The original title of this blog post was the tabloid-like “A Purple Plethora of Prince Productions,” but I thought that might be going a little overboard. But the truth is that I’ve always wanted to write a headline like that. It’s the kind of headline I see on some tabloid newspapers here in New York City!
By “A Purple Plethora of Prince Productions,” I’m referring the huge amount of videos by the purple-loving musician Prince that have sprung up on Youtube and other social media since his tragic and premature death.
The situation was very different while he was alive since Prince was notorious for taking his music off the internet. With few exceptions, you couldn’t find much on Youtube and he didn’t let most streaming services play his music either. When a video did appear on Youtube, it was often taken down within a day or two.
So why was Prince one of the few artists who shunned the internet world?
Simple: He made much more money by selling his recordings directly to his fans. By selling directly (and not having to share profits with a record company), Prince could make more money by selling a few hundred thousand copies of an album than another artist could make by selling millions through a record company. He could do this because he was already famous and had a loyal fan base. Furthermore, his fans weren’t just interested in “hits.” They appreciate him as a musician and would eagerly listen to anything he released. Prince was a smart man.
Of all the videos that have been uploaded to Youtube, there’s one that I find especially fascinating. It’s of Prince playing the George Gershwin standard “Summertime” at a soundcheck before a 1990 stadium concert in Japan. You can check it out here:
There are a lot of intriguing aspects of this short clip.
For starters, it offers us a rare glimpse of Prince as he was in regular life. He was such a showman onstage and guarded in interviews that we didn’t ever see him as those who worked with him did. But in this clip we do. Life on a musical tour is tough and Prince looks like he just woke up before this soundcheck and dragged himself onstage. He doesn’t appear to have slept well, either.
Even so, he’s the piano and teaching his band how to play Summertime. Check out how comfortable he is, improvising on the piano. Even though he’s hitting lots of wrong notes and not playing particularly well, he knows the song and has a wonderful rhythmic fluency and hand independence. (Remember, his father was a jazz pianist and passed some of this on to his son.) It’s also fun to see him coach his band on which chords to play. Prince is simplifying Gershwin’s original chords somewhat. This serves 2 purposes: 1. The simpler version lends itself to the slight R&B groove his band is playing and 2. He knows it’s easy for the band to learn quickly. He’s in the key of Gm and I especially like his use of the Ebmaj7 chord before the D7 at the end. I had never thought of using that chord there!
Enjoy this rare glimpse into a candid and “unguarded” Prince doing what he did every day: rehearsing his band and getting ready for a performance. And while you’re at it, why don’t you sit down at your piano or keyboard and play a little Summertime yourself? Have fun!
If you want to become a more fluent improviser and be able to sit down at any play and play with more confidence, my piano improv video course will get you there and make sure you have a lot of fun along the way!