Calling Oliver Sacks

Here’s a question for all you musicians out there: is there something about playing the piano that encourages vocalizing by the pianist? I’ve gone through several of my favorite piano records — Errol Garner’s Concert By the Sea, Ellington at Newport, Keith Jarrett’s The Koln Concert and Dark Intervals — and noticed weird mumbling sounds that I presume are the pianists themselves muttering along with the music.

Jarrett has long been infamous for grunting and moaning in cosmic ecstasy at his own playing, but this mumbling sound is different. It’s almost as though Duke and Errol are keeping themselves sorted out with this kind of low-level semi-singing, like the subject of Oliver Sacks’ essay “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” Either that, or they’re praying to Cthulhu and muttering passages from The Necronomicon. It isn’t just jazz, either: Glenn Gould drove his producers crazy by tweetling along with himself as he played. So what gives?

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