Will she, won´t she ever finish this book, “Play it by ear”? Watching out of the corner of my eye the denouement to an action film, set me to wondering how you could make drama out of the final moments of getting ready to go to press – or Kindle, as is my case. At the time I was going through the text removing the () I had put on either side of the numbers for fingering.
It´s not even a book: although a beautifully illustrated book with a CD remains my dream. My first shot is as an audiobook, with Audible, but I have to publish as a Kindle first.
I´ve ignored all the good advice (about setting deadlines and sticking to them) but am comforted to find that “easy” really “does it”. In the last months I´ve had the text professionally copy-edited, recorded the text for the audiobook: I still have diagrams to go for the ebook, and the recording of the piano sounds, the editing and the mastering for Audible.
Even in small things, happy coincidences are coming to my aid: the other morning I lost half an hour´s worth of corrections that I´d already made: result, I was returned to the very place where I needed to make some more, and I started saving every page as I went! I´ve been so spoilt with Scrivener, that I´ve forgotten these basic habits. The biggest and best of these happy coincidences was when my hardworking and always busy friend, Sarah Tobias, saxophonist extraordinaire, unexpectedly found herself with unbooked up time – came out to holiday with me, and put my nose to the grindstone! That´s how I got the recording of the text for the audiobook done.
Perhaps the best thing about all this, is that despite going over and over, listening, correcting, I still like what it says and I still like how it sounds.
That´s quite something.
There´s something very special about learning directly from musicians. Saturday´s workshop in Meidinerz, jazz and modern music school in Gijón, Asturias, led by Andreas Polyzogopoulos (trumpet), with Vasilis Stefanopoulos (bass), Alex Drakos Ktistakis (drums) and Cesar Latorre (piano), was a wonderful example. In three short hours, there were specific tips for trumpet players, how to interact within a rhythm section, how to practise rhythm and accuracy, and scales,(for any instrument). Also, the difference between the “swing” way of playing quavers (eighth notes) and the New Orleans way, harmonically playing more tightly, according to the exigencies of the more intricate structures of bebop harmonies, or more loosely in modal forms. The importance of composing.
All this was shared from a knowledge of the history of jazz so profound tht it felt like a transmission from the source – as if Basie and other greats were in the room.
I nearly didn´t go, because I knew I wasn´t in form to play the little that I can. All I can say is – don´t miss the next opportunity of this kind. Learning from musicians is the best: and despite an exhausting schedule, they gave total commitment to sharing their experience and encouraging us. Since a friend from my book club complimented Andreas as “the poet of the trumpet” – it´s apt to quote from C P Cavafy, because I felt that this was their attitude.
The First Step
The young poet Evmenis
complained one day to Theocritos:
“I´ve been writing for two years now
and I´ve composed only one idyll.
It´s my single completed work.
I see, sadly, that the ladder
of Poetry is tall, extremely tall;
and from this first step I´m standing on now
I´ll never climb any higher.”
Theocritus retorted: “Words like that
are improper, blasphemous.
Just to be on the first step
should make you happy and proud.
To have reached this point is no small achievement:
what you´ve done already is a wonderful thing.
Even this first step
is a long way above the ordinary world.
To stand on this step
you must be in your own right
a member of the city of ideas.
And it´s a hard, unusual thing
to be enrolled as a citizen of that city.
Its councils are full of Legislators
no charlatan can fool.
To have reached this point is no small achievement:
What you´ve done already is a wonderful thing.”
“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.
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.
Ana Martos and I gave this recital several years ago, in my friend Mabel Lanvandera´s studio. Lorca made piano arrangements of various songs, from between the 15th and 19th centuries, to accompany La Argentinita, a famous singer and dancer.
This is a tragic story: It tells of four boys, getting up early to go to the corrida, one in clothes borrowed for the occasion. (Spoken: Please God, let him come in a cart,…A gypsy´s curse? Foreboding? Vision?) On the way they meet with the matorral, the man who brought the bull up, feeding him milk: he warns them that the bull is wicked. The four gallant boys present themselves in the square. Manuel Sanchez calls to the bull – would that he never had. The bull drags him all over the square, and when he finally leaves him, Manuel is bleeding to death. He dies before the confessor comes. They borrow a cart drawn by oxen from the landlord, and take the body back to his widowed mother.
Literally true. I’m heading to my home in Norfolk, where I’ve got a gorgeous Bechstein upright. Where I live most of the time, in Gijón, Asturias, Spain, I’ve got a little Yamaha keyboard, but tho it’s useful, it never tempts me to play it. The real piano almost plays itself, it has such a lovely sound.