“Success is having the creative freedom to express yourself and play the music you love the most” – interview with Liza Bec

Ahead of Spiral Dial’s concert at The Jazz Room, a chance to get to know alternative multi-instrumentalist Liza Bec, her influences and inspirations, and a major challenge to her music career which she has overcome with an innovative and creative approach to music-making

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

As a small child I used to spin around in a trance to flamenco music; I am told I seemed quite hypnotised by the rhythms, so my parents knew I was musical. Luckily there was a retired music teacher across the road from us who was spending her free time giving music lessons to local children for 50p each. She used to have ten people in her room at a time, and one person would be on the piano or singing while she had a chat with the mums and gave the occasional correction. It was brilliant as it meant I was able to learn recorder, piano and singing from the age of four, which we would not otherwise have been able to afford.

I was quite obsessed with the recorder in particular and rarely put it down. I used to drive my mother mad making up songs about witches in the car on the motorway. I can’t remember a light bulb moment but I definitely always wanted to be a musician. Recorder has always been my first instrument although I studied clarinet at music college.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

First and foremost my clarinet teacher Steve Tanner, who got me my first paid gigs playing in pit bands for musical theatre shows as a teenager, and who would turn up with an endless array of instruments for me to learn to play for the next show. Now I play ten instruments, and that’s mainly down to him! He introduced me to an incredible range of music from Artie Shaw to Schoenberg, and even gave me my first wooden clarinet which lasted me all the way to music college. He was, and is, endlessly encouraging and supportive to so many musicians learning in the Portsmouth area. Professionally, I have been lucky to work with some incredibly inspirational musicians, most recently James Holden who introduced me to electronic music.

Having grown up playing in the pit I have always inextricably linked music with narrative, and that’s why I write short stories on which all my music is based, usually twisted dystopian tales. (They do say write what you know!)

However the most important influence has not been a person but an illness – I live with music-triggered epilepsy which means I have to play around my triggers all of the time, avoiding them. This is how I first got into free improvisation, as I was originally a classical musician. So it has been both a blessing and a curse in a way.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

In my 20s I’d noticed that occasionally my hands would twitch when I played, particularly in difficult passages. I thought nothing of it at first but it got worse and worse to the point that my hands would jump clean off the instrument in concerts. It was becoming impossible for me to play what was expected of me as a classical musician.

Eventually I was diagnosed with reflex epilepsy which affects one in 10 million people. Each one of those has a unique trigger, and mine is playing music. This seemed particularly cruel and unfair, but then life’s not fair, so I’m told. I didn’t perform for years, and had to re learn how to play completely in order to avoid triggering a seizure. Even now there are times when my hands will go haywire on stage. So it’s something I’m constantly dealing with, but at the same time has been a great source of inspiration for me.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I have had the opportunity to make an audiovisual installation all about music-triggered epilepsy, thanks to Help Musicians UK Fusion Fund. It’s called INNERVATE and we are performing it live at VAULT festival in London on the 28th and 29th January 2020. It has been an incredibly emotionally challenging subject for me to write about so I’m very proud of the end result.

I also got to build my very own instrument – it’s a plastic tenor recorder with extra circuitry soldered on! Leafcutter John helped me with the design of the recorder and I constructed it under his watchful eye. I also had to learn how to program in Max to create software to listen and react to the recorder as I play it. It has been an incredibly steep learning curve and there is still so much I don’t know, but I’m so excited to learn more and more.

I got to work with some incredible artists – Dan Tombs, who does visuals for Jon Hopkins, has created the visuals, together with Catalina Velasquez Gonzalez, who is a fabulous graphic designer.

The idea for my band, Spiral Dial, has come out of this project – we’re going to be releasing a series of improvised soundscapes and stories throughout 2020.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I only tend to perform original music these days, so it’s a tricky one to answer. I like working with other artists who are creating new music, rather than playing music which already exists. In terms of my previous career, I always used to enjoy playing Messiaen and Stravinsky the most, particularly the Quartet for the End of Time, which in itself has an incredible story behind it and is probably the most mind-expanding piece I’ve ever heard.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I just look for new inspiring people to collaborate with – and the repertoire takes care of itself.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

