Prince: A Musician “Beyond Category”

“Purple Rain, Purple Rain…
Purple Rain, Purple Rain…”

One of my teenage piano students arrived at her lesson this afternoon and announced “Prince is dead.” She had seen this announced on the internet just 10 minutes earlier. Prince, one of my favorite musicians, had been on my mind a lot recently because he was doing something very unusual for him: playing solo piano concerts.

Prince was legendary for his ability to play numerous instruments effortlessly, and at a very high level. He had an impeccable sense of time, and could sit down at a drum set and mentally hear a long, complex musical arrangement as he played every beat, rhythmic “hit” and fill perfectly and in perfect time. Then he’d layer bass, keyboard and guitar parts on top as well as adding vocals. All without the need for computer “enhancement” such as quantizing or pitch correction.

He was also legendary for the long hours he worked. Recording engineers would come and go on their 8-hour shifts as Prince kept going, recording song after song after song after song in his home studio. I suspect that many of his hundreds of hours of unreleased material is instrumental and possibly orchestral in scope. (Hints of this have periodically made it into his released material.)

I used to play his song “Purple Rain” on college tours when I was first starting out, and “Kiss” with dance bands in clubs and at wedding receptions. As great as Prince’s music is to listen to, it’s even better to play. It’s “music that feels right for musicians.”

Like past musicians such as Duke Ellington before him, Prince knew no musical boundaries. Popular music, jazz, R&B, blues, folk and classical all went into his mix and came out as something special and unique. Indeed, he was what Duke would call “beyond category.”

Here’s a clip of Prince playing piano in what turned out to be his final concert:

Leave a Comment

Sign up for Blog Updates