Keith Emerson, the virtuousic keyboardist of the influential prog rock group Emerson, Lake and Palmer, died on Friday, at 71. Billboard reports that Santa Monica police are investigating Emerson’s death as a suicide. Both the band’s official Facebook group and his bandmate Carl Palmer confirmed the news of his death. “We regret to announce that Keith Emerson died last night at his home in Santa Monica, Los Angeles,” the band wrote in a statement. “We ask that the family’s privacy and grief be respected.”
Emerson was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1944, where he picked up classical keyboard training and later mastered his instrument of choice, the Hammond organ. Emerson became an expert at the Moog synthesizer and began to experiment with the possibilities of the instrument. He performed with The Nice, and later with Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which came together in 1970, with guitarist Greg Lake and Palmer as the drummer. Their showy, improvisational stylings blended jazz, rock, and even samples from classical music. The group experienced success with albums like Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970), Tarkus (1971), Trilogy (1972), and Brain Salad Surgery (1973). ELP disbanded in 1979, later morphing into Emerson, Lake and Powell with drummer Cozy Powell, though Emerson and Lake reunited with Palmer again for several collaborations in the 1980s and ‘90s. Emerson had a solo career of his own recording albums and film scores. His last album, Three Fates Project, was released in 2012.
“Keith was a gentle soul whose love for music and passion for his performance as a keyboard player will remain unmatched for many years to come,” Palmer wrote in a statement. “He was a pioneer and an innovator whose musical genius touched all of us in the worlds of rock, classical and jazz. I will always remember his warm smile, good sense of humor, compelling showmanship, and dedication to his musical craft. I am very lucky to have known him and to have made the music we did, together. Rest in peace, Keith.”