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American composer and ace arranger Phillip Keveren has been a busy chap this year, and among several publications he has just brought us three new anthologies for more advanced players in the immensely popular Phillip Keveren Series from Hal Leonard.
For those not familiar with this series, it’s certainly worth catching up. Keveren has a gift for creating pianistically satisfying arrangements of music from chart hits to Christmas songs, from hymns to music hall classics and film themes.
Keveren also has an astute understanding of the pianist’s progress; the large and growing number of publications in his series include many titles aimed at the less advanced player, as well as titles such as the three latest reviewed here, which would be ideal for any advanced player (around UK Grades 6-8):
I have reviewed several titles in this series before, uniformly praising them for their musical and presentational quality. The three new additions to the series confidently measure up to the high standards previously set, and are an easy recommendation for those keen to discover superb piano arrangements of the titles included.
Here’s a simple introduction to the musical content of each…
Sondheim for Piano Solo
Heading up this latest Keveren trio, Sondheim for Piano Solo is a welcome and classy addition to the series, delivering Keveren’s arrangements of 16 iconic songs:
- Anyone Can Whistle
- Being Alive
- Broadway Baby
- Children Will Listen
- Comedy Tonight
- Good Thing Going
- I Remember
- Losing My Mind
- No One Is Alone
- Not A Day Goes By
- Not While I’m Around
- Old Friends
- Pretty Women
- Send In The Clowns
This is a rich song selection from, among other classic shows, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, Merrily We Roll Along and Follies. As Keveren says in his introduction,
“The songs of Stephen Sondheim are works of art that will charm, challenge, and inspire theatre audiences for many generations to come. These piano arrangements celebrate only half of Sondheim’s brilliance: the music. His lyrics are truly astounding as well, with or without music.”
I would certainly second Keveren’s suggestion that players take the time to listen to the original songs (and read their lyrics), but it is surely to his credit that these arrangements succeed brilliantly as piano solos in their own right, even divorced from context.
As so often in this series, this is the magic of Phillip Keveren: he has an extraordinary ability to capture the essence of the source material while also indelibly stamping his piano reworking with his own brilliant musical voice.
If you only ever buy one book of Sondheim piano arrangements, this one will do just fine. And if you have yet to discover Keveren’s stunning work as an arranger, this particular publication provides as good a starting point for your journey as any!
As for the book, Hal Leonard have equally delivered the goods, giving the collection a lush matt cover (most of the series have glossy card) and spacious, beautifully presented notation across 56 pages. As with all the titles covered in this review, editorial fingering suggestions are not included.
Also from Phillip Keveren, Piano Standards is a collection of 20 solos which Keveren recorded recently, featuring jazz classics that are perhaps a little less known than the most ubiquitous Great American Songbook standards, but no less beautiful:
- After the Ball
- After You’ve Gone
- All Alone
- Do It Again
- I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now
- I’m Always Chasing Rainbows
- Oh, Lady Be Good!
- Poor Butterfly
- A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody
- Shine On, Harvest Moon
- Somebody Loves Me
- Sweet and Low
- They Didn’t Believe Me
- What’ll I Do?
- Who’s Sorry Now
- You Made Me Love You
According to Keveren,
“The songwriters behind these tunes knew their stuff. You will recognise Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, while other names will be less familiar. The common thread through all of these compositions is excellence. Melodies that soar, harmonies that resonate, and rhythms that set toes to tapping: all in abundance here.”
In his introduction, he gives a shout out to legendary jazz pianist Beegie Adair, recommending listeners to check out her album “After the Ball” (with vocalist Jaimee Paul). This wonderful recording certainly gives a good stylistic pointer for playing these songs, and Keveren’s own arrangements in some cases recognisably pay homage to Adair’s chord substitutions and voicing.
I had not previously encountered most of these songs, and discovering them through Keveren’s arrangements has been a buzz. Anyone at around UK Grade 7 who would like to take a deeper dive into the jazz gems of the earlier twentieth century need look no further for a superb introduction.
Completing Keveren’s latest hat trick, Lullaby Ballades offers 15 “gentle arrangements”, and is a quiet triumph.
This time, the maestro tells us,
“Following in the happy traditions of coffee and creamer, chocolate and peanut butter, Simon and Garfunkel, et al, I thought we might bring the lullaby and ballade together and see how things worked out!”
Happily the results are better than chocolate and peanut butter! Lullaby Ballades is admittedly an eclectic concoction, but nestling within I found several enjoyable highlights. Here’s the song listing:
- All The Pretty Little Horses
- Ballade No.1 (Windchime Serenade)
- Ballade No.2 (Letting Go)
- Beautiful Dreamer
- Brahms’ Lullaby
- Frère Jacques
- Hush, Little Baby
- It’s Raining, It’s Pouring
- London Bridge
- Lullaby Angel
- Mary Had a Little Lamb
- Michael Row the Boat Ashore
- My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean
- This Old Man
- Twinkly, Twinkle Little Star
Lullaby Angel and the two Ballades are original compositions, comfortably the equals of the great music Keveren unleashed in his Piano Calm (reviewed here) and Circles (reviewed here, and possibly the most useful and inspired intermediate piano book I regularly recommend).
Lullaby Ballades is certainly a quirky addition to the Phillip Keveren Series, but one that I urge you to consider checking out.
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