Electric Keys at Powerhouse Museum
Legendary jazz musician Miles Davis’s album Miles in the Sky riled up jazz purists when it was first released in 1968. In the opening track you can hear the late Herbie Hancock expertly tickling an electric piano – a Fender Rhodes that Davis had introduced him to – producing a sound that would go on to characterise Davis’s electric period, Hancock’s own solo career and the broader jazz fusion genre that emerged in both their footsteps.
Whatever your thoughts on the place of electric instruments in jazz, there’s no denying the enormous impact that electric keys in general have had on music since their introduction. The keyboard has continually evolved over the last 600 years, with instrument makers exploring new ways to improve their tone and to manufacture higher quality, more reliable and accessible instruments.
Electric Keys is a new exhibition at Powerhouse Museum showcasing the story of piano and keyboard innovation over a number of centuries, with a focus on the past 70 years. In late 2020, the museum acquired an important private collection of keyboards from the mid-20th century – just prior to the rise of synthesisers. Displayed alongside the museum’s existing collection of mechanical instruments (including pianos and organs from the 1900s) and a small collection of historically significant synths, these electric keyboards presented the Powerhouse with a unique opportunity to explore modern keyboard development and its contribution to the genres of jazz, pop, rock, soul and prog-rock.
A highlight of Electric Keys is the Model B3 Hammond organ, originally released in 1955. While Hammond didn’t originally gear its products towards professional musicians (instead marketing its organs predominantly to North American churches – some 50,000 of which housed Hammonds by 1966), it was the sound of the B3 and its “harmonic percussion” that helped the company break into that sector.
A must-see for musicians and music enthusiasts alike, Electric Keys is a fascinating look at one of the most iconic instruments in history.
More details. Entry is free.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Powerhouse Museum.