I 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.
“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.
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.
“There are two kinds of inspiration. One is “I´d love to be able to do that”. The other is “I can do better than that!” Sometimes the second is more likely to kick us into action!
Here I am, in good company, in the jam session in El Patio de la Favorita, Gijón
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.