Take Five with David Hall

David Hall By

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It is rewarding to meet other musicians and to tailor my advice to their needs. —David Hall
About David Hall

David Hall is a jazz teacher and performer with a background in classical music. He studied at the University of Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Music. David worked as a musician in cathedrals before finding his calling in education. He is now the musical director of piano courses at Finchcocks manor. Finchcocks is considered one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the United Kingdom and has a fascinating history as an internationally famous piano museum. It is listed as a "Grade I" historically protected building in England.

David runs master classes and seminars on jazz and classical piano in the newly renovated, atmospheric cellars of Finchcocks. He is also a versatile woodwind player, and directs as well as writes for the Black Cat Big Band.



Teachers and/or Influences:

When it comes to jazz influences, I love Dizzy Gillespie. His musical ideas were outstanding and his trumpet playing was phenomenal but, most importantly, I love the way he codified bebop and started teaching it. Dizzy kept Charlie Parker on the straight and narrow (to some extent), and spread his new style to a whole generation. For me, teaching and sharing are so important.  

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I realized that I didn't know it all but I also realized that I had something I could share. I spent years worrying that I didn't sound like Oscar Peterson or McCoy Tyner. Then I started playing more frequently, enjoying the experience and generally relaxing—while constantly trying to learn more.  

Your Sound and Approach to Music:

I come from a classical music background. I learned to play jazz by working systematically through tutor books and through extensive listening. The first book I tried was Dominic Alldis's Classical Approach to Jazz Piano. Then I read Mark Levine, David Baker, Jerry Coker and Dan Haerle. I'm a sight-reader, which I think is the most valuable and underrated skill in jazz today.  

Your Teaching Approach:

I believe that understanding music is the key to performing it well. I teach notation, theory, aural training, and all the other skills from the start. I also constantly analyze music and pick out structures with students. I love to hear creativity, but true creativity always stems from knowledge and lives within a tradition. The half-diminished seventh chord, for example, has a history and a sound that you need to understand before you can start playing with it.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

I spend time teaching the basics of jazz to adult learners and to traditional piano teachers. There are many piano teachers out there who teach the "jazzy" tunes from the exam syllabus but don't really understand the style, history, harmony or, most importantly, the phraseology of jazz. I do love the idea of the "jazzy tune" for kids. It serves as a good introduction to jazz ideas. It is often harder than any other piece in the book but there is a real incentive to learn it. I also want to encourage traditional piano teachers to drift away from the dots [i.e. the notes printed on the page]. Improvising in any style is such a joy and helps you to understand contemporary music and the music of the masters.  

The first jazz album I bought was...

Jazz Moods, a compilation made in 1994 that is full of wonderful tunes.  

Music You Are Listening To Now:

I used to love concept albums, but more recently I've been listening to standards played by the greats.   

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Has jazz reached the same stage as classical music? Is there a place for performing musicians who are not pushing the boundaries but specialize in performing earlier styles? Should there be a split between composer and performer? Should we all be as versatile as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, playing traditional, swing, bebop, and post-bop? Is modern jazz as inaccessible as modern classical music? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Sorry, I'm not supposed to be asking the questions!

What's your big project at the moment?

Finchcocks is an amazing place. Located in Kent, it is a glorious Grade I-listed building with seven (yes, seven) grand pianos in the cellar and three on the ground floor!

In 2017, we started running residential weekend piano courses for adults with an interest in classical, jazz, or pop piano. Finchcocks's private chef provides wonderful food and guests have the chance to stay in the manor's historic luxury coach house.

Finchcocks caters to those who are keen to take up the piano from scratch and those who are a little rusty and perhaps haven't played since school. At the other end of the spectrum, Finchcocks also offers courses for advanced players (grade eight and higher) who are working on their diploma, as well as courses for piano teachers.

It is rewarding to meet other musicians and to tailor my advice to their needs. Some need help with jazz harmony or articulation, some want to experiment with improvisation, and others need help with advanced voicings and textures.

Our courses are always fun and a productive place to share ideas. You can learn more about those courses at Finchcocks.com.

Photo courtesy of Finchcocks website.

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