From all the notes that flow past us when listening to a piece of music it’s comforting to find one focal note from which we can view all the rest, at least at the beginning and the end. Sometimes our viewpoint can shift in the middle of the piece but usually returns to the original note at the end called the keynote or tonic. For example French dances from around 1600 were usually in two halves: the first half would start in one key and end in another, then repeat: then the second half would start from the other key and back to the original, then repeat. Bach used this form in many of his preludes and the pattern developed to be the basis of great sonatas and symphonies. With this in mind I composed Preludio Curioso. This way of changing our sense of direction reminded me of the graphic art of Escher and the prelude runs in parallel with his piece Relativity. On the video there is an extra curious twist. If you’d like to hear the untwisted version click here. If you’d like to try playing it click here for the score. It’s not difficult, about Grade 3.
I always admire those jazz vocalist that sing vocalese, that is words set to the sometimes intricate solos of jazz instrumentalists so in Cafe Yukari in Kew, a little cafe with a beautiful Fazioli grand piano, I ran some vocalesefests to celebrate this art form. Classical musicians have a different spelling vocalise with the opposite meaning – no words. To contrast these meanings I set lyrics to Rachmaninoff’s beautiful work in this genre. During the lockdown of the summer of 2020 tracks bounced back and forth between Andy Hamill, harmonica and bass and Julian Ferraretto who played all the string parts from his studio in Australia. The assembled offering is called Succulent with an evokative video by Marc Clayton. The audio can be enjoyed on soundcloud by clicking Succulent .
Singers can change key instantly without any effort leaving them to focus on bringing a song to life for the audience. Pianists on the other hand have to study for several years in order to play the jazz standards in any key required by the singer. The two roles are complementary. One of my specialities is helping singers find the ideal key for their voice and preparing charts suitable to put in front of musicians at one the many open mic clubs that London offers. Alongside the chart, singers find it useful to have a backing CD or mp3 to practice with and sometimes to use in performance in situations where there is no band.
To experiment finding the best key for your voice try singing Summertime to this backing track which moves through six different keys.
While Romy Summers and I were running our open-mic clubs we put together some notes for those starting out. Click here to read or print out.
Here’s a clip from one of our last open mic sessions VivaVocals at Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec. It features C Dave who brings to life songs that have fallen by the wayside. Jerome Davies is on bass and Rod Youngs on drums.
It was a great pleasure to work on arrangements for Peter Matthews songs presented at the Pizza Express. Click below to pick tunes from the programme. I got to sing a duet with Canadian vocalist Michael DeMarco. We are joined by bassist Andy Hamill with Rod Youngs on drums. The video was shot by Dante Rendle Traynor
Alongside my role as accompanist and arranger I write the occasional songs when gripped by an idea. Singer-actress Brit Benn aka “BB” gave touching renditions of three of my songs as part of a London poetry gathering.
Here’s is a tune I wrote to celebrate the zodiac constelations. I can’t see them through the light polution of the inner city so have to make do with Google Sky and a orary made from magnets on a biscuit tin lid. The Zodiac Song with Precession of the Equinoxes. I am joined by Ruby Hamill on vocals.
While at school in Reading was I active in both art and music. The curriculum didn’t have room for two arts subjects and at one point I had to choose between the two. I chose art and was on the road to art college while still learning piano, French horn and jamming in local jazz clubs.
I came to London to Camberwell art college in 1964 and meanwhile joined a blues band Hamilton King’s Blues Messengers and became gripped by the sound of the Hammond organ. I heard there was one in Annie Ross’ club Annies Room in Covent Garden and asked if I could practice on it. The manager liked what he heard and asked me to form an interval trio. I invited two friends from the blues band, Labi Siffre on guitar and Woody Martin on drums. We had a wonderful experience hearing and meeting top jazz musicians and singers from the States and UK. One night Annie introduced me to Jimmy Smith.
Unfortunately Annies Room went bust. Labi left the world of jazz standards to begin creating his own classics in many genres. Meanwhile I tearfully pleaded with my parents to buy me a Hammond which they eventually did and also gave me their old Bedford van. I was ready to go on the road. Woody and I were asked to accompany Sonny Stitt on a tour of the UK. Later I formed a trio then quartet with Dudu Pakwana, often playing at the Saturday all-nighter at Ronnies Scott’s Old Place, and later a trio with Terry Smith. A collection of recordings from that era entitled Night Time is the Right Time: 60s Soho Sounds was brought out as a CD by Cadillac. Some kind enthusiast has put the whole album on youtube and there are also a few copies to be found on ebay.
1968 was a year of transition for many people. There was so much happening in the political and music world, the Beatles, free jazz, flower power. I took a break from gigging and set a new path to study classical music at Glasgow Uni, with a gap year touring with Scottish Ballet. Then I studied the sitar and music perception at Amsterdam Uni. Back in the UK I played piano for Rambert Ballet School.
I drifted back into jazz in the 80s pleased to have a wider knowledge of music. Around the milleneum guitarist Giogio Serci and I made an album Loch Ness which which is now somehow all on YouTube. Giorgio wanted to add a standard or two but I persuaded him to make this an album of our original pieces.
When I started to accompany singers fragments of the songs started to float round in my mind and so I put a bit of effort into joining the fragments together. After the first song the process became addictive . I now have a repertoire of around 50 songs including originals and songs by London writers.
A neighbour has an archive of material by the Islington jazz pianist Pat Smythe and asked me to take a look at his arrangement of Mercer Ellington’s Blue Serge. I have sketched a version of how it might sound for string and sax/voice. Click here to listen. The original manuscript can be seen here.. More background on Pat can be found here.
Hopefully more of Pat’s original work from the archive will be available in the future.
I was browsing round for a choir arrangement of the Chanuka song Maoz Tsur also spelled Maoz Tzur. There must be lots but I couldn’t find one I was comfortable with so made this arrangement (click on the title). It is also on the Musescore library ( a free music typography program ). Heres a version sung by the Musescore robot choir. They havent learned to sing the lyrics yet. Give them time.
BTW There is also a beginners piano arrangement of Maoz Tsur on the for pianists page.