My favourite venue to perform in so far is the Royal Albert Hall. Unfortunately I don’t play there as much as I would like! It feels really cosy on stage, as if the audience is hugging you, despite being absolutely huge.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Obviously, my band! David [Ryder Prangley] is one of the most creative people I have ever met and I absolutely love working with him, and Adam [Hayes] is a fantastic drummer and improviser. Apart from that, probably whoever I’m playing with or listening to right now! I went to a fantastic gig from The Comet is Coming recently, such an amazing atmosphere. When I was making the music for the installation I was listening a lot to Arthur Russell and the Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack by Philip Glass, which I love.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It was my first gig back after four of five years without performing, with the Memory Band. It was their album launch, although I wasn’t on that album as I had only just started playing with them. It didn’t really hit me until afterwards when I collapsed in floods of tears. I had thought that I would never perform again, which was particularly distressing as I couldn’t remember my last gig, it hadn’t been anything particularly special at the time. Now I always play as if every show is my last. You never know when you might lose the thing you love the most.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, success is having the creative freedom to express yourself and play the music you love the most.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think in order to have a career in music you need an incredible number of skills which have absolutely nothing to do with playing your instrument. The confidence to sell yourself, a head for figures and the skin of a ten ton rhino would be a good start!

Liza Bec performs with Spiral Dial at the Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head, Barnes, on Tuesday 14th January, and at the VAULT festival in London on 28th and 29th January


Liza imagines stories and writes the music to bring them to life. Taking inspiration from the dark, unswept corners of slightly unhinged minds, she combines intricate layers of woodwinds and vocals with sprinkles of genres from folk and electroacoustic to rock and beyond. Her most recent EP and short story ‘Beyond the Blonde’ was released on limited edition vinyl in May 2018.

She is currently finishing work on Innervate,  a short story and AV installation about music triggered epilepsy, funded by Help Musicians UK Fusion Fund.

Originally a classical clarinettist and saxophonist who trained at Trinity College of Music, London, her life was transformed when she was diagnosed in 2008 with this rare form of reflex epilepsy, triggered by playing certain patterns of notes. “I had to re-learn how to play”, Liza says. “I spent several years without playing a note. My first gig was with The Memory Band…. I cried buckets afterwards as I just couldn’t believe that I was back performing again.”

After releasing an album with original rock band  Bordello Rose she received positive reviews in Prog! and Team Rock magazines. She then collaborated with electronic artist James Holden on his latest release ‘The Animal Spirits’ (2017), co-writing ‘Spinning Dance’ and playing recorder, sax and clarinet on many subsequent European tour dates.

Liza plays on a Syos saxophone mouthpiece. She has also built a customised tenor recorder with integrated circuit board to control her live electroacoustic setup on Max for Live. She is available for session work and for weird and wonderful collaborations.

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Meet the Artist – Alex Hall

Our first event of the autumn at The Jazz Room features the songwriter and trumpeter Alex Hall. We caught up with Alex to find out more about his musical influences and inspirations, and how he makes sure his repertoire suits the audience and venue….


Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Difficult to say. Probably a combination of lots of small factors. Having good mentors, being surrounded by music/musicians growing up, always having a fascination with music – and trying other things and realising that I wasn’t much good at the them!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I think picking up my first professional tour at 26 was some sort of validation that I needed which gave me the confidence I could pursue music (also for my family – the road has been long!), so it was hugely important I got some kinda break – albeit it wasn’t doing my own thing. What I’ve learnt from those experiences is beyond that what goes on in the practise room. 

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Losing my voice for an extended amount of time was really horrible. I was like an injured athlete. I was very very restricted with work and it was emotionally and psychologically difficult. I ended up busking some classical guitar over in Bath that summer!

I think for any musician living in London who is starting out (or a little bit further down the line even) it is a great challenge and I commend anyone who is pursuing it. Especially with the housing market now. 

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I’ve done so many things in different genres it’s difficult to say. There are some recordings which are to be released later this year which I’m excited about and maybe it’s a good thing that I’m probably most proud of this as it shows I’m progressing! 

I’ve done some avant garde improvisations sets at The Union Chapel as part of their Saturday music sessions which have been hugely, hugely challenging and fun. The natural resonance in there is magic! 

How do you make your repertoire choices?

I’m quite meticulous about repertoire. I take into account venue size, who I’m performing with, even the day of the week, promoters, general audience etc. I think people are collectively much more in an upbeat mood on a Friday evening compared to Monday so it’s important I don’t ‘offend’ them with a 250BPM aggressive bebop track on a Monday evening, for example!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Brudenell Social Club, Leeds. Nathan the owner has done wonders there cultivating a community space, retaining the integrity of what it is, but at the same time developing the venue. I’ve done about half a dozen gigs there now with Martha Reeves and The Vandellas. I think it might be the only social club in England that is on the international touring circuit now.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Cheltenham Jazz festival. We played the afterparty in this beautiful manor house – it was totally impromptu too, and I think because of that people were going crazy. We all looked at each other afterwards and just said “that was unreal!”. I felt like I was playing at a lavish Victorian banquet! Very surreal but beautiful. 

