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Take Five With Tim Richards

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Meet Tim Richards:
Tim's first encounter with a piano was at the age of eight, in a dentist's waiting room. After classical piano lessons he taught himself jazz and blues from the age of 14, after seeing Thelonious Monk on TV.

Since forming the long-lived modern jazz quartet Spirit Level in Bristol in 1979, he has performed his compositions at jazz clubs and festivals in almost every European country. Tim expanded Spirit Level to a nine-piece in 1999, renaming it Great Spirit and recording a first CD with an all-star lineup that included Denys Baptiste, Gilad Atzmon, Dick Pearce, Roger Beaujolais and Tony Kofi. The nine-piece toured the UK several times, featuring some of Britain's top jazz musicians such Peter King, Ed Jones, Jason Yarde, Sebastian Rochford and many others. Their latest CD, Epistrophy, has received rave reviews.

Tim has released over a dozen albums under his own name, featuring line-ups from duo to nine-piece, including two with Austrian saxophonist Sigi Finke and three trio albums including his most recent CD, Shapeshifting (33Jazz, 2010). Two of his trio CDs are listed in the Japanese publication, The 100 Best Piano Trio Records of All Time.

He also enjoys playing blues and has toured and recorded with many well-known blues artists, including the award-winning Otis Grand, Dana Gillespie and Earl Green, and US guitarists Joe Louis Walker and Larry Gamer.

Apart from his playing activities, Tim is one of Britain's best-known jazz educators, a jazz examiner and contributor to the ABRSM jazz piano syllabus, and the author of four acclaimed tutors including Improvising Blues Piano (1997) and Exploring Jazz Piano (2005), published by Schott Music (with CDs). The latter won the prestigious MIA award for "Best Pop Publication" in 2006. Tim currently teaches jazz piano at Morley and Goldsmiths Colleges and The City Lit in London.

Instrument(s):
Piano.

Teachers and/or influences?
My pianistic influences are, in no particular order: McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Hampton Hawes, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Otis Spann, Herbie Hancock, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Chick Corea, Abdullah Ibrahim, Oscar Peterson, Dudley Moore, Gene Harris, Dave Brubeck, Benny Green.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I first sat at a grand piano, aged eight.

Your sound and approach to music:
As a self-taught jazz player, I draw on a variety of approaches, rather than following methods taught in the conservatoire. Groove is an important aspect of most of what I do. A strong blues influence often permeates my work—The Rough Guide to Jazz described my style as "Luminously funky... Iaced with the blues..."

Your teaching approach:
I well remember how it feels to be completely in the dark when trying to learn jazz —when I became interested as a teenager there were very few books available, and it wasn't possible to study jazz at college. I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people who may be in the same position as I was back then.

Concerning jazz improvisation, my philosophy is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. I always stress that any tune or chord sequence lends itself to a variety of approaches, and try to suggest some of these to my students.

I now have four tuition books on the market, published by Schott Music. For the beginning improviser I usually recommend Improvising Blues Piano as a good starting point, since the blues only uses three chords and a simple 12-bar sequence, and there is less theory and harmony to take onboard. Many of the basic concepts of jazz can be introduced in the context of playing blues —eg: walking bass lines, swing eighth notes, use of modes, rootless voicings, horizontal and vertical improvisation, etc.

The two books that follow, Exploring Jazz Piano, Vols 1 and 2, are a systematic and graded method, organized following harmonic principles. It is my opinion that most jazz books start with material that is too complex, often ignoring basic building blocks such as major and minor triads. Vol 1 spends a considerable amount of time with triads before moving on to seventh and ninth chords. The second volume extends the approach to cover more complex harmony such as sus4 and #11 chords, quartal, rootless and two-handed voicings, altered and diminished chord and scales, polychords, etc.

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