It all started with a curious mind and a furious set of little hands. Did anyone know back then that he would become one of the most respected and innovative keyboard players on the planet? Maybe his second-grade teacher, who immediately recognized that he would benefit from professional instruction. And then he was off. At age nine, Rudess entered the Juilliard School of Music Pre-College Division for classical piano training. At fourteen, when they needed a young virtuoso to star in a Johnson and Johnson Band Aid commercial, this happened.
By his late teens, thanks to burgeoning progressive music legends like YES and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Rudess fell under the spell the of synthesizers and prog rock. His parents envisioned him becoming a classical piano player, but the young visionary had other ideas. As he recalls, “When I was 17 and still at the Juilliard School of Music pre-college division, high school friends began to turn me on to progressive rock like Yes and Gentle Giant. Specifically, when I heard “Tarkus” by ELP, it confirmed to me the power that a rock keyboardist could present. I realized that the style of music I had been composing since elementary school had elements of progressive rock. I knew then that rock and synthesizers were a natural direction for my musical future.”
In the 1980s he did what young musicians do; played in bands while honing his ever-expanding craft. The world started taking notice in 1994 when he was voted “Best New Talent” in the Keyboard Magazine readers’ poll after the release of his first solo album, Listen. Many bands tried to lure him, but it came down to two invitations, one from the veteran southern-prog stylists Dixie Dregs and another from the fiery pro-metal upstarts, Dream Theater. Rudess opted for the Dregs in 1995, primarily as being a part-time member of the band would have less of an impact on his young family.
Several years later, fate intervened in the form of an invite to play with John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater and bassist Tony Levin of King Crimson and Peter Gabriel fame, to record the first album in 1999 with the “Liquid Tension Experiment.” Realizing Rudess’ gifts firsthand, after completing two of the best selling Rock instrumental albums of all time, Petrucci and Portnoy successfully convinced him to join the band. The rest, as they say is, well, you know…
Rudess has been the full-time keyboardist with Dream Theater, since the recording of 1999’s Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. He has recorded seven other studio albums with the group: 2002’s Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, 2003’s Train of Thought, 2005’s Octavarium, 2007’s Systematic Chaos, 2009’s Black Clouds & Silver Linings, the Grammy-nominated A Dramatic Turn of Events, the self-titled Dream Theater, The Astonishing, a Rock Opera and the most recent highly celebrated Distance Over Time album which came out to critical and popular acclaim in February 2019. They have toured the world many times over, thrilling millions of fans.
Rudess has also appeared on many interesting side projects and released a number of acclaimed solo works (with accompanying solo tours), and beyond his work as a writer/performer, has also blazed a trail in helping to evolve the art and science of keyboard controllers. He created (and still owns the successful App development company Wizdom Music, which has developed award-winning apps including: GeoShred, MorphWiz, SampleWiz, Geo Synthesizer, SpaceWiz, SketchWiz, Tachyon, Explores, EarWiz, JordanTron and HarmonyWiz. MorphWiz won the first ever Billboard award for Best Music Creation App. Wizdom Music has also built apps for Intel, Microsoft and RIM.
Jordan has had the honor of being the keynote speaker at MacWorld, Microsoft Build Developer Convention and Project BBQ. In addition, he is the author of 2 keyboard technique books including his latest, “Total Keyboard Wizardry: A Technique and Improvisation Workbook”. Musicians all over the world subscribe to Rudess’ Online Music Conservatory, which offers a full range of courses in everything from harmony and rhythm to improvisation, ear training and technique. Recently, he was also an artist-in-residence at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). Rudess’ annual gathering for keyboardists, KeyFest, is held annually at Sweetwater Sound in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
And now comes his latest solo release, Wired For Madness. Bursting and flowing forth with all of the drama, technique and melodicism that have become his musical hallmarks, the album also features the keyboard wizard handling many of the vocals. It’s a vibrant and pulsating tour de force that blends old-school prog and piano with a ferocious and typically ambitious oeuvre that’s as tasteful and classic as it is outrageously expansive. Renowned guests include drummer Marco Minnemann, guitarists Alek Darson Vinnie Moore, Guthrie Govan, Joe Bonamassa and John Petrucci among others, but the true star here is Rudess – equal parts classical master, prog monster and interstellar master of the musical universe. There’s even some blues! Says Rudess, “’Just Can’t Win’ is a dirty blues song! The Dream Theater guys call me Blues Man because in many ways I am a reincarnation of an old blues man soul. I called in Joe Bonamassa and a full brass section to help make this song really happen. For my prog fans, this is Jordan Rudess in an alternate universe!
He also dispels any nothing that it’s a concept album. “It is not a concept album, however the title track, does have a story that I was envisioning while writing it. The idea was about a guy who wanted to go about a transformational process involving becoming partially computerized and robotic. His functionality as a human was noticeably diminishing and he takes advantage of a modern medical procedure to “upgrade ‘and extend his physical and mental capabilities. Through the course (or curse) of this process he becomes more and more separated from the outside “normal” world, allowing the computer front end to take over much of his day to day tasks and decisions. This leaves his mind free to travel between madness and spiritual enlightenment. After and angel him, the listener is left wondering whether he is experiencing true enlightenment or he is moving out of the physical world to the next dimension.”
Rudess just keeps absorbing and processing what happens around him into new music and ideas. “I live to be creative. Give me my space and freedom to do my music and I’ll be like an antenna to the thoughts and feelings around me. Of course I get inspired by other music I here. Could be anything from wild Electronica, like Richard Devine or Aphex Twin to classical music like a beautiful Chopin Nocturne.”
It all started with a curious mind and a furious set of little hands. He has gone to change the world of music in many wondrous ways, and his latest solo release is the next dynamic chapter in a book that’s still being written.