In a room with Jordan Rudess

Gowri Jayakumar, student and our resident scribe gets Jordan Rudess to talk about education, his world of music, his innovative apps, collaborations and his beard.

By age nine, he was at The Juilliard School studying classical music – an academic journey that lasted a decade! Fast forward to a time when he’s ripping it on stage with one of the most well-known progressive metal bands in the world. Having spent over 12 years as the keyboardist of Dream Theater, there is hardly a regular day in the life of Jordan Rudess. When he isn’t touring, which he is most part of the year, he’s a music app innovator for Apple and Android devices. While his love for progressive rock remains untarnished, when alone Rudess gravitates towards music that is “gentle on the spirit”. He is all about exploring the sonic landscape of the world (of music). And I managed to steal him into one of the piano rooms at Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music during his one-week workshop last month, and ask a bunch of questions. Completely at ease by a grand piano, he often let his fingers do the talking.

What inspired that beard?

The hair doesn’t grow as well on the top of my head! I used to have really long hair. I don’t know.  It’s gone through different stages – first it started to grow a little, then I went through sideburns and moustache and this and that. But yeah, finally, the beard just started to grow, and I thought this is pretty cool. And that’s it.

(If) and when you’re down and blue, what do you listen to?

I would play the blues (haha)! I generally like to listen to things are kind of more mellow than what I play with Dream Theater (DT). I like going back and listening to Michael Hedges, and more recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Sigur Rós (they’re awesome). But I’m a big progressive rock fan. I always like to listen to Genesis and Yes and Pink Floyd. I like electronic music too – things like Aphex Twin. I love Porcupine Tree and the offshoot that I actually played in for a while – Blackfield.

How has your taste evolved over the time you’ve been playing with DT?

I am interested in what’s happening sonically in the world – things that are pushing the envelope a little bit, a bit more progressive-minded. I’ve always liked spacey music, but there was a movement that happened over the last few years with electronic music right…that was very progressive, very cool. There are so many different types of genres, but they’re called IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) or Glitchy – and now there’s the whole Skrillex kind of thing. It’s interesting.

Do you play a lot of what you listen to?

I’m totally the opposite. I don’t like to listen to a lot of hard rock and stuff. It’s funny, but I like to listen to things that are more gentle on my spirit. I love what I do. I love going out with DT and playing things that are…intense, progressive, heavy and wild. But when I’m in my own space, I tend to gravitate towards things that are a little bit more calm, and I’m interested in sounds. You know … I’m a synthesist. So I want to hear cool sounds, the different timbres…I get that when I listen to Sigur Rós – they are so conscious of all the sonic elements.

The success of DT…

I think the style of DT is an interesting one because we can go into that direction where it’s technical and advanced and cerebral at many levels. But the reality is, if you look at the people in the group – like the kind of things I’m telling you and the kind of person John Petrucci is, and since we’re the main writers of the group – we love things that are melodic.

So I think what separates DT from the rest of the bands and the reason we have had a career all around the world is because we’re not afraid to be melodic … it’s this interesting combination of musicians for whom the academic side of what we’re doing comes very easily and naturally. It’s not forced, it’s just what we enjoy at that level, but at the same time we love melody, emotions … and I think that’s what the people around the world respond to.

Do you compose music keeping an audience in mind?

Well, first of all the music has to make us feel right you know. If it is something that we can relate to – if it is cool, trippy, adventurous or emotional –then that’s the beginning. Then we think ‘what will our fans think of this,’ because with DT, we make a living playing for people around the world, and there’s a lot of people very invested in what we do, and we want them to be happy as well.

Does being in DT give you complete musical freedom personally?

DT is a very large window of stylistic possibilities … for sure I can do all kinds of stuff. But since my whole life is really all about music, I mean that’s all I really do … and there’s so many different kinds of music and if I want to play like real spacey electronic music, that’s not going to happen in a DT format.  If I want to play something extremely hypnotic and mellow or something really jazzy, that won’t happen in the DT format either. The only thing that might happen is a little break in the song with those styles. I can do a lot of things but I have other outlets for that … like Liquid Tension Experiment. When we did that album, it was basically three of the guys from DT (the main writers) with Mike Portnoy at the time and Tony Levin, a wonderful bass-player. But the music really very different, and that was because we were coming into something that was a totally new thing. And we had no expectations on anybody’s part … like the fan’s part – they didn’t there was a new group – or for the musicians. They called me and they didn’t really know what I would bring…that was cool, because even with the same guys, it was different music.

Your most memorable collaborations.

