June 29, 2004 by

Keith MacDonald


Categories: Education, Musicians

Keith MacDonald was 55 years old when he got his first big break in show business.
The jazz and classical pianist was performing at a memorial service for his lifelong friend, jazz artist Bill Evans, when Evans’ manager Helen Keane recognized MacDonald’s talent. Five years later, he recorded his debut album, “This Is Keith MacDonald.” His second, and final record, “Waiting,” was released in 1986. Both received positive reviews in major newspapers.
Born in Plainfield, N.J., MacDonald studied music at The Juilliard School in New York. Unable to make a living as a musician, however, he spent the majority of his life struggling financially. In later years, he moved to Boulder, Colo., and gave jazz piano lessons to area students.
MacDonald died on June 1. Cause of death was not released. He was 79.

16 Responses to Keith MacDonald

  1. Alxe Noden

    I’m finding it nearly impossible to consider other piano teachers after studying with Keith for over 3 years. How can it be that he with his New Jersey accent will never take me to task over the way I’ve missed something on the page? His training with Stuermann at Julliard and his playful lessons with Teddy Wilson were all part of what he taught, but his method was uniquely his own. He could be grumpy, he could be ruthlessly honest, and he was always exceedingly kind and caring. He lived in music and was truly himself when he was sharing it, either as a performer or as a teacher. I was not alone among his students in loving the man and the musician. All my sympathy to his family.

  2. Karen Pancoast

    I have Keith to thank for my successful career in music. I studied with him for 7 wonderful years. Every 6 months or so he would say, “You should teach, Karen, you really should teach.” I kept answering, “I don’t know enough yet.” He would always answer, “Yes you do! You already know more than most of the piano teachers out there.”
    I finally decided to trust his judgement and took on a few students. Well, it’s now 6 years later and I’ve had a full studio of 50 students for the past 5 years. I’ve written 4 books and produced a half dozen CDs. I totally left my old career behind and am loving a world in music I could only dream of. It is all thanks to Keith and his encouragement and belief in me. I wouldn’t have the life I have were it not for Keith. I shall miss him terribly.

  3. Monica Strathman

    I studied with Keith for about a year-and-a-half, in 1997-1998, before I moved to NYC. It was a terribly short time to learn from him, but ever since I’ve considered him to be my real guide in approaching music. I leared more from him than from any of my successive instructors. He was a truly gifted pianist; as a teacher he was enthusiastic, willing to grapple with whatever talent I have and exhorting me to study well. He genuinely cared how I was doing both as a student and a person.
    Before I left Boulder he gave me a list of pianists in New York to contact in search of a new teacher. One woman, whose name I’ve forgotten but who played jazz at the Waldorf-Astoria, was so surprised to hear from someone about Keith that she immediately thought I’d called to announce his death. What a relief for her when she realized I was merely seeking a teacher!
    I found this webpage on a fluke when I googled his name today. I am saddened to hear of his death. I wonder if his family still on Juilliard Street in Boulder? I’d like to send a note.

  4. Paul Di Dario

    Keith was like a father to me. I studied with for 5 years from 1966-71. I learned not only music from him, but philosophy, on how to be a human being. I kept in touch with him all through the years until he went to Colorado. My wife and I went out there for a visit in 1989. That was the last time I saw him. I tried to stay in touch over the years through letters. I will miss him terribly. He gave me confidence in myself, something I was(and sometimes still) sadly lacking. Once, when I was in High School, he drove me to a piano competition in North Jersey. He stayed with me all day and drove me back. I won 2nd place that day, and I attribute that to his calming influence. He was truly an extrordinary man. I hope I can pass on tp my students some of what he gave to me.

  5. Family

    We wwould like to make a correction to the notice of Keith’s passing as stated above– he did make his living as a full-time musician by playing, performing and instructing all his life quite successfully and we never measured success by simply the financial variable. thank you.

  6. Rick Moore

    I was doing an internet search for Keith because it was a long time since I’ve heard anything about him, then I learned of his death which greatly saddened me. In the early 70’s, I would frequently go to hear Keith play in NJ clubs (he was playing mostly with bassist Geroge Platt at the time). We became friends, then I asked him for piano lessons. I studied with Keith for roughly 3 years. He was a great mentor to me. Keith had very high musical standards and a relaxed way of teaching difficult pieces. There was always a feeling of mutual respect between the two of us, so I never felt put down by him in any way. Even when I wasn’t has prepared for my lesson as I should have been, he coached me through the music, note by note. I will always remember him and my heart goes out to his family.

