Tim Garland: Beyond the Frontier


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Composer, arranger and multi-reed virtuoso Tim Garland is a treasure the nation of the UK has yet to fully recognize. Having recorded a dozen albums in his own name, and arranged for and played in the groups of Chick Corea and Bill Bruford, Garland's pedigree as one of the leading jazz saxophonist/composers of his generation is unquestionable. In addition, his collaborations with the country's finest musical institutions, including the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, set him apart as one of the UK's most progressive modern composers. Few musicians have such pedigree or such an abundance of talent, and yet amazingly, Garland still awaits an invitation to appear at the country's premier celebration of jazz, the London Jazz Festival.

Tim Garland by Vladimir Korobitsyn

Despite this anomaly Garland is in demand around the entire world and, as his Lighthouse Trio's Libra (Global Mix, 2009) demonstrates, with good reason. The second of this two-disc set captures Garland, with trio members Asaf Sirkis (percussion) and Gwilym Simcock (piano), in a live setting, displaying all the energy and innovation which has won the group so many plaudits. Simply put, there few jazz trios quite as compelling as The Lighthouse Trio. But it is the first disc which is the most arresting; here, Garland's imaginative writing brings jazz trio improvisation into the womb of a modern orchestral setting, in this case the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Garland is not the first, and is certainly not the only composer to attempt to fuse such musical polar opposites. Nevertheless, his synthesis of these two genres, and his attempt at achieving balance between the power and structure of an orchestra and the chamber intimacy and freedom typical of the best small jazz groups, places him amongst the foremost composers at the forefront of what Gunther Schuller has termed The New Frontier.

Another recording, Celebrating Bach (Audio-B Recordings, 2009), sees Garland interpreting the music of Bach and Stravinsky on soprano saxophone in the company of the Northern Symphonia. Where Garland finds the time to also compose concertos for piano, saxophone and cello, as well as compose film scores is anybody's guess, though one suspects he has more hours than the usual twenty four in his days.

All About Jazz: Libra was three years in the making which is obviously a big investment, but you must be very pleased with the results, no?

Tim Garland: Yeah, absolutely. I remember talking with the people who did the artwork and they asked me how long it had taken, so when I told them I think they felt the gravity of how I felt about it. As a result I'm also very happy with the way it looks, which is all credit to them; they really pushed the boat out on my behalf. Of course, I'm really happy. Even if you listen back after the band has worked so long and you think "Oh, we play this much better now" but that is probably true of every recording. I wouldn't say better, I'd say differently.

AAJ: What was the inspiration for the suite "Frontier?"

TG: I heard Günther Schuller when he was doing a talk at a conference in Canada and he was basically saying that the next frontier would involve the use of the orchestra in a more integrated way...

AAJ: But you had already written the music before you heard Schuller give his talk, right?

TG: Yeah, I had written most of the music by that time and I felt like standing up and shouting [laughs],because I felt this was exactly the kind of thing I was working on. Of course there are many other ways too, which Mark-Anthony Turnage is involved in and many other writers as well who make creative use of the orchestra.

I wanted to approach the orchestra with a great deal of respect and it is rather like we are the guests of the orchestra rather than the other way around. Hence we don't play at all on the first track which is a self-contained orchestral piece, and it's only during the slow movement that we are allowed to sneak in one by one [laughs], into their world.

AAJ: But that was your compositional design, to begin with the orchestra and then ease in, no?

TG: Yes, that was very much part of the statement that it's us who are the guests of the orchestra and that puts us on a much more level footing, I think. The orchestra is a complete universe in itself. I was brought up as a composer and was writing really before I was playing. I also wanted to show my own particular balance of interests, and I was very keen not to show the orchestra —which is so often the case with jazz—that the orchestra is an expensive soundscape which sits behind the soloists.

Tim GarlandAAJ: Jazz with strings, right?

TG: Quite. Though there's a place for that as well; it sounds mega, and I love that too, but it seems to me that that's been done a great deal. [laughs] I would say that the language that jazz musicians are using today is very eclectic, global village-y, and quite often making use of really extended tonality and avant-garde techniques, and one needs in some measure surely to reflect that in one's use of the orchestra, rather than just using nineteenth century romantic Gershwin-esque techniques behind soloists whose language is in a way much more modern.

