new Hungarian teacher. She had a strong temper and would kick me if I played the wrong note. But, I got into the Juilliard School’s pre-college division and began an incredible training period.
What’s a normal day like for you?
A perfect JR day is:
– Wake up
– Take a walk
– Practice the piano for a couple of hours
– Get online and check in with Dani Koesterich, my webmaster, and make sure our Internet world is safe and sound.
– Answer 50 some odd business emails.
– Enter the studio and work on DT, solo projects, etc.
– Spend some quality time with the family
– At the end of the day, when everyone is asleep, crawl back to the studio and work until I can’t anymore.
– Climb into bed and engage in my favorite team sport (in odd meters, of course)
Do you like living the life of a professional musican?
Yes, it’s a great life. If there were 48 hours in the day, instead of 24, it would be even better because I would be able to better balance my family and my musical lives.
Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Sitting in a room manipulating sound and light from a super holographic keyboard controller. This would include air depth and field manipulation as well as neuron density and cerebral spatial control.