Shutterings and Mutterings: A Creative Blog

Return to piano playing

When a work colleague started talking about taking up the piano after years of inactivity it dawned on me that I would probably enjoy doing the same thing.

So I dusted down my Yamaha keyboard and started working through a few things I used to play. Way back in my teens and early 20s I was fixated by ragtime and stride piano - I'm talking Scott Joplin, James Scott, Louis Chauvin, Fats Waller, James P Johnson and Wille "The Lion" Smith. However, I've found all interest in those styles has evaporated thanks to exposure to post-war jazz styles and I'm now much more interested in Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell and Bill Evans plus South African jazz played by the likes of Chris McGregor and Abdullah Ibrahim.

I also revived the only tune I've ever composed - Winter Sunshine, a jazz tune that I originally put together on alto saxophone with encouragement from guitarist Martin Slade.

It took me a while to get the melody under my fingers - a tune easily played on saxophone is not necessarily easy to play on piano - but I managed to get familiar with it and then, through much improvisation, developed it a little further so that it now has a kind of "storyline" to it.

Then I got the idea of using it as the basis for a video and made my first venture into the recording studio as a piano soloist with the great Charlie Hart at the controls. Then I went hunting for a few props, rounded up some friends and students and had a very happy few weeks of filming and editing. The result is the video at the top of the page...

The tune describes a cold, sunny day in the depths of winter - the kind of bright day that takes everyone pleasantly by surprise, people come out to enjoy the sun in spite of the cold and for a few hours we're reminded of the golden days of summer. Sadly, sunset comes all too quickly and we're back to the dark of winter again. It seemed like a good idea to put it into the world on Blue Monday - the day when Christmas is a dim memory and spring seems hopelessly far off in the distant future...

Enjoy the music and the video - it was great fun putting it together! Never forget that when winter comes the next season is spring...

Special thanks to: Charlie Hart for recording the track and letting me film the playing sequence in his studio; my great work colleague Rachel Sharp; students Anna Hemblade, Benedicte Mambote Luvuadiokueno, Ryan Morton, Adam Solan and Ruby Wallace; Billy Jenkins; Jason Shelley of Crofton Books and photographer Nell McLaughlan Gary for appearing in the video; Sounds That Swing in Camden for digging out an authentic Sun label single.

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Are you going to start or join a band? I'd have to get a hell of a lot better first so highly unlikely.

Are you going to take up the saxophone again? Definitely not. The saxophone is loud and when you practice the saxophone the whole neighbourhood knows what you are doing - it takes a certain level of bravado to do that and I no longer feel comfortable being that noisy guy. Moreover, I'm enjoying the piano far too much.

You once threatened to learn the bagpipes and went as far as buying a bagpipe chanter and instruction book. Any plans to take up the pipes? As above, I don't want to be the loud guy any more. However, I still have the chanter and if I got REALLY annoyed with someone I could take it round to their place for an impromptu performance (without any prior reference to the instruction book) at four in the morning and let rip...

You might enjoy a few more items on my You Tube video stream.

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