Going back to the genesis of all this, I wanted to demonstrate how you could pull two polar opposites together—the very intimate chamber sound of just the three of us with the might of a symphony orchestra., so in a way the sun and the moon being opposites. It's kind of cosmic, which sounds a bit hippy-ish [laughs], or other-worldly perhaps; something which doesn't pertain to urban life, which has marked so much of jazz history.

Tim GarlandAAJ: The forces of nature seem to be reflected in many of your compositions and album titles.

TG: It's true, when I look at the amount of things I've written about the sea [laughs], it's a real recurrent theme. I think it's a desire to link with forces bigger than yourself. There's a spiritual quest in there somewhere, without wishing to sound too lofty, to try and align myself with something pre-industrial in a very post-industrial age.

I'm hardly alone in this, I mean, the whole ECM catalogue can speak to you in a similar way. If you listen to Louis Armstrong, you can hear that his music comes from a completely urban environment , but for many years now, decades, jazz has also aspired to be more than just a celebration of big cities, to be rural, or pertaining to other areas of existence and I guess my music does quite often fall in that bracket.

AAJ: How much of a challenge was it for the members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to adopt your arrangements, and particularly the ten-beat Middle Eastern, Egyptian Samai rhythm?

TG: I don't think these orchestras find these things particularly difficult if they are clearly written out. What I had to do in this case was that I had a film session and I brought back some of the parts that I conducted with the orchestra. I then added the three soloists later and grafted ourselves on, and so I was able to record in chunks. It's true that for a performance version of this you'd need a bit more rehearsal time to make sure that people really were comfortable with these rhythms.

Increasingly, the RPO do a lot of film sessions and music of a hybrid nature and so they are quicker and quicker all the time. Time is really on our side as the orchestras get more youthful and they're used to a kind of eclecticism. You find with the London orchestras that it's amazing the speed with which they can get these things together. I was lucky, as the RPO are brilliant at that.

AAJ: Have you premiered the music with an orchestra, and if not is it an ambition?

TG: It's certainly an ambition. I've done various other works with a number of orchestras but I've yet to work live with the RPO and it's been something which we've been thinking about. The biggest platform in the UK is the London Jazz Festival but that's run by the organization Sirius, and I'm not on their books. I don't get published by them and they prefer to feature people who they publish. So once again I am not asked to play at the London Jazz Festival [laughs].

It leaves me that I have to be a bit inventive because putting something like this together would involve a certain amount of sponsorship. There are plans next year to work with a couple of other orchestras and the guy who runs the RPO is very keen to do this as well I'm hoping it will happen. It will happen [laughs].

One of the things that I did when we were on tour was make a connection with quite a few other orchestras, several of which were really keen. It excites me so much to think that I can continue to be involved in this are of music which is one of the most exciting areas that there can be.

AAJ: Do you fully agree with Schuller's thoughts on the possibilities of integrating large ensemble with improvisation, what he referred to years ago as the Third Stream?

TG: The term Third Stream is somewhat out of date in the sense that it was really only looking at African music as the Second Stream, and the Third Stream was bringing the Afro-American experience together. I'm not an authority on this but that's how I understand it.

But that doesn't really allow for the multitude of different ethnicities that come into play. I can understand that this thought was a product of the forties and fifties, the world in which Günther Schuller lived. There's a piece of Schuller's from the early sixties, Journeys into Jazz (1962), I think it is, and he's using atonality and swing and for that time it's pretty amazing. You can certainly hear a lot of influence in [Leonard] Bernstein

Tim GarlandI feel that we reaching a point where there is so much respect from both sides. Soloists aren't just limited to suddenly branching out into bebop licks which don't go with the language of the orchestra, but open soloists now are improvising musicians able to respond to the language presented to them by the orchestra.

Great jazz pianists like Geoffrey Keezer do take a lot of their influences from outside of jazz, so if the music that the orchestra is playing essentially sounds like post modern, not avant-garde especially, but contemporary music, then you're not going to get someone like Keezer burning Bud Powell over the top. You're going to hear something which is truly integrated, and that is absolutely wonderful because then it's not just about a jazz history lesson, it's really just about improvised music. Whether we even use the word jazz or not is not essential, it's a live music which is going to be a bit different every time it's played.

Tim Garland by Jose HornaAAJ: As far back as your group Lammas, terms like crossover were used, or jazz-folk fusion; are these terms which have little meaning for you?

TG: Well, they all have their place and we're all in the same situation regarding the need to package, uncomfortable as we maybe are. If you think of jazz maybe as an approach rather than as a genre, then it's possible to live comfortably with that word, to see jazz as an interfacing of a whole multitude of things.