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being able to make a living in music has to be considered a success. It’s getting harder and harder and I think any musician should be, and probably is humble enough to say that! 

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Learn your musical language. Listen relentlessly. Be as original and intuitive in your personal practise as possible. Collaborate. Write. Learn the business side of things (YouTube, Photoshop, Instagram), accept no one is gonna give you anything and that you have to go out and get it.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I like the idea of living abroad for a while but we’ll see!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness to me is a transient thing so I don’t think ‘perfect’ can ever be equated to it – but being able to creatively do music on my terms all the time would make me very happy! 

What is your most treasured possession?

My trumpet!

Alex Hall plays West Coast Jazz with his quartet on Tuesday 10 September at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head. More information and tickets


Known predominantly as the moniker Alec Sala, Alex Hall is a London based songwriter, touring musician and music producer based in North London.

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“For me, success is journeying towards ever more authentic and creative personal expression” – interview with Jasmina Kulaglich of Trio Bohème ahead of their concert at The Jazz Room on 9 July

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

My cousin, a pianist, put me on the piano at the age of six. I immediately fell in love with the instrument because of the range of colours that can imitate the whole orchestra. For me, one of the great challenges for the pianist is to make the audience forget that the sound is produced by hammers – the piano can sing like a string instrument, and can also have the amplitude of an orchestra.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career

In my artistic path, I had the chance to feed on the philosophies of the great piano schools: Czech and Russian in my native country, Serbia, then the French school in Paris, and then the Latin American School, with the disciples of Claudio Arrau – Edith Fischer and Aquis Delle Vigne. Another great master who influenced my path was György Sebők.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I like to work with musicians from different countries. My first trio was built between Paris and New York, and the second – Trio Bohème – between Paris and Moscow. I like to live the qualities of musicians coming from the very different horizons. It’s a very rewarding challenge.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

As a soloist, I recorded the CD “Byzantine Mosaic” for Naxos in World Premiere – it is a work devoted to the Orthodox monasteries of the Balkans, very spiritual and profound. This year, I am delighted to release “The Seasons”, a new CD with my Trio Bohème, with a “western premiere” of The Seasons by Tchaikovsky transcribed for the trio, alongside the “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I really like the sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert – their classical structure is of great depth. On the other side, I like the fluidity and imagination of a Debussy, and of course, being of Slavic origin, I carry in my heart Tchaikovsky, Janacek, Shostakovich…

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I choose my programs by “Coup de coeur” as I like to be spontaneous and attentive to my heart. Intuition guides me and it is never mistaken in the choices of what suits me in different periods.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Among the large concert halls, I really like the Salle Gaveau in Paris. It has a wonderful acoustic and can accommodate as much an orchestra as a soloist or chamber music ensemble.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Being exposed to the sources of the Latin-American School, my favorite pianists are Claudio Arrau, Daniel Barenboim, Martha Argerich, but also Dinu Lipatti, Clara Haskil, Murray Perahia, Wilhelm Kempf…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I have a very nice memory of the concert where I played Liszt’s First Concerto with the European Romantic Orchestra in Paris. I like to be surrounded by many musicians, and even being a soloist, to create with them in perfect agreement.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, success is journeying towards ever more authentic and creative personal expression – never copying but searching for its own inner pearl. If this expression is sincere and profound, in agreement with our soul, the public will feel it. The main thing for me is to pass the vibrations of another dimension – the one where the music is born. And this is the greatest happiness in my artistic journey.

What advice would you give to young or aspiring musicians?

See above – this seems to me to be as important to inspire young musicians at the beginning of their career.

Jasmina Kulaglich is the pianist with Trio Bohème, whose new disc The Seasons is available now on the Calliope label. It includes the western premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Seasons, transcribed for trio by Alexandre Goedicke, and The Four Seasons in Buenos Aires by Astor Piazzolla

Trio Bohème perform at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head, Barnes, London on Tuesday 9 July. Further information


Born in Belgrade, Jasmina Kulaglich studied in the Belgrade National Music Conservatoire where she was unanimously awarded First Prize. She also won the Grand Prize of the University of Arts and the City of Belgrade October Prize.

She then went on to study with Edith Fischer and Aquiles Delle Vigne (both disciples of Claudio Arrau), and later with György Sebők.