Oh I love collaborating. You know I don’t have that much time, but when I do, I search out and welcome the opportunity to play with new people, because it’s just so interesting. I’ve collaborated a little with Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, I love his musicality and whenever we  have a chance to do  something together I welcome that because I can relate to where he’s coming from musically, and I think about that sometimes when I’m playing by myself. You know, I’m a classically trained musician from Juilliard, but I was always interested in improvising and things that were natural as well. But Steven is someone who is totally coming at it naturally and I’m fascinated with that, because music – the core of it is really just a natural experience. And since we’re here (SAM) right now, I just had  my first little jam with Prasanna today and I was like, wow this is so cool, because he’s coming from such a different space that there’s a lot I can learn from, and that to me is really exciting.

How important is music education?

It is incredibly important. I feel like people around the world almost think like, with great musicians it’s almost like magic or something. That they’re all of sudden able to do things, create great leads in all kinds of parts, but the reality is to play an instrument, be it a piano, guitar, trombone, voice, or even to use your computer effectively to make music, you need to have the developed skill. It doesn’t just “happen”.  Anything that you hear in your head, there’s a technique to controlling the notes. It’s got to be clean and precise, and these things on a physical instrument like a piano or guitar, are like sports – that is what I keep telling the kids here – because you have to really develop the muscles. Your fingers need to have strength. I remember once, the drummer of Motley Crue walked into a room where I was playing and told me “Your fingers are like little machine guns!” Hahaha that was really funny.  But yeah, it comes from a lot of practising. Practising things that are really boring, but I always try to practise in creative ways.

Describe a regular day in your life.

It’s never regular, because I’m on the road for most part of the year with the band…but when I’m at home, I’m often playing catch-up with a life that I’ve missed while I’ve been away. It could include driving my girls. The older one’s in college but the younger one still needs to  be driven to her various activities. Or I’ll be working on a project. I have a company called Wizdom Music that makes apps for iPhones and Android devices, etc … so I spend a lot of time doing that too…I’m really busy you know, so when I sit with my synthesizer, I try to really make my time there mean as much as it can. I try and develop ways to practise that are very efficient. I stay focused and try working my fingers so they really mean something.

When did you start developing music apps?

A few years ago I got my iPhone, and I remember there was very preliminary kind of piano on the iPhone, and I was just playing it.  It didn’t do really anything, but it really triggered some creative ideas. I thought ‘wow I could do some amazing things with this’.  And I was sitting on the couch in my living room, and my wife saw me and said “What are you doing? We have a beautiful Steinway Grand in the other room. What are you doing with that?” And I said “No, no. No, it’s okay. I got something in mind here. It’s something cool, so let me do this.” She looked at me like I was crazy or something. Haha. So I got into really looking at some of the creative things people were doing on that platform, and I began to reach out to different developers and talk about some of my ideas, and I found one guy whose name is Kevin Chartier who is a brilliant programmer. We decided to work together and we decided early on that we’d split it 50-50 but let’s just do it! And that was the beginning of Wizdom Music. Now we have about six apps. The first one was called Morphwhiz which is my favourite. It enabled me to look into and work on this concept to show how these devices like iPads etc can be actually an expressive musical instrument…

“it’s such a nice environment. Everyone’s in a different headspace, they really want to learn and they’re respectful… so it’s been a real pleasure”
Jordan Rudess

How has your experience in India been?

I was in India about 16 years ago, doing a clinic in Chennai back then, but my experience this time has been really (really) cool. It’s a little bit of a culture shock here. Although I’ve been all around the world, usually I go into the big cities, and if pass rural areas, I’m just driving right through them, but I’ve never driven through anything like what I did to come here (SAM) – with goats and cows over the road – it was a crazy wild scene. I was like whoa!  But once you’re here, it’s such a nice environment. Everyone’s in a different headspace, they really want to learn and they’re respectful … so it’s been a real pleasure.

‘Music is not magic’

Prasanna (left) with Jordan Rudess.

… nor does it have shortcuts. Learning its language takes some doing, says keyboardist and pianist Jordan Rudess. At a workshop on October 18 and 19, he and Prasanna will explore the questions of performance, education, technology and entrepreneurship in music.

After a head-spinning 14-month tour with his band, Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess wanted some quiet. He was looking for a special place, cut off from the bustle, to recharge his batteries. He chose Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (SAM) on East Coast Road, sequestered and in tune with Nature.

The visit, however, was long overdue. In 2010, months before SAM went on steam, guitar wizard and SAM’s president Prasanna met the keyboardist and classical pianist at Los Angeles and spoke about how SAM melds different worlds of learning, notably the ancient Indian gurukula system with the technology-driven institutionalised Western form of education. To Prasanna’s surprise, Rudess expressed a desire to visit the academy.