Lammas certainly was a jazz/Celtic fusion, although I think the central issue was the strength of the compositions in the first place. The compositions, from the level of their DNA so to speak, have to accommodate all the good points of the players involved. I have heard other folk music with a jazz approach, but for me at least it rests with the strength of the compositions to really bring out what the guys have to offer. Otherwise either the soloists are shackled by the composition or maybe the soloists are doing their thing but the composition is just playing a minor role underneath and not really offering anything new. Hence my interest in and love of composition, because that's the aim I am always looking to achieve, to illuminate both sides of the equation equally.

AAJ: Was classical music your first love, musically speaking?

TG: I don't think it ever was first love, although I seem to listen to more classical music than jazz but that's because there's still so much that I'm approaching for the first time, even composers who I've been listening to for a few years like Henri Dutilleux, the French guy whose music I'm a total fan of. There are still works of his which I'm just discovering.

Other people like [Pierre] Boulez who I really admire; some works I struggle with and find a bit intellectual but I think "You know what, I'll download that and give it another listen on the flight tomorrow" and it blows my mind and I think "Wow! Why did I think that was bad?" It might be because I'm a bit older now and I've got a bit more patience to listen.

AAJ: That's true of most music; if you listen in a light way then you don't pick up on the depth and nuance, but when you really listen to it then you hear it, right?

TG: Yeah. In the same way I used to not have much time for listening to Duke Ellington, but now, and maybe because I've had to teach it and I've had to look into it more, I realize that this guy's a genius [laughs]. What was I thinking?

I think you've got to know what to listen for and the problem that a lot of people have with jazz in its various kinds is that maybe they are still listening out for a predominance of certain things like vocals or whatever and maybe they're not aware that it's really good to know the structure of the music. It's like a theme of variations; they need to be able to hear that the soloist is playing over the same form so they can still hear the same song in the background.

Once people know what to listen for it's a bit demystified and not so inaccessible anymore and the same goes for whether it's Boulez, Markus Stockhausen [laughs], or Duke Ellington actually. I'm well aware that I've got very broad tastes and I wouldn't expect everybody to dig all of this stuff the same way I do; I'm just a bit of a freak [laughs].

AAJ: Classical music, and recording with various orchestras has occupied more of your time and more of your recorded output in the last few years, and in addition you've been commissioned to compose for various instruments as well; can you see a day, as Günther Schuller did, when you give up performance to dedicate yourself entirely to composition and conducting?

TG: Certainly not yet. It's like my two arms, one arm being performance and the other being writing. I've just come back from a six week tour where I was playing a lot, and I was reminded of just how much I love the spontaneity and the fun and the non cerebral aspects.

Once everything is out of the way, things like talking to the promoter about money, ticket sales and so on, once you're on stage you leave yourself and all of that on the side and it becomes kind of sacred. I don't think it's pretentious to say that, it's merely the truth. A kind of sacredness takes over where nothing matters but the music and the moment and the shared experience. That is our offering to the world.

Tim GarlandAAJ: A lot of musicians talk of the music not coming from them but coming through them, almost as though they were some kind of portal. This sounds quasi-religious, but I wonder what your take on it is. Can you relate to that at all?

TG: Yes, whilst trying to avoid slipping into sounding pretentious—one result of aiming to get a natural flow in your music is of course that, sporadically, one succeeds! Then there is no linguistically structured thought going on, and no sense of self, so therefore I suppose, no feeling that it's you playing anymore.

For many years I've been fascinated by the Buddhist teaching on what the "self" is or is not, and how it seems to love causing trouble for itself! Certainly, I play much better with a lessened sense of self. Again it's that feeling that every stage of the way is a complete end in itself. The two uses of the word "play" are joined: the child who plays in a sandpit with no notion of goal-orientation, and the maestro who "plays" Rachmaninoff. The music I love and aspire to arrests me, it demands all the attention of my head and heart and I'm always grateful to be in its presence. This sounds almost religious and with some music it is like that.

AAJ: Playing and touring is something you seem to enjoy a lot.

TG: It's very sociable and humorous quite often. Sometimes if you are writing a lot, the nature of the mind is to take you in to new and wonderful territories, but there is something amazingly grounding about being up there on stage. It's so great not to have to take yourself so seriously all the time. Someone might be laying down a great groove and you might happen to be playing a pentatonic scale but that's the perfect thing that's needed [laughs].