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“I’m a balladeer at heart” – interview with Matthew vanKan

Ahead of his Nat King Cole Centenary Celebration at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head, we caught up with singer-songwriter Matthew vanKan to find out more about his musical influences and inspirations…..

Matthew vanKan Nat King Cole Centenary Celebration is at The Bull’s Head on Monday 24 June. BOOK TICKETS

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I grew up singing and spent years gigging through my 20’s at restaurants and bars, writing and recording my own music and hoping for a record deal that never came. I hadn’t discovered jazz then and it wasn’t until my 30’s that I did. After years of managing a travel company in Brighton I decided to pursue music again for fun and joined a community Gospel Choir. It was such a powerful experience performing again after years of abstinence so after a big concert, when the dust had settled I took to the streets of Brighton with my busking amp and backing tracks. I chose a selection of jazz songs because I felt so comfortable singing them and didn’t feel like some ‘old guy’ trying to rekindle a teenagers dream of being a pop star. It seemed to work. Passers by would pick up my business cards and then a few days later people would call to say they’d seen me singing in The Lanes of Brighton and was I free to come and perform at their wedding, birthday or garden party. I was working full time in an office back then but after a few months of gigging every Friday, Saturday and Sunday I decided to go part-time at work. A few months later I was offered a weekly residency at The Savoy hotel in London (after badgering the booking agent on a weekly basis) and decide to hand in my notice and follow my dream (again). Second time lucky I guess!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My Mum, grandmother and church… My Mum because of the look she gets in her eyes whenever she watches me sing. The same applies to my Grandmother who always used to say “you can’t hear the words” when listening to ANYTHING modern. In particular I love Nat King Cole’s articulation. When I was listening intently to his music my Grandmother’s words echoed in my head. You can always understand what Nat King Cole is singing about as his diction is perfect! Church was a big influence because I would sing with the choir there every Sunday throughout my childhood and teenage years. I can’t say I paid much attention to what the priest was talking about half the time BUT I absolutely loved the music AND the acoustics.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

That’s a really good question and not one I’ve given that much though to as I prefer to focus on moving forward rather than what’s held me back. I guess it’s all a bit of a challenge. Trying to make a living doing something you love is a bit of a double edged sword. You have to think commercially about something you’re so passionate about.  People often think that musicians are happy performing for nothing (or very little) because they’re doing something they love to do. In some cases that’s true but in order to be successful at making a career out of music I think you have to learn to treat your music like a business and not be afraid to talk money, fees for your fellow musicians, riders and reasonable performance times etc. I manage myself and think I learnt a lot when I was employed as the manager of the travel company in Brighton. I’d be lost without my spreadsheets. Ha ha!!

