On birth, grandmothers, and the courage to play in public

I´ve suggested you record yourself – for a lot of reasons.  One is that as you improve, your standards go up too – and since most people are their own harshest critics, you may continue to think you´re useless, can´t play for toffee, etc etc.  If you record yourself, you´ll have a baseline from which to measure your progress.
I haven´t mentioned listening back to your recordings!  This is the musical equivalent of putting away a piece of writing, and then looking at it a month, six months later – getting distance, perspective – and a pleasant surprise, perhaps.
It happened to me, when I was searching for a recording of me playing the theme, on trumpet, of Thad Jones´ “A Child is Born”.  I couldn´t at first find it anywhere – but I did turn up a recording of me playing it on the piano, which I´d completely forgotten about: so here it is, to celebrate the best thing that happened to me in 2015, becoming a granny.  And, whether you believe in Christmas or you´d rather put the x into xmas, it comes with my deepest wishes that your creative dreams, and mine, see the light of day in 2016.

I´ve always been far better at supporting other people´s creative efforts than standing up for my own.  My timidity in this has garnered me so much support from musicians over the years, that I´ve backed myself into a corner, and there´s no way out but leaping into the light – after all, you deserve to know if the person writing this book can play at all herself.
Well, I always said there´s two kinds of inspiration…

What to play when you can hardly play anything.

CAM01461I could equally well have titled this “What to play when you can hardly say anything”.

The first I heard about what happened in Paris on Friday 13th November, 2015, was on Saturday morning, from a Cuban artist living there, who wrote to reassure family and friends that he was alright.  He was painting, his way of being at peace in the middle of it all.
As my way of being at peace at the moment is writing this book, I thought it would be a good moment to share something to play when you hardly know how to.  So, for anyone who wants a wordless way of expressing what you feel:
I´d suggest that you first do whatever you usually do to calm yourself, and focus – a sip of water, two or three deep breaths, a long sigh “aaah”: and then press with your right foot the sustain pedal – and keep it down.  Then just pick out individual notes, very slowly – listening deeply to the sound of each.  Allow a soundscape to build up.  Close your eyes, if you feel happy to do this, and bring your visual sense into play – a misty landscape, perhaps.  All sounds are welcome.
When you feel you´ve had enough, let the sound die away, and release the pedal.
This is do-it-yourself relaxation music: the kind of little extra that you might find time to slip in to your bedtime routine, or substituting for something else that you do to unwind and get in touch with your quiet Self.
This is dedicated to my friend Sue, and the music is what I came up with when I heard of the loss of her grandson, Lewis.

Getting back on the horse – they say you should, when you´ve fallen off

Completing a first draft led me to neglect my blog.  But it turns out that flow feeds in in multiple ways.

This week it´s been  great to have a new student.  Combining piano, and English (I´m here in Spain, where learning English  is more of a psychological trauma than a language).  Apart from the pleasure of getting to know someone new, (competent and busy engineer with a family) it´s always good to be reminded of basic facts.  Like, no-one is an absolute beginner.  There´s always a desire to play, usually showing in childhood: and often a block – in this case, finding it hard to understand written music.  There´s a starting point – something he or she can already play, or would like to.  And lots of things to get right first off: how to sit well, how to hold yourself – ok guys, I didn´t mean that – and I´ve covered it in my book, and that´s reassuring for me.
It encourages me to hope that people will find it easy to access the resources in the audiobook in the same way as when I´m sitting next to them at the piano.  You remember a tune you picked out once?  Ok, let´s hear it.  What key is it in?  How can we identify this? Listen for the key note / construct the scale: or check out which scale has the same notes in in the scale table.  You want to play something to go with it in the left hand? Let´s see what chords naturally occur in that key.  How I´m longing to be able to bring out this audiobook as a multimedia experience where you can just click on links!  I´m battling to make it linear and sequential, when it really needs to be four dimensional!

“Reggae´s never going to catch on”

In the late 60s, I had the privilege of getting to know Horace Ove, Britain´s pioneer black film maker, and Mary, and their children, tiny then, and hanging out at their house on Sundays, when they always had a load of friends round. It was my first experience of that kind of wonderful sociable hospitality. Horace had made a documentary about reggae, filming the first ever “Reggae sunsplash”, with Bob and marcia Griffiths singing “Young Gifted and Black”, the Maytals “Talking about that Big Monkey Man” – and I distinctly remember we were talking about how it didn´t look likely that reggae was going to catch on! 45 years on the music from one small island has conquered the globe.
Had just written the above when I got news of Horace´s 80th birthday celebrations – wish I could get there! Please, anyone near Crouch End go on my behalf!

It´s true! Jazz is like talking!

“Brain scans of jazz musicians unveil language and music similarities.”
Look what I found in medical news today. If you check out the article there are some very pretty pictures of what happens in musicians´ brains when they´re trading fours. And I thought “Jazz is like talking” was just a pretty metaphor – until this morning.

“Jazz is like t…

“Jazz is like talking”, Ian Carr, trumpet player and jazz educator, during a jazz summer school in Hull, sometime in the ’80s.

Hearing this was a lightbulb moment for me.  I thought  how odd it would be if we were prevented from talking until we could read and write.  Just pause for a moment, to take that in.

We learn to talk by listening, imitating, babbling, making sounds and having the sounds reflected back to us by the people around us.  Our efforts are encouraged, and we intuit the structures of language, learning by doing.  Quite a lot later, but still rather too early in my opinion, we learn to read and write.  Why not learn to play the piano the same way we learn to talk?