Tim Garland Lighthouse Trio, from left: Gwilym Simcock, Asaf Sirkis, Tim Garland

Certainly I'm playing a little less right now but that's only because the concerts I am doing I feel are artistically worth saving up a little for [laughs]. I don't mind jettisoning the smaller gigs and spending a bit more time writing. I'm still doing about sixty concerts a year and I'd like to keep that going.

AAJ: At The Lighthouse Trio gig I saw in Kuala Lumpar there was a tremendous energy coming off the three of you, a tremendous musical empathy and tremendous interplay and it looked like you guys were having a lot of fun; in Asaf Sirkis and Gwilym Simcock you have two of the best instrumentalists on their respective instruments. Could you give us a little insight into their particular strengths in this trio?

TG: Certainly. With Asaf there is all of the openness of a great jazz drummer, including knowing just when to leave space for everyone else. He has great awareness of dynamics, that less-is- more thing. Sometimes he might just be using one drum on his kit but at that time it might be the grooviest thing on the planet, rather than maxing out all the time, so he's very aware of texture.

He's enormously intuitive and dedicated to the point of being sort of monastic. He's a teetotaler and yoga fanatic and he's wonderful to tour with because he keeps everyone grounded, and he laughs lot. He's also very good at rehearsing so he's a wonderful professional. He's also running his own bands so I've got to make sure I book him in enough time [Iaughs]. He's a busy guy.

I think also his openness to including his own cultural roots within the music, like the frame drums and certain Middle Eastern rhythms. It's like I was saying, use the maximum potential of the people around you. Asaf is not grafting on anything when I ask him to do a Middle Eastern rhythm —you can feel it coming out of his bones. I think "My god! Let's write something using that!"

I love that openness. There are other musicians who come from different backgrounds but they don't want to revisit their roots; they're hooked on Philly Joe Jones and that's cool too, but I love to use people who want to use all of themselves and make you feel all of their personal history thrown into the music. I'm so glad Asaf chose to live in the UK.

With Gwilym, he's a bit more similar to me in a way because we're both been brought up with a lot of classical music. I've known Gwilym very closely for about eight years so I've been able to introduce him to a lot of contemporary music. I first met him when I was teaching at the Royal Academy because he was my student for the first six months or so. I love his openness to music outside of jazz and this is pretty crucial when you're using aspects of flamenco or Middle Eastern music.

Apart from an enormous knowledge of contemporary harmony his time is brilliant. It's very rhythmic. You were picking up on the energy there and we love to play things which are extremely rhythmic. We're not playing museum-type harmonies—every note has a great placement.

I've been very spoiled; the three piano players I've worked with most over the last decade or so have been him, Chick Corea and Geoff Keezer [laughs]. So my expectations, particularly when it comes to things like time... you know, Chick's time is immense and I learn every time I play with him, as most people around him do I think [laughs].

AAJ: You seem to thrive most in a trio format.

TG: . I love trios—there's no hiding place [laughs]. When you've got people who've got compositional minds then there's so much space for them; they can really embellish the composition and make it their own. If you've got people with a facility like Joe Locke and Geoff Keezer from Storms/Nocturne, or this trio, then it's so exciting to watch.

It's actually almost a plus to take something away, like the bass or the drums. For example in The Lighthouse Trio we all take it in turns to fulfill the function of the bassist, in the same way that in Storms/Nocturne we're all the percussionist as well. We're all the drummer. It makes maximum use of our musicality and I think because we are so engaged in the music making that there's a certain sort of intensity at the gigs. People can tell how engaged you have to be to make this music work. I do love the trio.

AAJ: Is it true that Gwilym is leaving The Lighthouse Trio?

Tim GarlandTG: Yeah, he's more or less taken off on his own. He's got a publishing deal which sort of demands that he honor that by when he does appear it's doing his own music. We've worked up an enormous rapport so it's sad for me but I just want him to do the best he can. I'm a big fan of him. I've seen him right through from when he was a student but it's time to let him fly. In his case he's really ready for it.

I've got some exciting plans for next year. It'll probably be called The Lighthouse Project because it's likely to be four people initially. I've been looking into using some astounding flamenco guitarists who are rhythmically bang-on it but also they have wonderful sense of harmony. It would be wrong of me to give any names as I'm kind of doing these semi-auditions. The Spanish flavor of some of the music is definitely going to be retained; most reviewers have noted it's a bit of a Chick Corea influence and they're probably right, after all those years of playing Spanish music in three and six.

