Clash of the Keys: Dueling Pianos to perform at Serendipity

With melodic tunes coming from hands flying over the keyboards, a dueling pianos event is one of the greatest forms of entertainment. Minnesota State University, Mankato will be bringing two blues piano players for the Serendipity Music Series. 

One of the players is self-taught pianist Tom Hunter. Growing up, his sisters took lessons while Hunter would sit and play without looking at the notes. With an influence such as Chet Atkins and listening to his great grandmother play, playing piano became a hobby he wanted to partake in. 

“I started getting serious [about playing piano] when I was 25. Before that, I used to just sing,” said Hunter. “I never got down to practicing [piano] methodically to achieve it, but I was always like, ‘I think that I could do that.’ I connected to it and saw myself doing it at some point.”

Hunter’s style of music fluctuates back and forth between Blues, Americana, and Boogie-Woogie. Hunter is excited to be performing live shows after having three surgeries on his left wrist right before COVID-19 hit. Hunter took time during the pandemic to recover and practice his music.

“[Musician] Jimmy Hamilton told me, “Tom, it’s your job to play. If you have a four hour gig, you gotta practice for four hours.’ I’ve been trying to get four to five hours a day in,” said Hunter. “There are some gigs coming up and things seem to be loosening up. I’m in the ‘make people happy’ business, so I hope this summer people get to go out and have a good time.” 

Hunter will be playing against three-time Minnesota Blues Hall of Fame inductee, Scottie Miller. Miller started by playing traditional piano lessons at six years old and eventually started playing a variety of genres. 

“Early on, I was deeply influenced by classical artists like Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin. As I got older I started getting more into [jazz musicians] Chick Corea and Bill Evans,” said Miller. “At the same time, I was playing a lot of rock n roll music. I listened to everyone from Hendrix to Led Zeppelin. I had a wide palette of interests from a very young age.”

Now, Miller focuses on piano blues that have a New Orleans twist, along with a combination of Chicago and St. Louis Blues. One of Miller’s favorite pieces to perform is an original song called “Spanish Harlem Princess.” Miller enjoys performing the song due to it being a great bed for improvisation.

“I enjoy it because it’s a great template to do something different with it each time that I perform it,” said Miller. “I think that’s why the people enjoy it too. They’re always like, ‘what are you going to do with it tonight, Scottie?’”

While both Hunter and Miller are experienced piano players, they haven’t participated in several dueling pianos events. Both musicians are looking forward to sharing the stage.

“I’ve done it a couple times, but it’s not really my repertoire. I’ve jammed with people like an impromptu thing, but piano players usually don’t get together and do this,” said Hunter. “When you play with someone else, you get to see where they lay things down and try and make it better because that’s the whole idea of making it better than it’s part.”

“I don’t do it too often. I’m usually solo, with my own band or doing original music so this is a rare [performance],” said Miller. “It ought to be a lot of fun.”

Hunter and Miller hope the audience will be entertained and surprised at the spontaneous switches between the songs. 

“I hope they see the joy of live music happening in person and that they get to experience two different, longtime blues singer-songwriters share both influences and how they differ, but [still] centered around blues music that we both love,” shared Miller.

“I hope [audiences] are entertained and enjoy it. If it makes them smile or tap their foot in any way, that’s what it’s all about,” shared Hunter.

Both musicians will take the stage on Wednesday, April 13 in the Centennial Student Union Hearth Lounge from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Header Photo: Musician Scottie Miller (above) will be facing off against Tom Hunter in a Dueling Pianos event in the Centennial Student Union Hearth Lounge. Both performers will be playing a combination of both rhythm and blues and jazz. (Courtesy Photo)

Write to: Emma Johnson at emma.johnson.5@mnsu.edu

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