I’ve been influenced by a number of piano players. My paternal grandfather and my father both played a lot when I was a child – my father still does. A few of the schoolteachers I admired played a mean piano. Billy Joel, Elton John and Stevie Wonder are musicians I appreciate who sing and accompany themselves on piano. I’ve also heard a lot of keyboard jazz from Jimmy Smith (organ) and ragtime piano from Scott Joplin.
Many times I’ve been lonely but never when I’m in front of a piano keyboard. I’ve gone out of my way to ask to play pianos in hotels in New York and Dallas when travelling in the States – the former specifically to play “New York State of Mind” while in New York, which I managed to do even though I was only there for 24 hours. I’ve played dodgy pianos in pubs and got job offers because it keeps people in the bar – I’m not that good so mostly the offers were for payment in beer.
Fewer and fewer places offer you the chance to be able to just sit down in public and play, because there just aren’t pianos around any more except auto-playing ones in aseptic hotel lobbies. I’ve been refused more often than accepted when I’ve asked to play piano in those kind of places. Then again, I’m not a virtuoso, and sometimes I’ve asked at times which might well be inconvenient for the gathered public.
For some time I’ve wanted to record a quick film of my piano playing. After learning the recorder at junior school at around 7-8 years old, my next instrument was the piano. I always loved playing keyboard instruments, and had lessons on classical organ, pop organ, and piano. The piano is one of the best instruments to play solo, because it has a large range. The 88 notes on a full piano keyboard represent the range of most instruments in an orchestra – much more than a guitar. It’s also an instrument which lends itself to playing several notes at once, to explore harmony, counter-melody and playing interesting left hand bass accompaniment to all sorts of melodies. It’s harder to accompany yourself and sing with a piano, I think the guitar better lends itself to that. But the piano by itself is really versatile and a great instrument which adds to many musical styles.
So here’s a single-take shot of me playing a piano solo of a composition I wrote when I was 16 as part of my coursework for GCSE music – it’s called City Nights. It is a little bit changed from the original version, but the melody, structure and sequence is the same. I’ve just added in a few variations in a repeated section to make it last three minutes. I passed the exam with flying colours, by the way.