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Barney McAll: Dynamic Pianist And Composer

By Published: April 7, 2009

Letterman Adventures

Recently, McAll was pianist for the singer Sia, during her appearance on The David Letterman Show on television.

"That was a trip actually. It was great to see through the looking glass; to see that Letterman's desk is sort of grubby and there are bits of tape everywhere, but they have really expensive lenses and everything looks so high end and beautiful when you actually see it on TV, it's interesting to see. Before you go on they have to set you up and get all your sound ready. You do a sound check before you go on; you have like five minutes, the time of a commercial, so there's twenty people running around, just preparing it and shouting. Then they do "cut," and then Letterman's all relaxed and he's like, 'Ladies and gentlemen...'

"It's interesting to see that, because when you watch TV it all looks so smooth, but to make that smoothness there's so much stuff going on and [there's] also that strange phenomenon. When you do something like that, something changes in the air because it's going out to so many people. The next day it was up on YouTube with 300,000 hits or something, so that was an amazing experience. I've known Sia for a long time. I've known her in Australia, and I've got to say that she's a really great artist."

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The Future

Currently, McAll is working on a project with Australian singer Gian Slater. McAll says, "That's a new project, called Sylent Running. I don't know how to describe the band, but Gian was just here [with] Chris Hale, the bassist, and we started recording. We have a lot of the tracks done; we're just finishing them up. That's going to be a whole other meme. That's the main thing I'm working on now. And I also have an album of Guajira's. It's a slow, Afro-Cuban style of music; I have an album's worth of stuff that I want to record, but I don't know [exactly when yet]. It's a beautiful type of slow, rhythmic music, but it's piano music that I wrote before Flashbacks. I would like to record that sometime. Maybe some person will give me some money to do it!" But, for the benefit of the uninitiated, it is not Latin music as such. "They're not really Latin. They're sort of pretty subverted, weird guajiras, that's for sure, but taking a leaf out of the Latin book."

It could be said that McAll is expanding further into Afro-Cuban sensibilities and sounds. "Maybe. I've only just scratched the surface, I haven't even done that. It's so expansive, that music. I mean, all music is. I remember there was an interview with Oscar Peterson sitting at the piano and he just had a tear in his eye and he said, 'Look, this instrument is just infinite.' And it's so true. And that's Oscar Peterson!" [Laughs]. It's like when someone picks up a guitar for the first time and you realize you can do anything with it, compositionally. "Yes, you're so free. We're so free but we're so constricted, but we're so free.

"So [that] and Sylent Running are the two main things I've got going on at the moment," says McAll.

Barney McAll

There is also the documentary film about to be released, for which McAll has written the music. "I've just finished a film that will be coming out in a couple of months, called We All Fall Down. I do that on and off; I really enjoy film writing, so we'll see what happens." Feature films are an option McAll would also consider: "Yeah, I would like to do that. So far I've just done political documentaries, which I've really enjoyed because I feel like my music is part of something bigger, like a bigger message. When you see the film on a big screen, and you see how far- reaching and three dimensional it can be—I have really enjoyed doing that, but I wouldn't be averse to doing a feature."

Recently he has also played a gig with the Groove Collective at the New York basement club, Fat Cat—the venue noted for its large array of pool tables. "I've worked with those guys for a long time and I actually write a lot of music for them. We were actually nominated for a Grammy in 2007. But the band is not working that much, just occasionally, so it's sort of a rare gig." However, in February, 2009 the group also played a concert in Mexico. "That was amazing. It was really, really fun. There were like 2,000 people in the city square in Guadalajara. We actually just improvised the whole concert. We had a few ideas that we had written, but basically we improvised it. And it was fun to actually improvise with that many people listening. Their energy actually helped for the improvisations to come off well. It was really spectacular. I loved it."

McAll doesn't want to limit any future genres that he might explore: "Well, I don't really like to put a category on it. I'm more interested in just realizing my potential as a musician, in the true sense of what a musician is. So any offshoots from that, it's cool, but I would really like to realize my potential as a musician."

He would not necessarily describe himself as a pianist or a composer. He says, "I think I'm a musician. I love to play and I love to compose and I feel very very fortunate to be a musician. I feel like I have something to say."

His last words speak to, perhaps, a Voltarian philosophy: "I want to my music to be useful."

Selected Discography

Barney McAll, Flashbacks (Extra Celestial Arts, 2008)
George Schuller/Barney McAll/Matt Pavolka, Trio This (GM Records, 2008)
Jonathan Zwartz, The Sea (Jonathan Zwartz, 2008)

Jo Lawry, I Want To be Happy (Fleurieu Music, 2008)

Gary Bartz, Coltrane Rules (OYO Recordings, 2008)
Josh Roseman, New Constellations: Live In Vienna (Accurate Records, 2008)
Groove Collective, PS1 Warm Up: Brooklyn, NY, July 2, 2005 (Kufala, 2007)
Barney McAll/Badal Roy/Rufus Cappadocia, Vivid (Jazzhead, 2006)
Groove Collective, People People Music Music (Savoy Records, 2006)
Greta Gertler, Peccadillo (Greta Gertler, 2006)
Barney McAll, Mother Of Dreams And Secrets (Jazzhead, 2005)
Barney McAll/Genji Siarasi, Baby Winter Kufala, 2005)
The Jay Collins Band, Poem For You Today (Hipbone, 2005)
Fred Wesley and The JB's, Wuda Cuda Shuda (Hip Bop Essence, 2004)
Jay Rodriguez/Ron Trent, Batidos (Six Degrees Records, 2004)
Groove Collective, Brooklyn, NY 04.20.02 (live album) (Kufala Records, 2002)
Gary Bartz, Live At The Jazz Standard Vol 2 (OYO Recordings, 2002)
Groove Collective, Live And Hard To Find (live album) (Kufala Records, 2002)
David Rex, Collision Course (Jazzhead, 2002)
Groove Collective, Giant Step Record Sessions Vol.1 (2001)
Barney McAll, Release The Day (Transparent Music/Jazzhead, 2000)
Richard Worth, Rise (Giant Step, 2000)
Vince Jones, Virtue (1999, EMI)
Barney McAll, Widening Circles (Jazzhead, 1998)
Barney McAll, EXIT (Jazzhead, 1996)

Photo Credits

Third Photo: Lillie Of Paris

Bottom Photo: Wangaratta Festival

All Other Photos: Courtesy of Barney McAll

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