THE BREAKDOWN ROOM - Rock. Writing. Redefined.

Dream Theater's Rudess Lends Helping Hand to Japan

Just one day after progressive metal giants Dream Theater announced Mike Mangini as its new drummer, the band's affable keyboardist Jordan Rudess was already proposing a replacement for him at the kit position: the Wesleyan University Taiko Drum Ensemble.

The lighthearted remark came near the end of a solo show he played on April 30, at Clarkstown South High School, in West Nyack, N.Y., in which the energetic ensemble joined Rudess on stage for an improvised finale. The gig was the conclusion to a whirlwind week for the keyboardist, as Dream Theater revealed its new drummer after more than seven months of speculation following the departure of founding member Mike Portnoy.

But despite the drummer joke, Rudess made it clear the evening was about one thing: Japan. The gig was a benefit for the people of Japan, in response to the devastation caused by the magnitude 8.9 earthquake that rumbled offshore of the nation's east coast on March 11. The quake set off a 30-foot-high tsunami that inundated many coastal communities.

"When I learned of the earthquake in Japan, I felt like I needed to express my feelings and the best way I know how to do that is to just sit at my piano," Rudess said, shortly after taking the auditorium stage.

The "Hope for Japan" benefit materialized when Clarkstown Japanese language teacher Akiko Uchiyama who has Rudess' daughter Kayla in one of her classes mentioned a recent charity concert in Manhattan to her students that prompted them to create a fundraiser of their own. The teens then tapped Rudess, knowing his passion for the country after he posted a piano improvisation on YouTube in March called "For Japan" that currently has approximately 110,000 views.

But Rudess didn't take the stage alone in his effort to benefit the earthquake-ravaged region. Taking turns joining him was a handful of young local musicians, including the Lower Hudson Valley Youth Chorus and Brothers Page, a Rockland, N.Y.-based duo consisting of siblings Josh and Zach.

The pair performed a spot-on rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's classic folk song "Sounds of Silence," with Rudess tastefully accompanying the singing brothers on keyboards.

"Jordan is one of the most gracious spirits out there in the music world and it is truly who he is on and off stage," said Zach. "It's a kind of spiritual consistency that is very rarely found."

Other songs played by Rudess included piano covers of Pink Floyd's "Hey, You," The Beatles' "Yesterday," and Dream Theater's "Hollow Years." He also demonstrated his self-created and award-winning iPad app MorphWiz with a version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The app won first place in the category of "Best Music Creation App" in the Billboard Music App Awards on Oct. 5, 2010, in San Francisco.

Unfortunately, the iPad's sound suddenly cut out just prior to the end of the song.

"Ah, I hit the 'Home' button!" Rudess said, triggering a roar of laughter from the crowd.

Tickets were $15 and VIP passes that included a meet and greet were $40, with all funds benefiting the Japan Society. Also for sale were Rudess' 2009 solo CD, origami cranes, and a Korg M3 88 keyboard normally priced at $2,700, but auctioned off for a bid of $2,000.

The instrument was won by Dream Theater fan Franz Vezuli of Newburgh, N.Y., who is a piano instructor at the New York School of Music and keyboardist in a progressive metal band named Room 10.

"I was actually at my guitarist's house on Friday telling him how I wanted a second keyboard and I wanted a Korg this coming summer," Vezuli said. "So when Jordan announced during the intermission that he was auctioning off a Korg for Japan it was like fate."

In post-show chats with fans, Rudess fielded questions about Dream Theater's upcoming album and the announcement of Mike Mangini as the band's new drummer via an online documentary just the prior day. He revealed that bassist John Myung is "back to writing lyrics" and said he's slated to record keyboard parts this month at Cove City Sound Studios in Glen Cove, N.Y.

- Michael R. Ebert

When not writing for The Breakdown Room, Michael R. Ebert is a reporter for Newsday, a daily newspaper on Long Island.

Jordan Rudess performs with Brothers Page at the Hope for Japan benefit.

Jordan Rudess performs with Brothers Page at the
Hope for Japan benefit.
(Michael R. Ebert/April. 27, 2011)

Copyright 2011, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.