AAJ: There are certainly a lot of great musicians in Spain.

TG: Yeah, the sense of time is awesome and it's just finding people with the openness who don't just play lip service to jazz.

AAJ: There are a lot of Spanish jazz musicians of that kind of mindset: Jorge Pardo; Carles Benavent = 12828; Javier Collina; Chano Dominguez, Llibert Fortuny, Perico Sambeat...

Tim Garland Acoustic Triangle, from left: Tim Garland, Gwilym Simcock, Malcolm Creese

TG: Yeah, Perico. When you think about it, interestingly, one of the earliest quotations is from Jelly Roll Morton from god knows when, 1910 or something, who said: "It just ain't jazz without that Spanish tinge." He was, I think, talking about the Habanera rhythm which ragtime has all the way through it. But isn't it interesting that things ain't changed that much [laughs].

Of course it's got to have a lot of African influence in there somewhere. You can't really talk about jazz for too long without getting into that; great truths really.

AAJ: One of the great things about Bill Bruford's Earthworks was that it wasn't an easy music to define; it had lots of different influences in it and it was a really tremendous band that way. Do you have a tinge of regret that Earthworks has come to an end?

TG: Well, it was fun but I remember being on the road with Bill and he was kind of making noises that he wasn't sure if he'd be doing it this time next year. It was easy for me to see its premature demise, but of course I'd only been in the band for about four or five years and it had been running for about twenty three. When you read Bill's book it's all made very clear there—that guy had done a lot.

It was enormous fun but at the same time in the same way that Gwilym is ready to shoot off and be a band leader, you know, I was too [laughs]. It was a natural thing and I think Bill felt that about me in the same way I feel about Gwilym.

AAJ: You have a new recording out of the music of Bach, Stravinsky and a couple of you own compositions; can you tell us something about this recording?

TG: Yeah. I had heard a soprano saxophonist in Austria a few years ago playing a Bach oboe concerto and I thought "I want to do that!" Nearly all of them that he wrote fit the range of the soprano sax wonderfully. Every note in Bach is famous [laughs] and so it's the most demanding music that I've played in a way because you're used to doing your own thing and inflecting things your own way in jazz. This is very, very precious and it has to occupy a different space in your musical mind.

I did a D minor and another one in C which is very famous, and that's really a duet which is nice because you hear the violin and the saxophone kind of sparring off each other. I'm particularly proud of the way that it came out because the way I'm playing the saxophone, deliberately, it sounds a bit like a baroque trumpet. I used a slightly different mouthpiece and the sound has brassiness, a kind of preciseness which sounds a little bit less jazzy.

When I was doing my research the oboe players were taking more risks and developing the music more than I did which was interesting for me to see. I was throwing in little ornaments but these oboists really take it out, and that is the tradition of the music. It might not be full on improvisation in the Coltrane sense but it is extemporizing with a capital E.

We were really keen to use "Dumbarton Oaks "of Stravinsky which is a very kind of post-classical, cut and dried. Some people find it too unromantic. Rhythmically it's almost rigid I guess but it represents a fantastic joining together of influences from classical and jazz and so that is our lynchpin piece for the album, to show how these things can join together.

AAJ: Bach wrote, certainly some of his music, with no particular instrumentation in mind so it's kind of fitting that you should throw a soprano sax at his music and I'm sure he would have approved.

Tim GarlandTG: There we go, and I think most people understand that when they come to review it or cast judgment upon what we've done. It's well known that he wrote a lot of these things through the harpsichord because he could play them himself. Then someone came along with an oboe, a sackbut [laughs], or more often a violin and he would say "Yeah, I've got something for you" and he would jot it out. One reason why we know this was the case was that when you look back some of the music was quite sketchy as if he was perhaps writing it for himself. He didn't need to write it out in full because he knew it.

A working musician, churning stuff out for people, making constant adaptations to things, working on the fly, making things up as he goes along—all of this sounds very modern but that was the world of Bach. I love the fact that we are making this connection though I'm at pains to say we are not he first to do that by any means. The one thing which I can offer is the piece of my own which is "Homage to father Bach" which is very much inspired by the things I've learnt from him., with a greater amount of improvisation where the soloists really can fly off and do their own thing, and that I don't think I've ever heard anyone do before.