I guess the other challenge for me personally has been to stop caring so much about what other people think of me. It was always something I struggled with in the past (for many reasons – bullying at school one of the main factors) BUT I now truly believe that I’m pursuing something that I’m good at, it’s very authentic and honest for me and I accept that I’m not everybody’s cup of tea but that’s OK. I don’t need EVERYONE to rate me anymore or approve. I just love the fact that I’m always learning and evolving as a performer. That will never get tiring.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Mmmmmm. I hate recording and haven’t put myself in the studio as much as I should have. It’s something I need to overcome as I’ve been writing my own songs over the last year or so and feel I’m working my way (slowly) towards an album. I gig a lot in noisy bars and clubs or private events where my music isn’t the primary focus. I think I’m always most proud following a show at venues like Pizza Express Jazz Club, The Crazy Coqs and hopefully post Bulls Head. It’s such a special moment in time having the company of an audience at a venue that is focused on listening intently to what you have to say and sing about. I’m such an open-book on stage, often exposing myself emotionally far more than I had planned but it’s so exhilarating doing that. I hope my honesty adds weight to my interpretation and delivery of the songs I choose to sing. I want people to know what and how much the lyrics meant to me otherwise I’m just regurgitating a bunch of jazz standards and not adding anything of my own.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’m a balladeer at heart so love to get my teeth stuck into a love song that tugs at the heart strings. There’s a tune written by Howard Barnes, Harold Cornelius and Dominic John called ‘A Blossom Fell’ that was published in 1954 and a hit for Nat King Cole in 1955 when it was released by Capitol Records. To be honest I didn’t know the song before I’d started planning this Nat King Cole Centenary Celebration. We’d only managed to run it once in a rehearsal but when I performed it for the first time at The Hospital Club in Covent Garden I got really emotional which took me a little by surprise. I think I just got lost in the lyric and it hit me how beautiful and poignant it was. I included the Prince song ‘Sometimes It Snows In April’ in my last show ‘Seasons Of The Heart’. A dear friend of mine had recently taken his own life so I dedicated the song to his memory and got completely engulfed by my feelings right there on stage but somehow managed to power through and pour all of that into my performance. That’s what music and singing is all about for me. I have to find something personal that I can bring to the songs I’ve chosen.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Well this Nat King Cole Centenary Show was an obvious choice because I’ve always been such a big fan. I celebrated the music of Frank Sinatra in his centenary year back in 2015 for the same reasons. My show ‘Seasons Of The Heart’ was inspired by a song I’d written called ‘Before It’s Begun’ which is all about a father trying to make sense of and explain the reasons behind acts of terror to his young and still so innocent son. I’d also written another song called ‘Allow Me To Introduce Myself’ which was about an imaginary meeting between me and my Dad who I’ve never met. I wanted to explore all the different facets of ‘love’ and we included a string quartet into the arrangements for the first time. There’s always a personal reason behind my inspiration for any show I create.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Can I have two? Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho and The Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zedel in Piccadilly. They both have fantastic sound systems, good lighting, a music loving audience sat in a cabaret setting with tables and chairs and waiting staff. It’s quite an old-school concept these days as people are so used to going to larger, all standing music concerts. The audience at Pizza Express and Crazy Coqs are asked to switch off their phones and respectfully refrain from talking during the show. It all helps to set things up perfectly. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to include Ronnie Scotts and The Royal Albert Hall but I’m still waiting for that telephone call!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Tony Bennett at The Royal Albert Hall. Towards the end of his concert he put his microphone down on top of the piano, stood centre stage and sang ‘I Left My Heart In San Francsico’ a cappella. He was 90 years old at the time and his un-amplified voice filled the concert hall. Just incredible! I hope I’m still doing this in my 90s!!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Earning a living from music is an obvious one but there are so many little successes to enjoy along the way. A sold out show, completing a new, original song, a new collaboration, finally nailing the melody of a standard I might have been struggling to learn, finding new notes to sing within songs I’ve been singing forever, discovering a new part of my voice or gaining more control of it, improving, learning. It all adds up and keeps me moving forward.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer this question. I still feel like I’m right at the beginning in many ways. I discovered jazz in my mid 30s and I’m still a student in my eyes. Maybe I should be reading the answers to this question left by others on your blog! Ask me again in 10 years and I might have a better answer 🙂

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Making a guest appearance at The Royal Albert Hall or on Graham Norton’s sofa alongside a huge Hollywood actor or two being interviewed because a song I’ve written and recorded has been used on a movie soundtrack.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Lying by the pool in the sunshine on holiday with my beautiful family.

What is your most treasured possession?

I read this question and instantly drew a blank. I’ve got some lovely ‘stuff’ but I don’t think I treasure physical possessions particularly. I think I treasure my memories most – that’s why dementia is such a cruel disease and a cause I’m particularly passionate about.

What is your present state of mind?

Happy and excited to finally be performing at The Bulls Head after all these years!

Meet the Artist – Mei-Ting Sun, pianist

Mei-Ting celebrates the birthdays of Franz Schubert and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in a special concert on 27 January. Find out more about Mei-Ting’s musical influences and inspirations….

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I started piano when I was three, so the question wasn’t so much who inspired me to take it up but rather who started me on it, and the answer to that would be my parents. I always liked music – I remember marching on the bed when I was 2 or something to the march from Aida – so my parents thought it would be an interesting experiment to have a young child sit at the piano for hours. In terms of a career, it wasn’t anything other than music itself that inspired me. I decided at the age of 16 that I could not live without music in my life every day, and playing music made my happy.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There have been many, since different influences played important parts during different periods of my life. The most important influences during my formative years must have been my professor at the time, Dr. Edward Aldwell, who really taught me everything I know about how to study music among other things, and going to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York for 13-15 performances every year from when I was 14 to 18.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The ups and downs of a career in music can be extremely challenging, mentally, physically, and financially. Finding a balance not to be too high or too down, and to focus on what I love to do without always having an end meant creating projects for myself, which turned out to be a major source of entertainment. One of the biggest challenges was to learn, perform, and record the complete works of Chopin published during his lifetime, and that is also the series of performances and recordings that I am most proud of.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

This is a most difficult question for me to answer! Of course I feel affinity towards certain composers and works, but I think one of the challenges for me is to get into the minds of every composer I want to play, and to truly – as much as I personally believe I can – understand the works I perform. When that happens, that work will be one that I feel I play best.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

This is a most easy question. I do that by thinking, what haven’t I played recently and what can make my life richer, more diverse, and more interesting?

