LANHAM – SHADD Pianos have become a household name for pianists and musicians around the nation.
The Prince George’s County resident and inventor/founder, Warren Shadd, recently became the official piano on the hit television show Empire and is taking strides to be the ideal luxury piano product for musicians everywhere.
Shadd is the first African-American piano and instrument manufacturer in history. Established in 2003, SHADD Pianos is a Washington, D.C. based piano manufacturing company, dedicated to delivering sensational sound, unparalleled touch and tonality, the highest grade of materials, and elegant style. Shadd lives in Prince George's County and was raised in D.C.
“I played my first jazz concert at four years old. I also played the drums, was a child prodigy, and it all manifested from there,” Shadd said.
Shadd has played piano for performers such as Esperanza Spalding, Freddie Cole, Monty Alexander, Richard Smallwood, Ledesi, COMMON, Gregory Porter, Christian McBride and Harry Connick, Jr. Shadd said he looks up to artists in various musical styles, such as the R&B legend James Brown.
“I learned how to play a wide range of music because my father was a contemporary jazz pianist,” Shadd said. “He had a big band so I would listen to their rehearsals and I learned to play piano to different genres, such as R&B and rock. In my home we had pianos everywhere, from the garage, living room, basement, kitchen, we even had pianos in the kitchen.”
Shadd had a long line of musicians in his family tree so he was “surrounded by music and technical know how.” His father, James, was a piano rebuilder and his mother was a hymnal pianist. His grandmother was a ragtime pianist and his grandfather was a drummer and inventor. His aunt is also Grammy Award winner, jazz artist Shirley Horn.
At a very young age, Shadd decided to take over his father’s business of tuning and rebuilding instruments. He said his goal was to make the greatest sounding acoustic and interactive piano.
“After tuning and rebuilding pianos and decided to try my hand at designing my own piano,” Shadd said. “I wanted to make a hybrid piano where it incorporates a electronic synthesizer type of keyboard technology and make that into an acoustic piano so that it would be a little of both worlds. It is computer based with screens, monitors, video cameras, speakers and synthesizer sound, so you can switch back and forth from playing acoustic to a more synthesized sound or play them simultaneously.”
Shadd and his friend Phillip Pearl, chief of neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston, who is also a jazz pianist and musical historian, have also used the SHADD Piano for systems technology research.
“We tested it on autistic, blind and deaf children and young adults to see how to enrich, educate and assist social skills for the betterment of their lives,” Shadd said. “We were very successful with these tests in over a year’s time and it was a phenomenal validation of the technology that I created.”
SHADD Pianos had its first piano on display at the Langhan Hotel, “New York City’s No. 1 Luxury hotel since 2012.” Since then, his pianos have been selling pianos from New York to Australia.
Shadd noted one challenge of building a piano was determining how to differentiate his pianos from anything presently on the market.
“I experimented and used the same technology and approach in building, creating and enhancing what is already there, from the lightest whisper to the greatest roar without distorting it,” Shadd said. “You can play on the piano as loud as you want and it will maintain its rich character. You can play as softly as you want and it will play the full tone of the note.”
Paul Carr, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival, said Shadd is an excellent musician and is an inspiration to all musicians because of his hard work and dedication to his product.
“We pick pianos for the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival and I knew he had been working on the piano for quite sometime. We had the piano in the first year and we had people just raving about it and it’s an incredible instrument,” Carr said. “We had Steinway and Yamaha artists, who only play those instruments, but even they were running and happy to play the SHADD piano. Now it is in all of our contracts that a SHADD piano will be on the stage.”
Carr said the SHADD piano has grown in national notoriety. He believes the piano is “on par with the greatest Steinway or Yamaha that is out there and the instrument exceeds anything out there.
“I think SHADD Pianos have a chance to be the industry standard,” Carr said. “I think so many musicians are going to start requesting the piano that it’s going to upset the order of things.”
Carr said the pianos have received a lot of positive feedback from top artists in the jazz field.
“There are a lot of built-in little extras with the SHADD Piano, with action, meaning how the keys play. It’s fun, clean action. It has just the right amount of brightness and tone in the note. The piano is a nice upgrade,” Carr said.
Shadd said the sound on a SHADD Piano travels up to the pianist because “there should be a recipient of the sound of the piano.” Musicians and buyers also notice the quality of each piano’s maple texture on the inside and gold plated finish.
“I’m always amazed at his creativity. I know at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in Rockville, Freddy Cole, Nat King Cole’s brother, really loved using it,” said Rusty Hassan, WPFW radio host. “There has been plenty of discussion about the difference between a Steinway, Yamaha, and a SHADD piano, but Shadd has been really good at developing a piano that these artists would want to play.”
Shadd said he is honored to have had one of his pianos be used on the American Idol stage and recently his piano was chosen as the official piano for the FOX television show Empire.
“The Empire thing was very good.” Shadd said. “The moment I inquired, they reached back to me the following day and it was a done deal. Two months later we delivered six pianos to FOX in Chicago.”
Shadd is traveling to Rome this month to personally deliver a piano to the Vatican.
“Initially, I was really just trying to accomplish something. You don’t really go in thinking you’re going to create a monster but you do,” Shadd said. “I was just trying to make one of the best pianos in the world and it’s not just my opinion. It’s others who have gushed over what we have accomplished as well.”