Keith Emerson, the keyboardist of the English supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmerand one of the key figures of the progressive-rock era in the 1970s, was found dead on Friday at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 71.
His death was confirmed by Martin Darvill, an associate of Mr. Emerson’s longtime manager, Stewart Young. The Santa Monica Police Department said the cause appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Mr. Emerson had a background in classical music through private lessons, and an interest in jazz, particularly as played on the Hammond organ by Jimmy Smith and others in the 1950s and ’60s.
Likewise, “The Barbarian” borrowed from Bartok’s “Allegro Barbaro” and “Toccata” from Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Concerto No. 1. “Pictures at an Exhibition,” released in 1971, was an album-length arrangement of Mussorgsky’s suite of the same name.
Drawn to spectacle and bombast, and often criticized for it, the band concluded some live performances with cannon fire.
The other members were the bassist, guitarist and vocalist Greg Lake and the drummer Carl Palmer. Mr. Emerson was a showman, standing up and playing fluidly on multiple keyboards, sometimes turning an organ over on top of himself or stabbing knives into the keyboard to hold down a note.
He became an early adopter and customizer of the Moog synthesizer, from which he coaxed rumbles and sirens and thick, swooping tones. He positioned the Moog onstage so that it towered above his keyboards, sprouting patch cords like spaghetti. His solo on the 1970 record “Lucky Man,” a rock-radio hit then and thereafter, includes one of the first well-known solos on that instrument.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer around 1970 with, from left, Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Greg Lake. Michael Ochs Archives, via Getty Images
Keith Noel Emerson was born in Todmorden, Yorkshire, on Nov. 2, 1944, while his father, an amateur musician, was serving with the British Army. He took piano lessons from an early age and joined a blues band, Gary Farr and the T-Bones, before helping to form the Nice, which combined psychedelic rock, jazz and symphonic music, interpolating Dvorak, Sibelius and Leonard Bernstein’s “America,” among other sources.
The Nice, which lasted from 1967 to 1970, toured with Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd.
In a 2015 interview with Anil Prasad of the website Innerviews, Mr. Emerson explained his adaptations of classical music and jazz as purely a matter of harnessing force.
“I think playing music of the greats such as Mussorgsky or Alberto Ginastera can be an explosive experience,” he said. “The energy just comes at you.”
He left the Nice in 1970 and joined forces with Mr. Lake, who had played in King Crimson, and Mr. Palmer, who had played with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Atomic Rooster. With the advance from the band’s first album, Mr. Emerson bought his first Moog synthesizer.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer lasted from 1970 to 1979, making seven albums, then reformed in 1991 and stayed together until 1998. (Before the band reunited, Mr. Emerson and Mr. Lake recorded one album with the drummer Cozy Powell as Emerson, Lake & Powell.) The band played a single reunion concert at the High Voltage Festival in London in 2010.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s tours were complicated and expensive, often using quadraphonic sound: According to an article in New Musical Express in 1974, the group traveled with 40 tons of equipment. In some mid-’70s performances, Mr. Emerson rose above the stage on a wire while seated at the bench of a grand piano, which was strapped in place and spinning end over end as he appeared to keep playing. (Mr. Lake later explained that the piano had no insides.)
Mr. Emerson lived in Santa Monica with his companion, Mari Kawaguchi. She survives him, as do two sons, Aaron Ole Emerson and Damon Keith Emerson, both from his marriage to Elinor Emerson.
Mr. Emerson also wrote music for films, including the 1980 horror movie “Inferno” and the 1981 Sylvester Stallone crime drama “Nighthawks.”
He toured with Mr. Lake in 2010, performed at the music and technology festival Moogfest in 2014 and wrote classical music.
For around a decade he had been leading the Keith Emerson Band, which was preparing to tour Japan next month.
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