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Alicia Keys’ weekend shows offer a rare orchestral take on her songs
May 28th, 2005

Alicia Keys has been touring for a few years now, but her Cotton Club-like tour rolls to an end in Las Vegas this weekend. And for this special occasion, Keys says she is planning three sprawling shows at the MGM Grand Garden arena.

“Beyond it being this incredible, transporting, mind-blowing, conceptually-driven, 1930s, Cotton Club-kind of style, I also have a 36-piece orchestra that’s gonna be with me.

“And we’re gonna do all these arrangements of these songs — kind of a la big-band style — as well as classics, as well as my songs,” she says. “It’s so incredible. It’s so fun. And this is gonna be probably the only time you’ll ever see it in this way ever.”

Keys says she’s filming these rare symphonically-enhanced shows either in Las Vegas or in Los Angeles, the only two cities to get this treatment.

“When it says, ‘A Special Evening,’ it’s really a special thing.”

She chose Vegas for the splashy finale for good reasons, she says.

“It just seems so appropriate, and I feel like it will be like something unforgettable and classy. When you do the MGM, you’re gonna do it all the way. We’re gonna go out with a bang.”

It seems as though Keys has been touring ever since she debuted on the national scene back in 2001 with her album “Songs in A Minor.” She took a break to cut her follow-up album, “The Diary of Alicia Keys,” and to accept awards and perform on scads of TV talk shows.

But, really, she has been on tour for, like, a gazillion hours. This can be challenging.

“It is difficult at certain times to keep your health up,” she says, “and the morale of the crew and everything like that. But I have to say, I have such an incredible group of people with me right now, and we all gel very well, so it makes for a pleasant environment. We want to inspire each other. We definitely do that.”

Keys was herself inspired in a big way by Prince. In fact, she introduced him when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. And then that intro was shown on jumbo video screens before every Prince show after that.

“When he called and asked if it was cool, I was definitely with it,” Keys says. “I meant every word I said.”

She never saw the intro during a Prince concert, because he was touring Europe while she was touring America, and vice versa. But her friends saw it in various cities and kept calling her about it.

“It was a crazy trip. People were calling me all the time, like, ‘It just goes black and there you are all over the screens, and it’s crazy, and then here he comes.’ I was so sad I couldn’t see that tour.”

Keys has worn her influences on her sleeve quite a bit in concert. A year ago, Prince’s “Purple Rain” album played on speakers before she took the stage. She sang a B-side Prince favorite, “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” And she crawled across her piano, all Prince-like.

Keys says while she honors her influences in her music and performances, she is herself most of all.

“I think everybody has incredible influences. I was watching Prince the other day, and I was realizing how much James Brown has influenced him. And I knew that, but I never really observed (how much so).

“So I think all of us have people who totally touch us, or make us want to be the best. But naturally, we spin off of that, because we’re not that person, and we’ll never be that person. I don’t want to be like anybody else, but I definitely do (want to) honor them.”

Keys says she writes her songs on piano, which creates a different mood than other instruments. Sometimes, she starts writing a song by coming up with chords and progressions, then finds a melody and lyrics. Other times, the reverse is true. After that, she decides which parts to play on piano and which parts to assign to other musicians.

On tour, Keys has often played parts of classical pieces that are familiar to most people, such as Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony.” She hasn’t yet started presenting Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev or anything more challenging or less obscure to pop listeners.

“Mmm, not yet,” she says with a chuckle. “I have been thinking about that, because I’ve always dreamt about doing a total, neo-classical, contemporary kind of tour with just piano,” she says.

She plays to her diverse pop audience, which ranges in age from 5 to 75, she says.

“Because of that, I definitely like to take excerpts of classical pieces that I know people will recognize,” she says.

“People, when they recognize something, they get into it. But I think I will start branching out and trying some really sick, strange pieces, just to make it very interesting. It’s OK, they’ll get it, just because of the sequence I put it in, and it’ll feel right.”

« Keys carries green blanket on her travels

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This entry was posted on Saturday, May 28th, 2005 at 9:52 pm and is filed under Alicia KeysHome | News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the feed.




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