Harpsichord and jazz piano – isn’t that a bit of a weird combination?
Yes, but I can explain everything. I started piano lessons at age 4, composing at 6, and discovered jazz for myself at the keyboard one day at 10. The house where I grew up was always full of baroque music, and contained a harpsichord.
Jazz and baroque music have remained equally irresistible forces on me ever since.
So what’s the big idea?
There are lots! While I love playing those styles of music on those instruments, I’m also interested in bringing things together. So jazz tunes based on baroque motifs sometimes pop into my head; I play ‘jazz’ on the harpsichord with my crossover group Respectable Groove; and have an on-going project to explore the role of improvisation within baroque music, beyond the realms of basso continuo accompaniment. I also find I operate best at the interface between art music and entertainment music. One day, perhaps I’ll come up with a unifying principle. Me and Steve Hawking both.
And while I enjoy travelling and touring, I’m equally interested in functioning locally, within the community, in which I think music has an important part to play. Writing, rehearsing and performing the music for the community opera – or musical play – Semmerwater for the 2009 Swaledale Festival was a fantastic buzz. Collecting an AMI award for it in King’s Place in the heart of metropolitan London was another.
What aspects of your CV would you like to highlight?
While a mathematics student in Bristol in the mid to late 80s, I was fortunate enough to play with all the great musicians around, including Keith Tippett, Andy Sheppard and Jerry Underwood. If I hadn’t been a part of this thriving jazz scene, I would undoubtedly be a maths teacher in some school now.
Dance then saved my life. Playing for classes at various London dance schools taught me self-sufficiency as an improviser, really challenging my power to create – and the nature of suffering. And playing for rehearsals and performances – some of them including the really great ballet dancers – raised my game no end.
The European Baroque Orchestra is a fascinating and brilliantly-conceived organisation, a genuinely international orchestra for young professionals. Being part of its 1994 incarnation taught me the thrills and pitfalls of being an orchestral player, as well as being exposed to some amazing music and musicians.
In the later 90s: Ronnie Scott’s, when bands were always engaged for a week at a time. Discovering how to play tough.
2003, becoming the harpsichordist of the esteemed baroque orchestra The English Concert. The joy of coast-to-coast touring in America, playing some of the best concert halls in the world – inlcuding the BBC Proms – and the political minefield that an orchestra can be. 2008 was time to leave.
Solo recitals, something I enjoy more and more.
Composition commissions more hard work, great rewards!
Teaching – a relatively new experience and a rewarding one. Jazz piano and harpsichord teaching, of course, but also improvisation classes for the pianists on the classical course at Purcell School, and being lucky enough to have young students interested in topics as abstruse as partimento!
And in general, finding myself playing with an extraordinary, creative group of musicians in a variety of different bands, all of which seem to be the best of all possible bands while I’m playing with them. There’s a bit more about them here.