Sunday, March 15, 2009

Microjazz piano recording

I spent all of yesterday (14th March) recording all three Microjazz Collections on a Bosendorfer grand piano at Cream Studios in North London - it looks very impressive doesn't it! These will be released on a production library album (or albums) by Cavendish Music ( and you'll hopefully also see these pieces-as-played-by-the-composer on iTunes soon. My  website will also have sound clips from these recordings available to listen to in the near future.
It was surprisingly exacting work! The pieces often leave the performer nowhere to hide - you need to be able to keep a steady beat going, the capacity to play syncopated ideas without rushing and plain old flair! Some of the pieces (Get in step, or Tiger Blues for example) really kept this particular performer on his toes.
I had an excellent producer/engineer working with me - Gerry O'Riordan ( who also records the music for Doctor Who! He's a drummer as well as a superb engineer, so any mis-timings were pounced upon eagerly...
Keep watching the site for some final edited and mixed examples from this recording day - all 3 Microjazz Collections were done, including 2 duets with myself from Microjazz Collection 1.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Altrincham workshop 3rd March 2009

The final workshop of my whirlwind UK tour - organised by H Wright Greaves Ltd, a local dealer who specialise in sheet music, this was done rather differently (and very effectively) A local jazz club was hired and teachers and students sat at tables with food and drink. A cabaret-style presentation! A local clarinet and piano duo played beautifully in the breaks (including some world premiere performances of Concert Collection Clarinet) and I sat  at a keyboard at audience level (see above) ; this helped to involve teachers, students and parents.

The youngest student, Alicia, was 7 years old and had previously had only 2 lessons. She did well with some of the American Popular Piano Prep Skills book. A 13-year old boy did some improvising very effectively and an adult student came and helped me play In the Bag from Microstyles. A lot of fun was had by all (me included)  Two of the young players are pictured at the top, both students of the same teacher (also pictured) and both obviously loving their studies.

Liverpool workshop 2nd March 2009

The workshop in Liverpool was in Music Notes, a store right in the city centre - I got the train to Liverpool from Leeds and the short taxi ride to the venue took me past the amazing, dramatic historic buildings in Liverpool Centre. This included St Georges Hall, re-opened in 2007 after a major refurbishment and apparently a favourite building of Prince Charles. 
I was assured a warm Liverpool welcome from the teachers and the shop's team were great - one of the young and enthusiastic staff members is pictured on the left. With staff like this, I feel that there is a future for city centre music stores! 
Teachers were great - many knew my material from way back and all were interested in the new things on offer. Lots of questions and participation - lovely!

I also played some Preludes at the end so that teachers could hear that there were really stretching pieces for their teenage students - the top picture is me obviously concentrating hard, as it happens playing Rock Prelude no 3 (yes, Jingo)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Cambridge workshop 28th February 2009

And so to Cambridge, where the local music dealer was The Music Gallery, regarded locally as a particularly good piano shop. The welcome was warm and the audience were very good-humoured, as you can see from the picture above! 

One young performer needed relatively little persuasion to play a very well-received "Joy to the World" (Concert Collection 1) from memory (there she is, below left) And another young man came with his teacher and was obviously going to go home and try some of the most taxing pieces right away...
My favourite moment in this workshop was when an older man said that both his children had learned the piano and both had given up and now he has grandchildren and feels that this may be his last chance to see sustained progress on piano from close relatives! He was very excited about American Popular Piano, not as a teacher, student or parent but as a non-playing grandparent. He's on the far right of the long picture above and, fittingly for Cambridge, this picture has a nice "old master" feel to it (much like the composer..)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

UK tour part 2 - Shrewsbury, Shropshire 23rd February 2009

Shrewsbury is a really pretty town in Shropshire, further north than the Cotswolds, but just as worth a visit! More and more people are choosing to retire there, partly because it's so pretty, partly because the cultural life is rich and varied. Lots of music-making goes on and the local music dealer, Salop Music Centre (, is well able to service this bouyant market. Sheet music specialist Margaret Andrews hired a very nice modern venue for the workshop, including a beautiful grand piano, which I like to think brought out the best in my playing! 

The teachers were very interested in American Popular Piano, but I also encountered some die-hard Microjazz fans. One lady, pictured above (on my left) had brought a student along (on my right) so that the next generation could be shown the true path.. My eyes are closed because it was so blissful to feel this cross-generational support....

Teachers were fascinated to hear that my material now starts at elementary level (American Popular Piano Preparatory) and goes through to almost concert level (Rock, Latin, Jazz and Country
 Preludes) The other picture here shows the teachers and students looking at the full range of books.

UK workshops February/March 2009 - Camden, London

I'm typing this on the train from Leeds to London, having completed a mini-UK tour which took me from London to Liverpool, Cambridge, Shrewsbury and Altrincham. I was speaking to groups of music teachers, but also students (as young as 7) parents and even grandparents, as you will hear!

First up was a workshop in Camden, north London on 20th February. Hosted by Dot's Music ( this was an afternoon workshop and the relatively good turnout was partly because it was scheduled for the end of half-term. It was held in a lovely old church off Camden High Street (see picture above)

The teachers were very interested in American Popular Piano ( because Microjazz is now what you might call a "mature" product (I guess I am as well!) and this is the first major new series from Christopher Norton in years. The whole idea of a series using contemporary popular styles to teach students to read music, play well and enjoy listening to themselves struck a (ahem...) chord. But it was when I got teachers to come and improvise that interest really picked up. My "student" pictured above right was a teacher who said he was looking for something fresh for himself as well as for his students - teachers can get a bit jaded and a new angle can come as something of a relief!

One other participant said he was a sax player and teacher and was pleasantly surprised to find that my teaching methods were very similar to his - we'd both come to similar conclusions about what might be needed (and more importantly, what might work) independently.

Thanks to Dot, a french horn player -tuned-music dealer, whose enthusiasm for music and helping teachers seems undiminished.