Any piano student can tell you that their instrument has a total of 88 keys, but that isn’t always the case. While working on transcriptions of Bach organ works for the piano, composer and pianist Ferruccio Busoni found that the standard keyboard was unsatisfactory.
In order to mimic the sound of the largest organ pipes, Busoni worked with Ludwig Bösendorfer of the eponymous piano factory to create an instrument with an extended the piano’s lower register. The result was the Model 290 Imperial, a 97-keyed piano that encompasses eight full octaves.
The first prototype was built in 1909. Its extraordinary sound inspired major composers, including Bartók, Debussy and Ravel. Several music pieces composed require an Imperial to ensure that they are played true to the original.
Garrick Ohlsson once called it the “Rolls Royce of pianos.”
• 1972 ~ I Am Woman, by Helen Reddy, was released by Capitol Records. The number one tune (December 9, 1972) became an anthem for the feminist movement. Reddy, from Australia, made her stage debut when she was only four years old. She had her own TV program in the early 1960s. Reddy came to New York in 1966 and has appeared in the films Airport 1975, Pete’s Dragon and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Reddy also had four million-sellers: I Am Woman, Delta Dawn, Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress) and Angie Baby. She had a total of 14 hits on the pop music charts.
• 1992 ~ Billy Joel, American pianist, singer-songwriter, and composer, received an honorary diploma from Hicksville HS at 43
• 2000 ~ British actor David Tomlinson, who starred as father George Banks in the classic 1964 musical movie “Mary Poppins”, died at the age of 83.
• 2002 ~ Dolores Gray, a Tony-winning actress and singer, died of a heart attack at her Manhattan apartment. She was 78. Gray began performing in Hollywood clubs when she was 14, and at 15 she was discovered by Rudy Vallee and given a guest spot on his national radio show. She landed her first major theater success in 1947 as Annie in “Annie Get Your Gun” in London. In 1954, she won a Tony award for best musical actress in “Carnival in Flanders.” After signing a contract with MGM in 1955, Gray began to star in musical movies, including “Kismet,” and “The Opposite Sex.” She performed alongside Gene Kelly in “It’s Always Fair Weather” and with Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall in “Designing Women.” Gray continued to perform in clubs, on stage, and on television variety shows, including the Bell Telephone Hour. She returned to Broadway for several productions, including “Destry Rides Again,” during which the stage curtain once caught fire as she sang “Anyone Would Love You.” As the theater’s firefighters and stagehands battled the blaze backstage, Gray kept singing, and was credited with keeping the audience calm until they could evacuate the theater. The show resumed after a 40-minute intermission.
• 2002 ~ Joe Derise, a musician, cabaret artist and former big band vocalist, died. He was 76. Derise sang with Tommy Dorsey at the age of 21 and performed as a singer, guitarist and arranger with the Claude Thornhill Orchestra. He went on to form his own group, Four Jacks and a Jill, which performed around the country. Derise made several records and composed some of his own songs with the lyricist Marcia Hillman. His last major performance was at the Algonquin Hotel in New York in 1999.