This was a wonderful opportunity to try, and I think it was during the writing of that that I felt closest to the spirit of Bach. I felt that if his spirit was floating around there somewhere I really did want to ask for his permission, and I kind of felt in my bones "Yeah, I think he would like this." That feeling of joining hands across several centuries was very profound for me.

Tim GarlandAAJ: Do you feel like a kindred spirit to Bach, because he was quite an eclectic musician and composer himself?

TG: Well, I wouldn't like to put myself on the same level. He had an extraordinary mathematical mind and I don't feel I can put myself in that category at all. That sense of having lots of deadlines—there's an album by John Scofield, a beautiful title, Grace Under Pressure (Blue Note Records, 1992), because when someone is aspiring to create something of real worth and real honesty to a deadline then that is grace under pressure, and you think, man, that is how Bach lived, week by week by week.

I do understand that. It's not only the writing but also the rigors of being on stage and knowing that every moment on stage counts and you have to somehow reach inside and find something. There might be ten people in the room or there might be ten thousand but at that moment your only function is to pull out something worthwhile. I know that's the world Bach inhabited and I've got an amazing amount of respect for him.

AAJ: It has been said that Bach was the very first jazz man; would you agree with that?

TG: You'd have to define jazz to answer that one. I think there were probably others prior to him who loved to be spontaneous with their music, but of course it wouldn't have been recorded, so we'll never know! Certainly around the time of madrigals there was a lot of improvisation. Bach certainly loved chromaticism and jazz embraces that big time —I think that's one of the reasons why jazz musicians appreciate and take their hats off to him.

In some of those later etudes and fugues he's on the verge of atonality practically. You can't go further in the same vein, in the same idiom as Bach because he was his own summit. If you want to do something then you have to find another summit to climb because you can't go higher than the summit itself [laughs]. I think people from all traditions recognize that in him.

AAJ: Coming back down to base camp, I wanted to ask you about your experience touring in China; what was that like?

TG: Well, they're very different people. We felt that the Chinese were a bit more like the Spanish or Italians whereas the Japanese were a bit more like the Germans [laughs]. Our audiences were lively, sometimes a little noisy but incredibly appreciative and hungry for more. They wouldn't let us go.

I think they appreciated all of the things which we would have wanted them to appreciate—the liveliness, the fun. It's true that there's a spirituality in the way that I approach music but I'd hate to think that was somehow taking yourself too seriously and I think the Chinese audience really got the fun and the light heartedness of the whole thing.

They really wanted us back and in fact we're planning a release which will all be written and manufactured in Chinese, maybe sometime next year. Our promoter said that there were a lot of other cities that would like to have us play.

Certainly I was struck by the difference in culture; you really do feel you've travelled. There are cities there which accommodate huge numbers of people and they are bigger than London. You get a sense of "Wow! I don't know I've lived" when you go to China [laughs].This is a big place.

I would hope that their aspirations towards westernization are tempered by the sense of their own worth and the amazing contribution of Chinese culture. We are thinking of maybe using some Chinese themes to base some of material on for our Chinese release.

AAJ: Will this be newly written and performed music then?

TG: Yeah, it'll be the new project with the line-up which is just being sorted. I would like to get the opportunity to hear more contemporary Chinese music as well.

AAJ: Did you come across any Chinese musicians playing jazz or bringing jazz into Chinese music?

Tim GarlandTG: Among the musicians we hung out with while we were there we met a guy from the border area with Kurdistan and he was using traditional stringed instruments with bass and drums in a jazz way. A lot depends on the availability of what they can hear. For example, there's quite a healthy fusion aspect going on because that music has been around. In certain ways in the west that has almost been and gone but there is a lot of interest in that and kind of jazz/rock elements in the music, because a lot of these recordings are only widely available or accepted now.

I have no doubt given the ingenuity and creativity of young people that it'll be a matter of another decade or so before they're totally up with everybody else. They have amazing classical pianists. Asia was seen as producing musicians with a flawless technical ability but who weren't necessarily adding anything new, but I don't think we can say that anymore [laughs]. I think it's a pretty level playing field and we can all learn from each other.

I was struck by the warmth of the people, their keenness and their fascination with us. We were on the bill sometimes with local, traditional Chinese singers who opened up for us and they were singing ancient Chinese folk songs. I thought "Wow! I'm just scratching the very tip of this cultural iceberg here." I loved it.

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