Uncovered: the cheeky letter Jordan Rudess wrote to Leonard Bernstein

Jordan Rudess (left) and Leonard Bernstein
(Image credit: Jordan Rudess: Kevin Nixon | Leonard Bernstein: Jack Mitchell)

The Library Of Congress has a substantial number of items in its Leonard Bernstein collection: 1,723 boxes containing 400,000 treasures including scrapbooks, press clippings, programmes, diaries, books and fan mail from the personal archive of one of the 20th century's greatest composers. And amongst it all is a letter from Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess, written when he was just eight years old. 

The letter starts politely enough, with a traditional greeting: "Dear Mr. Bernstein."

"How long do you practice?" asks the junior Rudess. "Can I have your picture? I am 8 years old."

And then he gets a little cocky. "I think I play better than you," boasts Rudess. "Do you want any advice?"

The letter was uncovered by the Library's Music Reference Specialist Heather Darnell, who then spoke to Rudess about his cheeky approach to the man who scored West Side Story and won 16 Grammy awards.  

"Well its really amazing that you guys dug that up," said Rudess. "Totally mind blowing! You know, my family was like, 'Oh my god, that’s amazing!' …I’m amazed my mother let that out the door. Maybe she thought it was really cute."

Asked who the better pianist was, Rudess responded, "I don’t think at eight years old I was playing better than him. He was a pretty damn good pianist. Really so talented. The thing that is so fun about the letter being to Leonard Bernstein is that, like him, I have also crossed boundaries in my career. 

"I started out as a classical musician, went to Julliard at 9, then left when I was 19 and decided to do other things. I got into rock and progressive rock and eventually metal and lot of different stuff. And Leonard Bernstein of course was the king of crossing boundaries and working within whatever genre."

A picture of Bernstein was sent to Rudess as requested, but the composer did not respond to the other queries. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.