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The Well-Synthesized Piano

Should I be surprised by the aesthetic ambivalence even devoted creative electronic musicians feel toward synthesizers? Hardly. Being as jazz is music of spontaneous self-expression, the instrument that offers the most direct path to emotional fulfillment is the one musicians will gravitate toward. And when it comes to intimacy and immediacy, the sound of a good acoustic piano is so intoxicating it’s easy to see why its practitioners are utterly devoted to it.

Of course, when contrasting the enduring appeal of acoustic pianos with that of their contemporary digital brethren, it’s worth noting that synthesis is a relatively new performance technology, while the piano has been evolving since the dawn of the 18th century. At that time, the harpsichord remained the instrument of choice among the leading keyboardists, who no doubt regarded this upstart instrument much as pianists today sneer at synthesizers, as if to say, “If it ain’t baroque, don’t fix it.” The original bebopper, J. S. Bach, wasn’t overly impressed with the nascent pianos of his day; he did his damage on those big pipe organs, though he had a warm spot in his heart for the tiny clavichord.

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