  7. David Picton

    Throughout my years as a musician and music teacher,I have often thought of Keith fondly. I would say of all the teachers I’ve studied with, he was the most influential,not only because of his fine musicianship and teaching, but because of his personality.
    It’s hard to put in words, really;There were others too that were kind and generous, and understanding as best they could, which was never easy for a person like me, but I think Keith was different in how he showed a special interest and sensitivity in a person’s uniqueness of personality. I think that was of vital importance to Keith, and sometimes remembering Keith and the lessons I had with him, seem to be the only thing that keeps me hanging on through all the ups and downs of this buissiness.
    And by the way, I was glad to see that correction made… He certainly wasa fulltime musician supporting himself when I met him, and remained as such the whole time I knew him. I regret having lost touch with him though. I’ve been thinking about him lately, which is why I looked him up on the internet.
    My sympathies to his family.

  8. A fan

    My husband and I were on our first visit to New York City sometime in the 80s. Late one evening, we ventured into Hanratty’s. Just a chance visit turned into a night that we will always remember. Keith MacDonald was playing to an empty room. We sat down and listened and it was magic, seemingly just for us.
    We bought and played his cassette, “This is Keith MacDonald” until we didn’t have a cassette player anymore. I was googling to see if I could find more albums from this amazing talent when I found this site. I am saddened to learn of his death, but enjoyed reading the tributes from his many students.

  9. Lauren Hooker

    I just googled Keith’s name – wanting to send him my debut jazz Cd which I finally (after 30 years) recorded. I am very saddened to hear of his death – I met Keith through my father, conductor, Louis Hooker. I studied jazz and classical piano with Keith while I was in college – He was the one to teach me jazz harmony and was always in my corner – urging me to take my career seriously – Last time I saw him was at the Watchung Arts Center in NJ – he played beautifully of course – I was excited to send him my CD – so he could be proud – not of me – but of himself – for teaching me so well – I will mis him – Sincerely, LAuren Hooker

  10. Keith

    Imagine my surprise when I Googled my own name and found a tribute to this nice person? The amazing part is that I, Keith MacDonald also teach music… to kids in VA. I’ll bet he was a great guy. 🙂

  11. Walt Harrison

    I studied with Keith when I lived in boulder from 97-01. He really inspired me. I was going through my old lesson book today, thought of him and googled him. I am truly saddened by his passing. He will be truly missed.

  12. kevin hogarth

    I got Keith’s name from Bob at the Plainfield music store, asking for a teacher in 1982. I started lessons when I was 25 and stayed for 6 years. Keith got me interested in Harry Leahey, the great guitarist from North Plainfield and my brother took lessons from Harry.
    Keith gave me great advice on time management and his philosophy about practice and learning which I have shared many times and try to follow to this day. Keith had great huge hands and could stretch a 10th from Eb to G with no strain at all. I found out he died today from another former pupil. So sorry.

  13. Joss flanzbaum

    Keith was my friend as well as my piano teacher from 1977 until I left for college in 1981. I had known him for many years before that as he played at my dad’s semiannual new years party. He was a wonderful man, a wonderful musician and, I agree, tremendously successful as a musician as well as a human being. He came out to my wedding, years later when he was living in Colorado, to play for the dessert reception before the big day. He was a teacher, a mentor and a friend.

  14. Jim Mastracco

    Does anyone still respond to this blog; I’d love to hear if Mr. McDonald has any surviving family. I had the pleasure of producing a concert recording of him, and co-engineered the gig in 1995, interestingly around this time of year.

    He was given a copy of the recording and it was aired sometime in 1986.

    I have been trying to get recordings back to artists, and some sadly have passed. It is wonderful read about the feelings of his students, as I find him to be a most congenial person – though we spent just the evening together. The venue, though known for its jazz music, that night had quite a number of diners so the sounds of dining made the recording interesting. His artistry however – as you might imagine, cut through it all.

  15. Sheila

    He does have surviving family, his wife Alice and his son Brian. Alice is retired, leads a quiet life. Brian teaches, acts, tutors, various things. They live on the east coast.

    I knew them when they lived in Colorado. Our sons were in kindergarten and first grade together.

    Keith was an amazing man. I treasure the brief time I knew him.

    Hope this is helpful.

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