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I can’t say that I do. I like all kinds of venues, ranging from the biggest halls to the smallest salons, but I would perform different kinds of repertoire in each. Acoustically, my favorite is the Auditorio of Zaragoza.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are too many, so I’ll just list a few of the dead pianists: Alfred Cortot, Walter Gieseking, Myra Hess, Artur Schnabel, Clara Haskil, Sergei Rachmaninoff, William Kapell.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A recital in Lazienki Park in Warsaw. I ended the recital with the Heroic Polonaise of Chopin, and an older gentleman wobbled to the stage, and told me about how he used to be a soldier, took part in the Warsaw Uprising, and how they played a record of the Heroic Polonaise during the uprising. Then he said, “when you played the Polonaise, it reminded me of the Uprising,” with tears flowing down his cheeks.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To love music, to share music, and to share that love of music with as many people as possible.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Work hard, and enjoy working hard. If you can’t enjoy working hard, then there’s no point in working hard, and no point in working in music. That being said, one must also enjoy life and work hard at it.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness would involve too many things that’s not under my control, such as world peace, so perhaps a smaller and more achievable definition would be in order here. A moment of perfect happiness: sitting in a quiet bar with good company, a glass of Bruichladdich 40 in hand, 45 minutes after a perfectly satisfying performance of something by Bach or Schumann.

Mei-Ting and Michelle Chow play fantasies and sonatas for piano by Schubert and Mozart on Sunday 27 January at St Paul’s Grove Park. Tickets here


Critically acclaimed pianist Mei-Ting has been heard in many of the world’s greatest concert halls performing an extensive repertoire that includes the complete works for solo piano of Brahms, Chopin, and Debussy, in addition to all 32 Sonatas of Beethoven.

After winning several major competitions, including the first Piano-e competition and the National Chopin Competition of the US, Mei-Ting’s career has taken him throughout most of the US, Latin America, Asia, and Europe, at venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York, Auditorio Nacional in Madrid, Tonhalle in Zurich, and Obecni Dum in Prague.

He has collaborated with many major orchestras, including the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo, the Prague Philharmonia, Orquesta Nacional de España, the Warsaw Philharmonic, and the National Symphony of Mexico, working with eminent conductors including Stanisław Skrowaczewski, Antoni Wit, Jakub Hrůša, Michał Nesterowicz, Lü Jia, Antoni Ros-Marbà and Pablo González.

While performing the complete works of other composers, Mei-Ting transcribed and arranged several orchestral and operatic works, expanding the technical and tonal possibilities of the modern piano. This project, which encompasses selections from R. Strauss’s Rosenkavalier and Salome, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite from 1919, and a brand new transcription of Ravel’s La valse, has already garnered rave reviews around the world.

Mei-Ting is a Yamaha artist. He is represented by Ibermusica in Spain, Portugal, and Latin America, and Caecilia Artist Management Agency in worldwide.

Mei-Ting

Interview with Rick Simpson, jazz pianist

Award-winning jazz pianist and composed Rick Simpson makes his 7 Star Arts debut at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head on 26th June

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Hmm…that’s hard to say. I think by the time I knew I wanted to music I hadn’t really met anyone or seen any concerts – I just knew that I loved playing the piano and making up little tunes. It wasn’t really until I found Jazz that I knew exactly what it was that I wanted to be doing. Before that I was quite unfocused and split my time between doing the grades and playing music from musicals and coming up with my own arrangements of them. My old piano teacher used to give me hell for not playing what was on the page, but I think that I’d always enjoyed playing around with music made the transition into Jazz piano at the age of fifteen more comfortable.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life and career?

My classical piano teacher at Guildhall, Laura Roberts, has probably had the biggest influence on my musical life. She’s been a close friend and ally over the years and even though we rarely see each other now she still has a big influence over me. She pulled me out of so many bad habits at the piano – before I met her I really had very little idea of how to play the piano properly so she really turned my life around. I’m still trying to work on the simple ideas she presented me ten years ago.

For Jazz if I had to name one figure it would be Keith Jarrett. He was my first real love in music and the first pianist I ever heard. I’d never listened to any famous classical pianists before, or really even any piano music in general and when I first heard Jarrett it was mind-blowing and I devoured everything I could get my hands on. What can I say about Jarrett that hasn’t already been said! To me he’s the biggest musical genius of all time. 

