Paul Shaffer’s piano solo on “Happy Street”

Happy Street blog 3-14-17

Have you heard Paul Shaffer’s bluesy, New Orleans-inspired piano solo on “Happy Street?”

Shaffer has reassembled The World’s Most Dangerous Band, which he used to lead on the Late Night With David Letterman show. They’re joined on “Happy Feat” by the actor Bill Murray, who sings with joy and passion.

“Happy Street” is a fun, upbeat pop song that features a wonderful piano solo by Shaffer. Besides being a real treat for us piano players, it’s a reminder of the sad fact that instrumental solos have all but disappeared from pop radio these days. Recording companies somehow feel that 13-year olds won’t listen to the new Taylor Swift hit if there’s more than 4 seconds of non-singing involved, and the artists themselves have given up the fight. So, hearing Paul Shaffer “tickle the ivories” like this is a double treat!

Here’s the song: the piano solo begins at 1:17.

Did you hear how many varied musical elements Shaffer has packed into that solo? He plays blues licks, block chords, a bit of jazz, and he changes up the rhythm right at the end to signal the solo’s ending. And it all flows seamlessly!

A lot of this type of playing comes from the New Orleans piano tradition. Pianists such as Professor Longhair, James Booker, and Allen Toussaint play in a style that draws equally from the worlds of jazz, blues, rock, and funk. In fact, this music heavily influenced the creation of rock and roll in the 1950s, with Fats Domino, a New Orleans pianist himself, becoming a huge “pop” star at the time!

Have a listen to the New Orleans pianist Dr. John, performing at the Stockholm (Sweden) Jazz Festival in 2009. Even though the tempo is different from “Happy Street,” you’ll hear many of the same pianistic techniques. Each pianist, however, uses them in a highly personal way.

It’s a treat to hear a piano solo featured so prominently in Shaffer’s “Happy Street,” which is getting so much public attention. We can all enjoy listening to his great playing, and be inspired to do the same!

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