“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 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?
I´ve been tussling with technology, and so before I put out the first chapter of “Play It by Ear” I want to thank some of the people who´ve helped me so much. I´ve been lucky enough to have had some remarkable teachers: Harrison Birtwistle taking junior orchestra at my school, Frances Bradley teaching me the french horn, Colin Morgan the trumpet, and to have been able to attend jazz workshops and summer schools led by Ian Carr and Nucleus, Loose Tubes, Larry Willis.
I fell in love with the music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, via l.p.s, as a teenager, and grew up when the Beatles exploded in the world of popular music, when soul music swept through England, when South African musicians arrived in London and blew us away, when Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea and Weather Report made their first appearances on this side of the Atlantic. I´ve had the chance to listen to many wonderful musicians play live. Above all, I feel an overwhelming gratitude to the musicians whose music, and whose generous attitude towards sharing the how, as well as the what, makes the world a livable place.
L to R: Derrick Hodge, kind journalist whose name I´ve forgotten – sorry! Robert Glasper, Chris Dave, and me. I see that Robert Glasper is bringing his scrumptious music to London – heard his band – hey, could be 18 months ago in what we call here “the Niemeyer” – wondrous buildings and space designed by the great Brazilian architect in Avilés. Kind fellow concert goers offered me a lift back to Gijón (I was chancing it because there´s no public transport after 10, and I wasn´t going to miss a moment of the gig) and we ended up in the same restaurant as the band. As we all got into a clinch for the photo, I said to Chris Davis, the drummer, “You´re so upsetting” which was the best adjective i could think of for his playing, which was clean as a whistle, neat, and apparently simple – with something ferociously complicated going on underneath. Robert Glasper immediately asked me ” Are you a drummer?” which, apart from being a huge compliment, because it is my favourite instrument, was a beautifully unstereotyped response. The vibe has us all grinning.
I’m preparing a workshop with music and English, (for Spanish littleúns) and making use of play songs written by Paul Nordoff (composer) and Clive Robbins (lyrics). For one thing they´re enchanting, and for another, they make it very easy for the “teacher” by suggesting how to do them with the children.
As I thought, I’ve found it hard to blog consistently – daily life is so engaging. I play trumpet in a streetband (again), and I’ve been writing parts for the brass so we can play Zorba’s dance, to show solidarity with people in the same boat. First time I’ve transcribed something for bouzouki to horns! Yes, I know Herb Alpert did, but he also had the help of a bouzouki section at intervals.