Watch Prince Play Jazz Piano & Coach His Band Through George Gershwin’s “Summertime” in a Candid, Behind-the-Scenes Moment (1990)

A rock enig­ma wrapped around an R&B quandary, wear­ing plat­form shoes and pur­ple velour. The cheek­bones of an angel, dance moves and lyrics from an infer­nal­ly sexy place, and more musi­cal tal­ent than it seems pos­si­ble for a sin­gle per­son to pos­sess in one life­time…. These are some of the ways we remem­ber Prince Rogers Nel­son.

We do not typ­i­cal­ly remem­ber him as a jazz pianist. But his facil­i­ty with jazz earned him the admi­ra­tion of Miles Davis, who made sev­er­al efforts to col­lab­o­rate with the extreme­ly busy pop star. (They per­formed togeth­er only once, it seems, on New Year’s Eve, 1987 at Pais­ley Park.) Prince’s style, stage show, song­writ­ing, and arrang­ing drew from jazz of all kinds—from zoot suit-era big band to the fre­net­ic move­ment of hard bop to the clas­si­cal­ly-inflect­ed show tunes of George Gersh­win. Just above see him “casu­al­ly own” Gersh­win’s “Sum­mer­time” dur­ing a 1990 sound­check in Osa­ka, Japan.

For the first minute, it’s a Prince show­case, but once he coach­es the band through the changes, he lets them take it, set­tling back while the gui­tarist rides out a solo. The can­did moment does much more than demon­strate his chops on the piano and appre­ci­a­tion for Gersh­win. It offers yet anoth­er con­trast to the pop­u­lar image of Prince as a charis­mat­ic, self-suf­fi­cient solo artist who just hap­pened to work with a reg­u­lar crew of stel­lar musi­cians and not-so-stel­lar actress­es.

It’s true Prince played most or all of the instru­ments on many of his albums, wrote near­ly all his own songs, direct­ed or pro­duced near­ly every aspect of his music, career, and per­sona.… As solo artists go, no one comes close to defin­ing full cre­ative con­trol. The Pur­ple One ruled over a musi­cal empire; most of the time, it seems, he got what he want­ed, even if he some­times had to fight like hell for it. We might expect such an artist to be a pet­ty tyrant, hog­ging the spot­light and throw­ing his weight around at every oppor­tu­ni­ty. What we hear and see behind the scenes paints a much rich­er pic­ture.

The footage here was shot by Steve Pur­cell, who direct­ed sev­er­al videos for Prince and, as he remarked, “spent six years of my life work­ing for, cre­at­ing with and lay­ing the foun­da­tion for the rest of my career with Prince.” In his intro­duc­tion to the video, he writes, “This may not be the Prince you think of but it is the Prince I knew.” A band­leader who was also an ensem­ble play­er, and who con­stant­ly paid trib­ute to the music that inspired him in live per­for­mance.

We might have known Prince as a gen­er­ous hit­mak­er, who gave song after song to artists like Sheena Eas­t­on, Cha­ka Khan, Sinead O’Connor, and the Ban­gles, and launched the careers of a good many of his col­lab­o­ra­tors, musi­cal and oth­er­wise. Since his death, we’ve also learned much more about both his tremen­dous finan­cial and emo­tion­al good­will, and the time he took with oth­er musi­cians to help them devel­op and learn.

The impos­si­bly cool aloof­ness with which he glid­ed through pop star­dom did not extend to his rela­tion­ships with the peo­ple clos­est to him. Prince was so beloved that his two ex-wives worked togeth­er to orga­nize a star-stud­ded memo­r­i­al ser­vice for him. Sto­ries of his kind­ness, good humor, com­pas­sion, and loy­al­ty pour out at the same rate as the music he had locked up in his Pais­ley Park vault. We’ll like­ly see more can­did videos like this one emerge as well, from those who, like Pur­cell, found their time doc­u­ment­ing the artist a total­ly life-chang­ing expe­ri­ence.

via Clas­si­cal FM

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read Prince’s First Inter­view, Print­ed in His High School News­pa­per (1976)

Prince Plays Unplugged and Wraps the Crowd Around His Lit­tle Fin­ger (2004)

Hear Prince’s Per­son­al Playlist of Par­ty Music: 22 Tracks That Will Bring Any Par­ty to Life

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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