By Kimo Cornwell

Piano/Keyboard Influences

People from time to time ask me who might have been some of my piano/keyboard influences through my long career in music. Let me just say that there have been a lot! ?? And they come from a wide mix of styles…jazz, latin, rock, RnB, and classical.

I started my classical piano lessons at the age of 8 studying some of the classical masters like Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, and Mozart for 6 ½ years. I learned a lot from them all, but I’ll be honest, I wasn’t the best student then. Now I appreciate playing music from these masters even more and love when I get the chance to play their works again. I do tend to lean a little toward Chopin as my favorite because of his approach to harmony and melody with his music.

Latin music for piano players can be a challenge to play, but also fun. There are so many great Latin-jazz players out there. The piano parts are very rhythmic and the piano player’s roll also acts as time keeper…so an important glue to the overall music. Eddie Palmieri, Claire Fisher, and Chucho Valdez are just 3 legendary artists that I enjoy listening to for ideas.

I was a young man in the 60s and 70s, and rock music, and RnB music had a big influence on me. Keyboard artists like Stevie Wonder, Leon Russel, Elton John, Billy Preston, Edgar Winter, Ray Charles, Keith Emerson, Steve Winwood, Nicky Hopkins, and Rick Wakeman all had a little something, or in some cases, a lot for me to take from. They all helped shape the roll of piano and keyboards in the evolution of both styles of music.

Jazz music has always had a special place in my heart and mind. I believe I was about 16 when I bought my first jazz album by organist Jimmy Smith and that hooked me. From that point on to this day my biggest influence on piano, organ, and keyboards have come from those in the jazz world. Greats like Jimmy Smith, George Duke, Chick Corea, Thelonius Monk, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, McCoy Tyner, Joe Zawinul, Les McCann, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Brian Auger and more inspire so much to learn from. I have to say that probably one of my biggest influences would have to be Herbie Hancock for just about everything he does. He just knows how to pick out the right notes that walks that line between tension and release in music. I love his sense of harmony and his soloing style.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t make special mention of a jazz piano player by the name of Ernie Washington whom I consider somewhat of a genius. He lived and played in Hawaii and I would go to listen to him play when I was in my late teens and early 20s, mostly in different bars and lounges around Honolulu. I was so fortunate to have had the chance to experience his artistry and his friendship…he was the real deal and he deserved so much, much more attention in the jazz world. He toured a lot with jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie before making Honolulu his home and he played in the style of Art Tatum and Erroll Garner.

Well I hope sharing these heroes of mine with you gives you some insight into why they’ve played a big part in shaping my musical journey. Below are a bunch of links I’m sharing with you to check out some of the artists I’ve mentioned…Enjoy!


Herbie Hancock:
Billy Preston:
Leon Russell & The Wrecking Crew:
Georg Duke:
Eddie Palmieri:
Jimmy Smith:
Bill Evans:
Keith Emerson:
Joe Zawinul:
Claire Fisher: