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Take Five With Tom Donald

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Tom Donald:

I was born in the Australian Outback, a town called Coonabarabran. I now live in London. I am mainly a piano improviser and composer. Abbey Road Studios, BBC Radio Studios, Hackney Empire, National Opera Studios & Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London.

I also compose for film and produced, compose for American vocalist and lyricist, Sirena Riley.

Instrument(s):

Piano.

Teachers and/or influences? I guess my favorite music seems to have a broader philosophy to it. I am most moved by music that inspires me as human being, not so much as a musician, I think the late Beethoven String Quartet's do just that, as well as Bach, Mahler, John Coltrane, Shostakovich, Glenn Gould, Bill Evans and Ornette Coleman. I am moved by the approach by improvisation pianist legend and master, Keith Jarrett. Not just the playing or the music; the approach, the underlying process. This means much more to me, than music for its own sake. I have to say the Vienna Concert (ECM) and the London concert (on his latest, Testament (ECM), are a result of a lifelong process into the unknown. It's simply out of this world, yet I think there could be so much more music like this.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... When I first heard Beethoven's 6th symphony when I was around 12 years old. It was performed by the Sydney symphony orchestra in my home town, Tamworth, N.S.W Australia, and must have been the biggest musical event in Tamworth for many years. I remember being absolutely overwhelmed by Beethoven's constant stretching of themes and ideas.

Having said that, I have moved a long way from western classical music, but that was the starting point for me.

Your sound and approach to music: I guess my music is a hybrid of non-western, western classical, jazz and free improvisation. Usually classical musicians think I am jazz, and jazz musicians think I am classical.

Your teaching approach: The state of music education is somewhat in a crisis. I am a passionate music educator; I believe students of the pianoforte should be taught harmony immediately, even before reading music.

Generally, learning music is a holistic, lifelong process. The teacher must be aware of this, and have the piano repertoire and effective exercises to stimulate every aspect of music making. I use improvisation, harmony, and key changing exercises with my students as well as great wisdom from Bartok's "Mikrokosmos" to Bach's "Inventions," "Sinfonias" and "Fugues."

Amongst my composing and performance projects, I run a teaching practice at the Bluthner Centre in Central London.

Your dream band:

People who listen. I mean, really listen; it's that simple, and such musicians make you work harder and inspire you to create.

Road story: Your best or worst experience: When I was 15 I played a Dixieland gig, on the back of a truck in a small country town in Australia, to a packed stadium at a local farmers show. Only problem was, the sound engineer forgot to turn on a vital power switch, so no-one heard us. We were partially unaware of this at the time.

How would you describe the state of jazz today? Too much revisionism. It's choking the music and leaving it in the past. I relish in the past, but we have to use this to create new music, not to relive old memories, as tempting as this may seem.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? Innovation but, most of all, focus. Beautiful words of advice by Keith Jarrett and Charlie Haden, when interviewed about their latest record, Jasmine (ECM). "Switch it all off, and just listen."

What is in the near future? New album with a new trio coming out soon. I recently composed music for Koutaiba Al Janabi's latest film, Leaving Bagdad"

By Day:

I teach music and practice. I record with the players I am collaborating with most weeks and sort through the archives of older recordings.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: probably more like a classical composer.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Tom Donald

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