Exploring questions

And he is finally here. Rudess will hold a a workshop Connecting The Dots (on October 18 and 19), where he and Prasanna will explore the questions of performance, education, technology and entrepreneurship in music. The workshop is open to those receptive to these questions.

Talking to mediapersons at one of SAM’s buildings that is architecturally designed to represent a guitar, Rudess dwelt on a wide range of topics, including the significance of practice, the charm of shuttling between acoustic and electric worlds, and the issues surrounding a Dream Theater gig in India.

Rudess called his band members the biggest ‘practiceoholics’ on the planet. They understand that music is not magic, though it appears so. There are no shortcuts in music — learning the language of music takes some doing. Rudess expressed admiration for Dream Theater’s drummer Mike Magini, who is given to bettering himself. “He’s so into it. All of us are,” said Rudess and called Magini the most incredible drummer. Rudess was shattered by Mike Portnoy’s decision to leave Dream Theater. It would have continued to haunt Rudess had Magini not stepped in to fill the void.

On whether Dream Theater could come to India for a performance, Rudess said such an event would be a logistics nightmare. It would not happen unless a brilliant promoter came on board and addressed a range of issues, including that of security.

Prasanna recalled how Rudess said the same thing over two years ago, during their meeting at Los Angeles. Dream Theater’s visit probably has to wait, but Prasanna believed SAM had made a start. Bringing Rudess and providing him the right platform and letting his multifarious talents benefit students of music and others were incredible achievements, he added.

The pressmen got to witness an unusual sight — Rudess giving a performance with one of the applications created for the iPad. After the mind-blowing performance, Rudess said, “The technique to use this iPad application comes from what I learnt sitting at the piano from age seven.”

Prasanna used this interlude of technology-driven music to drive home a point. He said, “Technology cannot replace a live band. Jordan Rudess is a great example of this.” Despite an ability to do wonders with technology (Rudess has created popular music applications for iPad / iPhone), he still believed in playing live music. At a time when pianos were being discarded as obsolete and replaced with keyboards, he had something to teach us, said Prasanna.

“Musicians have access to keyboards and iPads. But where are the pianos?” asked Prasanna.

“Give us some pianos!” smiled Jordan Rudess.

(For details about the workshop, call 95000-18462)




Connecting the Dots

18-19 October

Jordan Rudess will be co-conducting a music workshop

The Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music (SAM), Chennai, is organizing a two-day residential workshop, open to people from Bangalore and other areas, on “Performance, Education, Technology and Entrepreneurship in Music” in Kanchipuram. The American keyboardist of the band Dream Theater, Jordan Rudess, and the Carnatic guitarist and president of SAM, Prasanna, will teach and play typical aspects of their music in interactive sessions.

Two-day workshop fee, 10,000, inclusive of accommodation and food. For details, write to or call 0950018462. To register, visit

Jordan Rudess Greets the Students of SAM

We’d like to share this personal greeting from Jordan Rudess to you all!

We’d like to share this personal greeting from Jordan Rudess to you all!

Jordan is excited to be teaching at Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music!

The incredible Pianist, Synthesist, Composer, member of the Rock supergroup Dream Theater and developer of groundbreaking iphone apps like Morphwiz, Samplewiz etc will be a guest faculty for the program alongside a glittering all-star faculty of Sofia Tosello (Argentina), Yuri Juarez (Peru), Deanna Witkowski (USA), Arthur Kell (USA), Karina Colis (Mexico), Fjoralba Turku (Albania), Juancho Herrera (Venezuela), Dario Boente (Argentina), Lonnie Plaxico (USA), Phil Maturano (USA), Karthick and Prasanna.

The First Professional College Of Music In India to offer a range of programs in contemporary music that includes Rock, Jazz, Classical, Carnatic and World music. With world renowned faculty and top of the line facilities.

Swarnabhoomi Academy Of Music

A two-day Workshop on Performance, Education, Technology and Entrepreneurship in music from Oct 18th – 19th 2012

Connecting the Dots

Jordan Rudess and Prasanna will teach and perform signature aspects of their music and will share powerful insights on their careers that have long integrated performance, technology, education and business through interactive sessions with participants.

The Workshop is open to all Dream Theater fans, Rudess fans, Prasanna fans, Rudess-Prasanna fans, SAM Alumni, SAM fans, Rock heads, Metal heads, Carnatic heads, Jazz heads, musicians, music educators, music industry folks and anyone who wants their ears and minds to be stretched.

Online registration for the Workshop begins Monday, 11 September 2012. Registration closes 5 October 2012.

