On your website you say you were first inspired to become a musician by another Yamaha artist, the great Ray Charles. Can you tell us about that?
Oh absolutely. I must have been about 12 or 13 years old and my sister, Judy, had a date to go see Ray Charles at the coliseum in Tuscaloosa AL, where we grew up. My parents were away for the evening and they said, "Judy will you take Chuck with you?" And lucky for me she did. And man, I just had never seen a band like that, an artist like that. You had of course, the great Ray Charles, but you also had the Raelettes, you had Fat Head Newman on saxophone, you had Billy Preston playing organ, and it was just the most awesome thing I had ever seen in my life. I went away from that concert saying, "Well I know I don't want to be a doctor or a lawyer or an insurance salesman or anything like that. If I could ever be in a band that was anywhere near that good, that's what I want to do.
When you were on tour with The Rolling Stones you got a chance to stop at the Yamaha offices in California and check out not only the new CP4 STAGE but also the actual CFX acoustic piano that we sampled. What's your impression of the sounds and feel of the new CP4 STAGE?
Well, you know, the CFX grand piano is just a marvel of acoustic technology. I think what they've done to emulate that technology in this instrument, the CP4, is amazing! It's very, very close. That's what you want in an instrument. I want reality, and that's what it's given me.
Chuck Leavell Bio
Chuck Leavell has been pleasing the ears of music fans for more than 30 years now. His piano and keyboard work has been heard on the works of Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, The Black Crowes, George Harrison, The Allman Brothers Band, The Indigo Girls, Blues Traveler, Train, Montgomery-Gentry, Lee Ann Womack, Lady AnteBellum, John Mayer and many, many more. In 1982, he was invited to assume a significant keyboardist/vocalist role for the Stones that continues today. Says guitarist Keith Richards: “Without the continuity that Chuck brings to us, the Stones would not be the Stones.” In addition to his musical expertise, he is a Board member of several important environmental organizations and is also the co-founder of The Mother Nature Network (www.mnn.com), the world's most visited environmental website. Chuck Leavell is one of music’s most respected and sought-after pianists, an active spokesperson for environmental issues and a devoted husband, father and grandfather. At his home in rural Georgia, you can find Leavell working in the woods, playing his piano and declaring he’ s fortunate to have three real passions in his life: “My family, my trees and my music.”
What was your design intention?
We knew when we started to design the new CP4 and CP40 that we wanted to create a timeless musical instrument. So we asked ourselves how a stage piano could remain relevant after a normal product lifecycle. Our desire was for players to enjoy it for a really long time.
For that reason, rather than following temporary, transitory trends, we decided to look at the legacy and heritage of Yamaha. We noted which design traditions are in Yamaha’s DNA, and we took those and adapted them to fit the new CP. We believe that as a result, the CP STAGE will have a long lasting design.
At the same time we wanted to provide players with an elegant musical instrument that can be used on any stage. Therefore, in order to make the new CP adaptable to a wide variety of environments, we decided that the design of the new CP should not be gaudy, obtrusive or particularly striking. But some attractive details were needed, so we decided to focus on the silhouette, with a small beveled edge that surrounds the piano to draw attention to its contours on the stage-especially under spotlights.
What was the development process like?
After deciding on the design direction, the team worked very closely for almost 2 years with the engineers and other developers, taking into consideration the proportion and harmony of all the elements of the stage piano, and of course trying to create a simple user interface for instant access and easy use.
What was your aim when developing the CP4 STAGE?
We wanted to enhance our piano sounds and make the CP4 STAGE a key instrument for live performances. Yamaha has focused on developing acoustic and electric pianos that produce high-quality sound. For the CP4 STAGE, we not only worked on sound quality but also paid close attention to the playability of the keyboard. In that regard, we took advantage of the performance qualities of wooden keys, a new feature in the CP series. Our aim was to design an instrument that allows players to directly express themselves.
Could you comment on the playability of the CP4 STAGE?
We developed many expressive voices for the CP4 STAGE, including the CFX piano voice. We also equipped it with a highly playable keyboard, using wooden keys for the first time in the CP lineup. By effectively combining these features, Yamaha has created a remarkable musical instrument that allows piano players to directly express themselves. We accomplished this by devoting much more time than usual in product development to perfect the playability of the instrument. That involved setting up prototypes in many different ways and having them tested by leading pianists active in various genres from Japan, the U.S., and Europe. Based on their evaluations and feedback, we decided on the ultimate design. As a result, Yamaha has produced a very playable and expressive instrument.