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Famed Keyboardist Greg Phillinganes Puts It All in Perspective

At a recent master class cosponsored by Red Bull, keyboardist Greg Phillinganes worked with students in real time to help their performance skills and musicianship, as well as offer career advice. Berklee blogger Chandler Dalton shares her reflections about this special event.

Greg Phillinganes (center) poses with the student performers who participated in his Red Bull master class.

Greg Phillinganes (front, center) poses with the student performers who participated in his Red Bull master class.

Before anyone even stepped out onto the stage, there was an air of childlike excitement in the David Friend Recital Hall. Greg Phillinganes, the charismatic Toto keyboardist with a history of working with household names such as Stevie Wonder and Bill Withers, was about to impart knowledge onto an audience of hopeful composers and performers, and play in a full band of Berklee students. I couldn’t help but feel the pure thrill from some of my classmates that were about to watch their hero play alongside their peers, and it was yet another reminder of the symbiotic relationship between performers and their audience.

After an energetic performance of Toto’s “Rosanna,” the student performers slowly slipped away to give the floor to Phillinganes so he could speak about his work and the lessons he wanted to impart on us. “We are here not to make better musicians, but better people,” Phillinganes said with a calm sense of confidence. After working with timeless sensations in the music world and watching the industry evolve around him, Phillinganes has seen that life is infused into music – not the other way around. As a music business/management major, sometimes it seems like all I do is study the industry as a group of businesses trying to make a profit from new artists. It takes purely thrilling performances like the Phillinganes workshop to remind me that there is life in the work that I study.

“We are here not to make better musicians, but better people.” —Greg Phillinganes

Then, Phillinganes explained the arranging process he used to create the softer version of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.” Phillinganes made sure to explain why each adjustment was made, and we got to see that amazing composing and arranging is rarely an accident, but a series of intentional choices that translate to the listener as an artist’s emotions throughout the music.

Keyboardist Greg Phillinganes leads students in a master class

Phillinganes leading the students in a performance.

The final piece was a Ray Charles classic: “What’d I Say.” This was one of the songs taught to the student band on the spot, and a song that Phillinganes said always made his son happy. He broke down the small chord adjustments that Charles made to the piece, and worked with each musician individually. When the song fully came together, it was an electric current that ran throughout the room to bring everyone into a cheering and clapping spree, coming from the need to be a part of this experience.

Although the world of music has changed immensely since artists like Phillinganes began working, there is a respect that we all share for the trailblazing artists that came before us. I was reminded of the music that my father played for me during elementary school morning drives, because these are the songs that started my passion for this industry – songs that originated and became classics through the work of artists like Greg Phillinganes.

Chandler Dalton
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1 Comment

  1. Stefanie Henning

    Love it..great work!

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