Had Jeff Lynne been merely a great bandleader, singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, or producer, his place in the pop pantheon would be secure. But Lynne has excelled in all those areas, crafting four decades of great rock music distinguished by irrepressible hooks, manic energy, and glorious production.

Lynne grew up in Birmingham, England, where he made a splash as guitarist/vocalist and producer/songwriter for the Idle Race in the late sixties. In 1970 he joined the great British cult band the Move, where he co-produced, wrote songs, sang, played guitar and keyboards. The same year, he co-founded the Electric Light Orchestra with Move bandleader Roy Wood. When Wood left to form a new group, Lynne assumed control of E.L.O., writing, producing, and singing hit after hit throughout the decade. Even today it's hard not to be bowled over by the impact and innovation of "Evil Woman," "Mr. Blue Sky," or "Strange Magic," a song whose title perfectly summarizes the Lynne mystique.

There's a story behind Ben Kweller's 2006 self-titled third album. "It's a good piano story, actually," he says. "When I was growing up in Greenville, Texas, my parents had this old upright from the 1800s. It was slightly out of tune, and it had broken keys, but I really got into writing songs on it. At some point my parents decided they should get a nicer piano and give me some lessons. So they gave the upright to a friend and got me a fancy baby grand. Then two years ago my mom called and said, 'Hey, I've got a surprise for you at the lake house.' What is it, I wondered? Maybe a boat? But when I arrived, they had my old upright piano on the porch! I wrote five of the key tracks on my new album that weekend. It really reaffirmed for me that instruments have a life of their own."

Drummer Matt Flynn is backstage at The Tonight Show with his Maroon 5 bandmates, preparing to perform a song from their second album, It Won't Be Soon Before Long, which is scheduled for release the following day.

Jay DeMarcus seems to have discovered the secret of perpetual motion. When he's not on tour or in the studio with his own group, pop-country stars Rascal Flatts - he's busy producing other acts, from country singer Jo Dee Messina and gospel artist Michael English to legendary supergroup Chicago.

Talk about mass production!

In the last few days David Kahne has finished work on Kelly Clarkson's upcoming My December disc, mixed an album by British rock up-and-comers the Dead 60s, and collaborated with Regina Spektor on the follow-up to her breakthrough album Begin to Hope, which he also produced. Now he's back at work on Paul McCartney's Memory Almost Full, a project nearing completion after three years.

Guitarist Joe "Blower" Garvey of the rock band Hinder enjoys the kind of rock-and-roll lifestyle that some might imagine went out with big hair.

"I knew this was going to be a crazy ride." he laughs. "Basically, take all the stories and times it by 10, and that's what really happens!"

There's no guitarist in the Gabe Dixon Band. But if you listen closely, you'll still hear the instrument in the trio's stripped-down, rock/R&B sound.

"Nine times out of ten, when I play piano or write songs, I try to play like a guitar player would," says singer/keyboardist Dixon. "I never found standard rock piano to be all that interesting, so I always gravitated toward guitar ideas."

Drummer Ralph Humphrey has played just about everything with just about everybody. He's worked with artists as diverse as Frank Zappa, Barbra Streisand, and Wayne Shorter and played on numerous film and TV projects, including The Simpsons, American Idol, and most recently, the hit show Dancing with the Stars. He's also a published author with a book on odd meters, and a renowned educator who's taught for decades at top percussion schools. We recently caught up with Ralph during a rare free moment in Los Angeles.

Talk about a double life!

In the 1980s, Byron Thames was a child star on television shows like Father Murphy, 21 Jump Street, and Chips. By his mid-teens, Thames had also appeared in films alongside Michael Keaton and Jennifer Connelly.

Hiromi Uehara is one of jazz's most inspired young voices. A piano prodigy, she was collaborating with musicians all over the world while still in her teens. Today, at age 26, she boasts four critically acclaimed albums. Hiromi has received equal praise for her fiery, percussive keyboard work and for crafting an eclectic group sound informed by classic jazz, fusion, rock, and R&B.

What's the difference between a classical percussionist and a heavy metal drummer?

Sounds like the setup for a bad drummer joke. But in the case of Justin Foley, the answer is simply, "None--they're the same person." Before joining Massachusetts metal outfit Killswitch Engage, Foley gigged regularly with various New England orchestras.

If you've listened to smooth jazz radio lately, chances are you've heard the distinctive sounds of keyboardist Lao Tizer and his group, whose latest album, Diversify, melds contemporary jazz with funk, world, and classical music.

Sandro Albert stands in his New York City apartment, surrounded by packing crates and guitar cases. The multifaceted jazz guitarist and composer has just relocated to the Big Apple after a decade in Los Angeles.

"I've only been here three weeks," says Albert. "I had a great time in LA, making three records and working with a lot of different people. But I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and explore new opportunities, new musicians to exchange ideas with."

Who has the best gig in music? It could be American Idol Associate Musical Director Michael Orland.

"I have the funnest job in the world," he insists. "I've been working on the number-one TV show in America since the end of Season One--I came onboard during the big Justin vs. Kelly finale, and I've just never left. I get to play piano for all the kids and work their songs out with them. I'm part pianist, part therapist, part friend, and part judge."

No one will ever accuse Mastodon of thinking small.

The Atlanta-based progressive metal band favors themes as large as the prehistoric pachyderm that inspired their name. Larger, actually--their 2004 release, Leviathan, was a sprawling adaptation of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. But Leviathan was merely a warm-up for their latest disc, Blood Mountain. It's a dark-fantasy concept album about a quest to retrieve a crystal skull and implant it in the band members' heads, thereby instigating the next phase of human evolution.

Keyboardist Philippe Saisse defies musical categorization. He's recorded with rock icons David Bowie and the Rolling Stones, and played with jazz giants like Bill Evans, Al di Meola, David Sanborn, and Al Jarreau. He was a solo artist on New Age label Windham Hill, yet has played pop sessions with everyone from Donny Osmond to Tina Turner. He contributed to Rod Stewart's American Songbook albums and worked with ra• stars Cheb Mami and Faudel in his native France. And now his Philippe Saisse Trio has a smooth jazz hit: an instrumental version of Steely Dan's "Do It Again," from their recently released CD, The Body and Soul Sessions.

"I want to reinvent the solo piano," says songwriter/pianist Stephan Moccio. "I want people to like it again. A lot of people think solo piano is New Age and cheesy. I want to take them to a different place."

On his new solo record, Exposure, Moccio set out with a specific goal: to breathe fresh life into a genre not always known for innovation. "I felt like there hasn't been a great, accessible solo piano record for a long time," he says. "There are a lot of brilliant piano players, but there was a void for making something cinematic and sensual. People were always asking me, 'What's a great chill-out piano record?' And I couldn't think of one! So I shut down everything for a bit to do it and promote it properly."

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