October 18, 2017

Brockett Parsons '89
Brockett Parsons '89 plays the 1,000-pound, 292-key PianoArc that he developed with the help of Chuck Johnson '86.

By Eveline Chao

Brockett Parsons '89 has been on MTV with Sean Combs (formerly P. Diddy), played on three world tours with pop star Lady Gaga and performed in 50 countries. But arguably, the most pivotal moment of his career happened at age 19, when he was an undergrad at Bucknell. He was playing trumpet with the Bucknell Jazz and Rock Ensemble and toying with the idea of switching his focus to piano and keyboard, which he had also learned to play as a kid.

"At the time, there was a lot of exciting stuff happening in music synthesis. I realized that with a keyboard, I could play in a band on MTV," says Parsons.

That's exactly what happened. He switched his major to piano, and began to practice seriously for the first time in his life. After Bucknell (including a stint as director of the ensemble), he spent another year studying at Berklee College of Music, then worked various music gigs. They included playing in the house band at the legendary Cafe Wha? in New York City, where artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan started out. And in 2009 — after standing in an audition line for seven hours in the middle of winter — Parsons made it onto MTV at last, as part of a P. Diddy reality show called Making His Band.

One year later, he landed a gig as a keyboardist for Lady Gaga. In the seven years since, he's played with her on three world tours and performed in the 2017 Super Bowl halftime show.

"It's been amazing," says Parsons. But despite all the places he's been, it was playing close to home, in Madison Square Garden, that meant the most to him. "I'm from New Jersey, and being there, I felt like, ‘Wow, this is the place where I saw Rangers games with my dad when I was 10. This is where Led Zeppelin did crazy stuff; it's where everybody's played.' "

Parsons credits his mother, still an accomplished piano player at age 86, as the source of his musical talent. "She's an improvisational genius," says Parsons. "Even now after traveling all over the world and playing with top musicians, I'll go home and listen to her playing and say, ‘What was that you just played? How did you do that?' "

In 2012, Parsons took his creative energy in a new direction by teaming up with Chuck Johnson '86 to create the PianoArc, a circular (and utterly wild-looking) keyboard that he and Johnson rent and sell through their company of the same name. Parsons first came up with the PianoArc during the leadup to a world tour with Lady Gaga. "Her vision, and the presentation of the show, was so exceptional that I felt obligated to make myself exceptional too," says Parsons. The band's guitar player offered up the idea of a circular keyboard, and Parsons set about making it happen — starting with a phone call to Johnson, a fellow member of the Bucknell Jazz and Rock Ensemble.

Now, more keyboardists are using the PianoArc, including Sir Foster, the in-stadium musician for the Atlanta Hawks, lending their acts just a little extra, Gaga-inspired pizzazz. You might say that with the PianoArc, Parsons' musical journey has come full circle

Bucknell Magazine — Fall 2017


Q&A with Patrice Franko '80

Patrice Franko '80

Franko is Grossman Professor of Economics and Global Studies at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

She discusses who wins and loses in free trade, and what to do about it.

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