Jordan Rudess

Jordan Rudess is in a league all his own today as the world’s most recognizable progressive rock keyboardist, synthesist and developer of the biggest selling music applications for iPhone and iPad. Jordan’s musical journey started with his enrollment at the world’s most prestigious music college, Juilliard School of Music, for classical piano at the age of nine. Influenced by keyboard pioneers such as Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman, John Lord and others, Jordan set out on a path of blending classical music, rock and technology early in his career.

He has recorded and performed with such artists as Tony Williams, David Bowie, Steve Morse, Jan Hammer, Enrique Iglesias and many others. Before joining Dream Theater in January 1999, Jordan connected with John Petrucci and Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater, bassist Tony Levin of King Crimson and Peter Gabriel notoriety, and recorded two albums with Liquid Tension Experiment. He can be heard on two performances within “Encores Legends and Paradox” with drummer Simon Phillips, Violinist Jerry Goodman and Producer Robert Berry. In October 2001, Jordan released his rock solo album entitled Feeding the Wheel featuring Terry Bozzio on drums, Billy Sheehan on Bass, guitarists Steve Morse and John Petrucci, Vocalist Barry Carl, Violinist Mark Wood and Eugene Freisen on Cello.

His career path went on overdrive when he joined the band Dream Theater, which today stands among the biggest rock acts in the world, having sold millions of albums and packing big stadiums all over the world. Jordan’s pre-eminent position as Keyboardist and Co-Composer for Dream Theater has made him a music industry icon whose work reaches millions of people. He has done several other solo projects and has shown support to numerous charitable causes through his benefit performances.

Jordan has always been a passionate educator and his online conservatory has benefited thousands of musicians. Throughout his career, Jordan has immersed himself in the education of music through the web, by providing video and notation-based lessons in his Online Conservatory and e-magazine, Accent. Jordan continues to explore various possibilities that new technologies bring including the use of the new Haken Audio “fretless keyboard” Continuum.

His company Wizdom Music is the leading player in the Music App World for tablet media. Jordan’s apps such as Morphwiz, Spacewiz, Samplewiz, Geosynth, Tachyon and others are revolutionising music synthesis and performance today.

Jordan’s commitment to come here to our campus as guest faculty at SAM is a substantial acknowledgement of the excellence and world-class music education that Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music exemplifies.


Prasanna is the quintessential Indian Renaissance man. A pioneer in performing Carnatic music on the guitar, an engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, a composer for an Oscar winning film, an internationally acclaimed guitarist in contemporary Jazz, Rock and Blues, a Magna-Cum-Laude graduate of Berklee College of Music, an entrepreneurial visionary in the business of creative music and education and Founder/ President of Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music. Prasanna was voted among the ‘top 50 creative Indians’ by Open Magazine in 2010 alongside Sachin Tendulkar, Viswanathan Anand, A.R. Rahman, Arundati Roy and others.

A fearless innovator across Jazz, Rock and many forms of contemporary music and yet steeped in the authentic Carnatic tradition with 30 years of study with his gurus Tiruvarur Balasubramaniam and Violin maestro A. Kanyakumari. He was awarded the ‘Life Time Achievement Award’ for Carnatic music by H.H. Sri Jayendra Saraswathi in 2006.

Prasanna’s prolific body of work include 15 albums as leader, a concert DVD and an Instructional DVD and numerous concerts at major festivals around the world. Prasanna has performed with Airto Moreira, A.R. Rahman, Esperanza Spalding, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Joe lovano, Illayaraja, Victor Wooten, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Alex Acuna, Dave Douglas, Omar Hakim, Larry Coryell, Anthony Jackson, Howard Levy, Trilok Gurtu and others. He is a member of two groundbreaking bands – ‘Ragabop trio’ with Steve Smith and George Brooks and ‘Tirtha’ with Vijay Iyer and Nitin Mitta.

Prasanna has composed music for numerous dance theater productions, documentary films such as the 2009 Oscar Award winning ‘Smile Pinki’ and feature films like ‘Framed’ and most recently, the critically acclaimed 2012 Tamil film ‘Vazhakku Enn 18/9′, hailed as one of the most original scores in contemporary Indian films. His creative collaboration with two-time Oscar winning film composer A.R. Rahman includes arranging and orchestrating the title score for the 2002 Oscar nominated Bollywood Film ‘Lagaan’ and numerous other guitar playing sessions.

Prasanna has given lectures, talks, workshops and residencies at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, TedX Chennai, Banff Center for the Arts, Berklee College of Music, VIT, Harvard University, Osnabruck Institute of Music etc.


The all-inclusive price for the two-day workshop is Rs. 10,000. This includes Participation fees, shared accommodation and food for two days and one night.