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Huw Warren: Global Music from a Local Perspective

Jakob Baekgaard By

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I’ve been living in Wales for the last 25 years, and I’m sure that one’s immediate environment must have an impact on one’s work. As a proud Welshman, I’m also aware of the cultural responsibility of not just looking ‘inward’ and am very influenced by Hermeto Pascoal’s idea of ‘Universal’ music. —Huw Warren
Welsh pianist and composer, Huw Warren, has been an important voice on the British jazz scene for many years. With a seemingly endless appetite for music, Warren has both been delving into Brazilian music with singer Maria Pia De Vito and played ethereal folk-inspired jazz music with another singer, June Tabor, in the trio Quercus. He has also worked as Tabor's musical director for many years.

Aside from his many gigs as a sideman, Warren is teaching and has been a co-leader of the acclaimed quartet, Perfect Houseplants. He has also pursued a lengthy career as a leader that has been just as curious and explorative as his approach as a sideman. His musical language seamlessly integrates classical pieces, Brazilian music, avant-garde and jazz. Compositionally, he is just as openminded and has taken on various projects and commissions, including composing music for movies.

Despite being a musically curious world citizen, Warren is also rooted in the landscape of his native country, Wales. Another way he is being grounded is through his instrument. Warren has found his true calling in playing the piano and has recently released his second solo piano record, Nocturnes and Visions (2018).

All About Jazz: When did you take up the piano? Was it your own choice or were you encouraged by family and friends to start playing?

Huw Warren: I think around 9 or 10 years old, I also studied violin and cello at the same time...My parents didn't want to force me in anyway; but, apparently, I was pretty determined and asked for lessons. Of course, after that they were super proud and supportive to all my endeavours, and I remember some nights being woken up to play for them and their friends!

AAJ: What is it about the piano as an instrument that you like?

HW: Probably the independent self-contained nature. i.e. the possibility of being your own complete ensemble at any time.

AAJ: Do you find that the instrument has any limitations? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you couldn't express the sounds you were looking for on the instrument?

HW: The limitations are a great and ongoing creative challenge! For example, how to sustain and project a line like a singer (on what is basically a percussive instrument) or how to overcome equal temperament by preparing the instrument?

AAJ: You were born in Wales. Has the landscape and traditions of the country influenced your music in any way? I'm also thinking about your project Closure from 2012.

HW: Both aspects have influenced my work in some shape or form. Primarily in terms of source material and subject matter (e.g. Duw a Wyr—an album of Welsh hymns from 2005 with singer Lleuwen Steffan and saxophonist Mark Lockheart) but also, a sense of place and landscape has had a big influence on my compositions and titles. I've been living in Wales for the last 25 years, and I'm sure that one's immediate environment must have an impact on one's work. As a proud Welshman, I'm also aware of the cultural responsibility of not just looking 'inward' and am very influenced by Hermeto Pascoal's idea of 'Universal' music

AAJ: Could you tell about some of the formative experiences in your life as a musician?

HW: Well, I played a lot of classical music on both piano and cello whilst still at school, but also a family friend showed me a couple of vamps on the piano. Probably pretty unsophisticated, but it started me off on a whole journey of escaping from the score and notation. Moving to London in 1980 was a massive learning experience. Studying experimental music, and being exposed to so much new music and new musical experiences was exciting and deeply influential. Also meeting key younger members of the London jazz scene, (especially some of the guys from Loose Tubes) has led to collaborations that are still active 30 years later (players such as Mark Lockheart, Iain Ballamy, John Parricelli and Martin France). Also really important to me was the variety and availability of worldmusic projects in London at this time; not only a chance to learn from amazing musicians from all over the world, but also a confirmation of my feeling that my vision of Jazz should be as broad as possible.

AAJ: Your concert repertoire reflects a very eclectic approach to music. At least that was the feeling I got when I attended your solo concert at St Ann's Church during the Manchester Jazz Festival 2018. Why is it important to you to be able to embrace different musical styles and how do you put together a program for your concerts?

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