If you were among those amazed at the technical wizardry and convincing jazz of Piano Starts Here, Zenph Sound Innovations' initial theatrical tribute to—and re-enactment of—the live piano work of Art Tatum last winter at Progress Energy Center's Kennedy Theater, listen up. The downtown Durham musical software/hardware/re-performance wizards have chosen quite a pip for their encore this weekend at Raleigh Little Theatre: George Gershwin himself.
By now, regional music cognoscenti know that Zenph's claims to fame involve analyzing landmark jazz and classical piano recordings with their proprietary software and then replicating the original performances, live, in real time, on a concert grand piano specifically engineered to link up with their computers. A series of "re-performances" have been recorded on Zenph's own label and staged before live audiences.
Zenph CEO John Q. Walker describes a series of discoveries during the research and development of Gershwin at the Piano: "His professional press photo was actually taken the same day a crew was there to film him. Well, we found the footage. So in the show, there's a still image—that suddenly comes alive—and as we're watching Gershwin on the screen, our piano is playing at the same time, and the two are utterly in sync."
In a three-person multimedia performance (joined by the invisible hands of Gershwin on the keyboard), Walker and Dr. Milton Laufer will contrast live performances of the published transcriptions Gershwin wrote of his own music with Zenph re-performances of the considerably more difficult versions he recorded for RCA Victor. Joining the pair on different nights of the show's three-week run are pianists Phil Amalong, Anatoly Larkin, Tad Hardin and Emi Nakajima.
Walker and Laufer will combine research, archive film and still images, oral and written histories from witnesses, original recordings, Zenph's technical re-performances and live piano interpretations to tell the story of how "Rhapsody in Blue" was created and recorded in two weeks' time. We'll also hear the originals and live re-performances of a CBS radio series in which Gershwin would play a few duets with some friends he'd invited over. You know their names: Richard Rodgers and Jerome Kern. Performances run in RLT's Gaddy-Goodwin Theatre, Thursdays–Saturdays through Oct. 2. —Byron Woods