Other than Jarrett there came a time in my life around the age of 21 where I felt like the African-American lineage of Jazz Piano had a greater pull for me. Before then I was quite into the Bill Evans – Brad Mehldau – ECM sound, and I still love that, but the Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock lineage really took over at some point. Its all beautiful and it ultimately all comes from the same place but I always want to keep on working on what is a Black American art form. Even though my own music comes from a lot of influences outside of Jazz I won’t ever stop trying to get together what Charlie Parker and Bud Powell were doing in the 1940s.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far? 

I think anxiety has held me back massively. Its only been in the last two years where I’ve felt happy on stage. I used to be a nervous wreck and it showed. That’s really held me back and I feel like I need to make up for lost time but I’m generally a lot happier and settled than I was in my early and mid-twenties.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say that the music I’ve written over the last four or five years has come from not thinking of tonality or chords. None of the music from my new record has any chord symbols in it. I wanted to get away from the sound that I felt that I’d heard too much of in the London Jazz scene – music which has been clearly written with a single melody line over a set of sometimes quite bleak chords. Kenny Wheeler has been a huge influence on a lot of people in London but I had to get as far away from that sound as I could. When I write music these days the composition is first and the improvising is second. At some point I’ll go back to writing very small compositions that serve as vehicles for improvising but right now with my band Klammer the music is about the compositions.

How do you work?

I work very slowly, which is of great annoyance to me. I know some people who can write several tunes in one sitting, but I don’t think that works for me. I’ll write a couple of bars and then I’ll forget about it for days on end, and then come back to it and add a few more. I’d like to get things out faster but sometimes I think leaving things can cause you to come back afresh and take the music somewhere else. 

Often I think its helpful to know what you want to write before you start. That’s worked well for me in the past where I’ve wanted to write the fast tune/the ballad/the straight 8’s odd time tune, but these days I just sit and see what comes out.

Who are your favourite musicians/bands/composers?

Modern musicians/bands that pose a huge influence on me these days are Jason Moran, Django Bates, Matt Mitchell, Steve Lehman, Steve Coleman, Radiohead, Animal Collective, Deerhoof, John Hollenbeck, Wayne Shorter, Steve Reich, Liam Noble, people like that. I love hip hop, techno, ambient, singer-songwriter music too and it all runs together.
And from the past – Thelonious Monk, Stravinsky, Ravel, Bach, Schubert, Billie Holiday, Mahler, Messiaen.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Seeing the Wayne Shorter Quartet playing music from outer space in 2006 at the Barbican Centre. It was without doubt the most incredible music I’ve ever heard. People in the audience were screaming during the encore, it was so super-charged. There’s a recording of it out there somewhere…That band is on the farthest outer edge of what’s possible. No one is doing what they can.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Ronnie Scott’s. It took me a long time to make peace with the piano – that piano kicked my ass! I had to really learn how to play grand pianos and its only been in the last two years where I’ve felt comfortable playing one – but now I love playing there. The atmosphere and sound are perfect and I would play there every week if I could. I’ve had some great gigs there recently with Leo Richardson’s Quartet and it just feels like the perfect place for that music.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Be friendly. Get your social skills together. Never, ever rely on what you perceive to be as your talent, its not enough. When I was younger I didn’t feel confident in some social situations and used to hope that I could just get by on my playing. You can’t – you have to go out there and meet people and make friends.

For Jazz musicians I’d say get as much together as you can. Don’t just do one thing, get it ALL together. It’s all as equally important and the more you have in your tool box the more exciting your improvising will be. It’s not fun when you know how someone is always going to sound. Jazz should be the sound of surprise. Tape yourself. Play classical music too, its all in there.

Other than that just practice as much as you can, see as much of life as you can and don’t worry if things don’t happen straight away. Never get lazy or complacent. When I was younger I noticed that some older musicians who I used to worship had done so and I vowed I would never slack off. The only person who can help you get better is yourself.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Still practicing and trying to get better. I still feel like a beginner and I still don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything and I don’t really want that feeling to go away. It keeps you moving. That said, if I’m still doing what I’ve done over the last few years in ten years time I’ll be very happy. I’d just like to do more of it and eventually move into teaching at one of the music colleges. I love this life and I just want it to last a long, long time!

