116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Some folks are just meant to be entertainers. Dan Knight was well on his way to becoming an opera singer. However, a drunken driver ended that career path after crashing into Knight on his motorcycle in 1971.
“I survived a near-death experience,” Knight said. “Due to the accident, I could no longer sing like I once did. I tried to sing again after the accident, but there were scabs inside of my lungs and I was having issues. That unfortunate event changed my life. Who knows how my life would have gone if it didn’t happen? I just couldn’t sing like I once could.”
The Ottumwa native also played the piano, and he focused on the ivories until he could make them sing like he could once belt out an aria. However, it was a process.
His life changed again, after landing a spot in a class with iconic jazz pianist Billy Taylor in 1988.
“I was so in awe of Billy Taylor,” Knight said while calling from his Ottumwa home. “He was one of Art Tatum’s proteges.”
Early on, Knight was passive and Taylor called him out.
“After one class, Billy said, ‘Why are you here? You don't participate.’ I said that it was enough to be in the same room as you.”
Taylor demanded more and Knight complied.
“I knew this is where my life was supposed to be. Taylor said, ‘I’m going to do for you what Art Tatum did for me. I’ll show you everything I learned. But if you think what we’re working on now is hard, what I will show you will be 100 times harder.”
Knight, 69, was like a musical sponge and a month later he was featured on “CBS Sunday Morning” with Taylor.
Four years later, while playing at the Collins Plaza Hotel in Cedar Rapids, Knight received serious affirmation. Legendary saxophonist Sonny Rollins and his longtime bassist, Bob Crenshaw, stopped by to give their thumbs-up.
“Bob came up to me and said that Sonny was listening to me for the last two hours and he was really into what I was doing,” Knight recalled. “I was blown away by that, but who wouldn't be?”
Knight, who will perform Friday, Jan. 20, at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City, became close friends with Crenshaw and Rollins. Knight became so tight with them that during a Rollins concert in 1996 in Chicago, he cracked up when Rollins goofed around with a sax line.
“It was a musical joke, and I was the only one who laughed. Bob came over after the show and said, ‘Dan, I heard you laugh.’ I thought I died and went to musical heaven. Bob Crenshaw recognized my laugh,” he exclaimed. “Then Sonny came over and said he heard my laugh, too. It was just amazing.”
Fans who catch Knight in Iowa City won't hear the pianist laugh. He will offer new arrangements of old standards. Expect material ranging from symphonic works to choral to solo piano suites.
“There will be new pieces from my Jackson Pollock suite,” he said, as well as music from his Walt Whitman and Kandinsky suites and “A Day in The Gardens of Monet.”
Also included will be some special guests and a section for requests.
“I’ll collect requests on cards from the audience and pull them out of a basket and play them,” he said. “It’s going to be a fun evening.”
A Steinway Artist, composer and educator, Knight deftly combines jazz and classical.
“I love what I do,” he said. “It’s been an amazing career.”
Knight has played the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and gigged for years in New York.
“I used to work all of these standard gigs in New York back when you could make enough money to survive in the city,” he said. “But I came back to Iowa. There is no place like home.”