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Huw Warren: Global Music from a Local Perspective

Jakob Baekgaard By

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HW: In terms of the lineage of the solo record, I love all kinds of approaches! Sometimes people are surprised when you play in a certain way but are quite happy to listen and talk about other styles....I think the general evolution has been from brilliantly sparkling technical music (Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson etc) to a more personal musical statement (maybe starting with the Bill Evans album Alone or even more so The Solo Sessions). For me, Keith Jarrett's Facing You (1971) was a gamechanger in terms of the depth and vibe of the music. Some of my other favourite solo albums have been Alma (1986) by Egberto Gismonti and more recently I've loved Craig Taborn's Avenging Angel (2010) and Tigran Hamasyan's An Ancient Observer (2017).

AAJ: The title, Nocturnes and Visions, suggests a spiritual element. What are your thoughts behind the title and do you think that there is a spiritual element to your music?

HW: I really liked the idea of a slightly more contemplative album, hence the Nocturne/Nightime label. The Visions part is much more open ended...I'm thinking of visions in terms of dreams and imagination, so not really in an overtly spiritual way, although I'd love people to make their mind up in their own way on that!

AAJ: One of the tracks on the album is an homage to the late pianist John Taylor. Could you tell about your relationship with him and his influence on you?

HW: I was fortunate to know John and also play with him in several settings, including Kenny Wheeler's 70th Birthday tour in 2000 where the rhythm section was 2 pianos + Dave Holland and Martin France! Quite an educational few days....I first met him at the Guildhall Summer School in London during the late 80's, where even though we were both teaching, I would try to pick his brains as often as possible, and being the generous spirit he was, he would always oblige. His duo concerts there with Norma Winstone were like an annual piano lesson for me, and really informed the way I would want to work as an accompanist with voice in all kinds of later projects. Very supportive in one sense, totally free and independent in another. Then of course there are all the great tunes that he's left us—I've actually recorded a couple of JT tunes for a duo project with Mark Lockheart out on Cam Jazz next year. His tunes and Kenny's have become the new standards in some senses. However, for many of us, the biggest influence of all from John was as a role model, he was always interested in younger musicians and always supportive of originality and creativity.

AAJ: You have written two books on jazz harmony. Could you tell about your approach to harmony and what it means to your music? Is there a relation between emotions and harmonies to you? In other words, do complex emotions correspond to complex harmonies?

HW: I'm an eternal student of harmony, but the complexity of harmony is always in the context of music (i.e. not a separate study) For me, any kind of complexity is subjective, and I certainly don't make any direct link between complex harmony and complex emotion. Sometimes the simplest harmony has the most profound emotional effect. Having said that, it's great to have as wide a vocabulary of harmonic options as possible and also to be able to think outside the functional harmony box. My books were really written to introduce inexperienced students to basic jazz harmony from first principles, and I'm always at pains to point out that any theory is there to describe why certain approaches sound great, and not a set of rules!

AAJ: You are also a teacher. What are some of the most important things you try to teach your students and what are some of the most important things you have been told yourself?

HW: Jazz education is really self-education, so for me the main point of teaching is to help people realise their aims and in fact teach themselves. In this sense, one is encouraging each student to develop their unique and individual approach and become the best possible version of themselves. In 1980 I asked UK Jazz pianist Stan Tracey for some lessons (I was self-taught in Jazz and improvisation until then) He politely refused, then said "I could teach you to play like me, but what's the point in that!" At the time I was slightly taken aback, but now it forms the central philosophy of my teaching. By way of contrast, my lessons with John Tilbury at Goldsmiths' College were often spent talking Politics, Football and all kinds of topics; making me aware that music does not exist in some kind of vacuum separate from real life. Our first lesson was looking at John Cage's Sonata and Interludes for prepared piano, which in retrospect now makes a lot of sense!


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