 

Rick Simpson’s latest album with his band Klammer is available now on the Two Rivers Records label


Rick Simpson is based in London playing a wide variety of music, and leads his own group playing original jazz music. Rick is a regular performer at Ronnie Scott’s, the 606 Jazz Club, Pizza Express Dean Street, The Vortex, The Bull’s Head, and he has appeared at larger UK venues such as the Royal Festival Hall and the Purcell Room. In 2008 Rick won a Yamaha Scholarship Prize for Outstanding Jazz Musicians. A recording of Rick’s band was put on the front cover of Jazzwise Magazine.
Since graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2008 he has performed with musicians such as Christian Scott, Eric Harland, Joe Sanders, Michael Janisch, Ernesto Simpson, Martin Speake, Earl Burness Travis, Stan Sulzmann, Jeff Williams and Brandon Allen as well as younger musicians in London. Rick plays in the ensembles of Jay Phelps, Tim Thornton, Tommy Andrews, Leo Richardson, Paul Riley, and US Jazz Singer Hailey Tuck amongst others

This interview first appeared The Cross-Eyed Pianist blog

Meet the Artist – Natasha Hardy, singer-songwriter

I just love performing wherever I have an audience

We talked to Natasha Hardy about influences, inspirations and more ahead of her Lost in Love concert at The Jazz Room on 20 May…..

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?

The thought of singing and acting appealed to me from a very early age. I was always the performer in my family and as the middle child, it was the best way to get attention! Singing was a part of normal family life. I enjoyed singing at home, (although most of the time my brothers wanted to shut me up!) My parents always had music playing and were always singing. We sang regularly at our church, so it always felt quite normal to sing. I started to write songs from the age of 13 and had piano lessons from around age 9.

Singing always made me feel good, although I hadn’t ever considered it a career choice.  When I started to pursue my acting career, I took up singing seriously. Singing was originally to add a feather to my bow as an actress. However, unexpectedly, I completely fell in love with the classical technique; I had found a medium that would let me fully express myself. I was able to use my body in a way that allowed me to channel my energy and emotions. I could pour my heart and soul into it. It felt inevitable that this was going to be my career.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

The most important influences on my career have to be my voice teacher Maryliese Happel, Mark Crayton and my mum.  Maryliese introduced me to classical repertoire and opera.  I had no idea about singing in this genre before I met her and to her I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude.  She taught me solid technique, taught me about my own voice and has always been an inspirational teacher.  She helped me ‘free the beauty of my voice’.

Mark Crayton (Roosevelt University, Chicago) who over the years helped me find my inner confidence through technique and performance master-classes. He has helped me find freedom of expression in my voice.

My wonderful mother, who calls me her little songbird, always wants to hear me sing. From the moment she wakes up, she is always singing around the house. My mother always made it feel really normal to just sing.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far? 

Self-belief and self-doubt. I have done lots of work to help myself through these challenges.  My top tips that have helped me include; meditation, positive affirmations, healthy diet & keeping fit.  I am a great believer in healthy body, healthy mind.

I always come back to a couple of sayings, allowing yourself to be both a work in progress and a masterpiece simultaneously, and my favourite quote from Martha Graham:

 “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”  
― Martha Graham 

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

Puccini; I love his songs, his operas, and his characters.  On the surface they can seem simple, but underneath there is a complexity and strength to them.  The way he writes is inspiring. There is always a leading melody, and long beautiful lines.  As a songwriter, I know how hard it is to make something sound ‘simple’ and that is what I love about his compositions.  I also think I perform my own compositions pretty well, because I have written them. I know every feeling and every memory that has gone into the writing of every line, lyric and melody.  I do hope one day that other singers will want to perform them.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

I try to choose pieces that are well known with the audience, combining them with unknown or rarely-performed works

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

Not really, I just love performing wherever I have an audience.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, Prince, George Michael, Faithless, Massive Attack, Andre Previn, Richard Rodney Bennet, Michael Nyman, Gabriel Yared, Hans Zimmer, Eric Serra, Puccini, Bellini, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Renee Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu and Maria Callas.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

My first ever concert.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Practice smart, know your words/notes, know yourself.  Get trained in the business side of things. This can take up a lot of your time!  Be determined. Don’t give up. Try to get a little bit better every day. Make time for family & friends, and most importantly, have fun!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

In my beach house in Bermuda.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Any of the following: Summer barbecues, listening to old LPs on a Sunday afternoon with family and friends, roast dinners, long beach walks, my poodle every time I look at her, getting to sleep in a bed with my favourite pillow and a duvet, waking up to another sunny day, the sound of rain, the smell of a forest, the touch of my grandmother’s hand, skiing, ice-skating.

What is your most treasured possession? 

An 18th-century French dressing table which has been ‘dipped and stripped’ about three times, it was my mum’s dressing table from when my parents first got married, and it has finally been restored and I use it everyday.

What is your present state of mind? 

Excited – relaxed – grateful.

‘Lost in Love’ is on Sunday 20 May at 7.30pm in the Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head. Tickets here

 

www.natashahardy.com