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For Ben Folds, an Orchestral Backing Makes Classic Sense

When rock 'n' roll pianist Ben Folds writes songs, he often does so with an orchestra in mind. Now on tour performing with leading symphonies, Folds is experiencing a homecoming of sorts, reports Jeffrey Brown.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Finally tonight: a piano rocker and his big band.

    Jeffrey Brown has our profile.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Ben Folds, a 43- year-old piano-playing pop star with a string of hits, usually performs solo or with a small group.

  • BEN FOLDS:

    How about my band tonight?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But this recent night in Washington, D.C., his band, as he called it, was the National Symphony Orchestra.

  • BEN FOLDS:

    What was exciting about this to me was the idea that we would arrange my music in a way to where that made the — the orchestra the rock band, because the orchestras grooved for hundreds of years. Why does it have to sit there and go "eeehhh," you know, for a while behind me? So, they're really taking care of a lot of the — a lot of the percussive elements of the songs.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Folds himself began as a percussion player in youth orchestras in Winston-Salem, N.C. Eventually, he turned to the piano, although you can still see the percussionist in the way he sometimes slams the keys.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    He first made his name with Ben Folds Five in 1994 and had his first big hit, "Brick," three years later.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Folds went solo beginning in 2001, producing a series of albums. Most recently, he released a collection of his songs sung by university a cappella groups.