‘Piano’, my imaginatively titled album of solo piano improvisations from 2006 is now available from iTunes.
The album was inspired by the ECM solo piano albums from Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock that began appearing in the early seventies. While I can’t claim to be remotely in the league of those extraordinary musicians, improvisation has always been central to my playing and I think there’s something unique to the structures that emerge from spontaneous composition.
I created the video below using the wonderful ‘Terragen’ package. Originally I’d intended this to accompany the ‘A Marble Calm’ track ‘Another World’, and created an unreal landscape using the colours from the album cover, but in the end I felt it suited Piano better.
I dedicated the album to many of the people who in some way encouraged or shaped my interest in the piano. Sadly two of those people have since passed away.
Lynda Phipps died several years ago after a long struggle with cancer. She taught music at my school in Bath, and her encyclopaedic knowledge of classical music was matched only by her enthusiasm in conveying the subject. My fondest memories of senior school were of the tiny A-Level classes, which were simply comprised of me, my friend Peter Gay, Lynda and a piano. She had an extraordinary ability to turn to the piano at any point in the lesson, and begin playing from memory sections of whatever piece was in discussion, arranging it as she went to pick out whatever melodies were relevant to the point she was making. I’ve since discovered that the musician and comedian Bill Bailey was a former pupil. He wrote a very touching tribute to her in the Times Educational supplement. By an extreme coincidence, Peter and I were also at the gig in Cambridge he mentions. We’d met in a pub prior to seeing Bill Bailey perform, and were discussing how we’d like to get in touch with Lynda. When we turned up at the venue, there she was at the door as if she’d been expecting to see us. Wonderful to see her again.
Professor Tony Oakhill treated me at Bristol Children’s Hospital when I was extremely ill back in the early 1980s. Although he was a pioneer in treating childhood cancers, it’s his sense of humour I remember most, a hugely reassuring presence to both children and parents alike. I continued to see him yearly as an outpatient throughout my teens and into early adulthood, when I could barely fit into the waiting room chairs, designed for younger frames. When he learnt of my interest in music, he suggested I give Keith Jarrett a listen. Although I had been improvising at the piano for some time, I had no idea that this was something people actually did in public, and the introduction to the ECM catalogue broadened my musical tastes and gave me a context in which to work. It’s a terrible and unjust tragedy that having given so much of his life to treating cancer in others, he finally succumbed to the disease himself at only 56. I’m deeply grateful to him for the gifts he gave me and many others.
Rest in peace.