Piano Musings

One of my ongoing projects has been the Piano Musings.

When I bought my piano in March of '05, I had been without a piano for ten years. Over time I had taken to idealizing the piano and building it up in my head a little bit - as a result, I was feeling some creative pressure and blockage. I knew I needed to free myself up creatively somehow. I had successfully completed a film scoring and orchestration program so I knew I could be creative in a planned, methodical way - but being creative in the moment, in real time... it's so different.

A long time ago I was watching an old Dudley Moore movie - I think it was "10" - there was a scene of him engaging a small tape recorder, speaking the date and time into it, and then improvising a dramatic neoromantic piece on the spot. I was floored that someone could do that, so floored that I never actually tried to do it. I had this big piano in front of me and I guess I wanted to be worthy, so I figured I should try.

The first episode of this podcast series is actually my first ever attempt at improvising a piece from start to finish:

First Night (4/28/06)

It was a really odd experience. While I was playing it, I was so hard on myself. "Oh my god, this sucks. This sucks. Oh, wince. Oh, god. Oh, that sucks. This is awful." But the recording device I was using kept me honest and kept me from stopping. And then later, when I listened to it, something interesting happened - since I didn't remember exactly how I played it, I was listening to it with the ears I'd use to listen to other music, and I actually liked it. Sure, it had bobbles, but it had a real mood, and something akin to its own narrative, and a semblance of a form, and the ending felt like an ending. I was actually encouraged.

To keep myself freaked out, honest, and accountable, I turned it into a public podcast and kept going. One thing that is interesting is that this kind of improvising doesn't get any easier. It teaches you a lot of discipline. Because of my classical background, I have the capability of playing things far more technically difficult than I can pull off in an improvisation, and that can get me into trouble when I start intending to rip off a flourish that I normally could only accomplish after the second or third try. I learned this most while trying to improvise something a week later:

Comet Jam (5/6/06)

There's no way this recording is my first take. I came up with the material in an improv, but screwed up all over the place. That recording is long since deleted. So this recording is a result of actually woodshedding the piece for about a half hour, and then recording a few takes and picking one.

The lesson is about discipline - learning to push yourself, but only just up to the point before you start going into overdrive. I keep relearning the lesson with my other pieces, which is why not all of them are the first take.

One of my favorites was actually improvised at my friends' house while they were reading bedtime stories to my goddaughter. I didn't have my recording device, so I came home that night and recreated it as best I could. It's ended up being one of my favorites of the series.

An Elusive Sweetness (7/4/06 #1)

I didn't publicize the podcast except through iTunes, but it appears I've got about 75 regular listeners now. I took a break from posting to the podcast for a few months as I decided to change around my technology platform, but I've continued to record them. I have a backlog of them that I'll be uploading periodically now that I'm on the new website.

You can find the rest of the pieces (close to 40 of them as of March 1st, 2007) by going here and browsing around. All are downloadable.

Jazz Piano Lessons on YouTube

One of those things that is cool about youtube. They've got people out there that are rigging video cameras up above their pianos, and demonstrating how to play jazz piano. This guy took it to the point of actually annotating his performance.

It's interesting to note how much of purist different performers are about jazz. People that don't play jazz don't always understand what it means to improvise. A friend was recently dumbfounded to realize that I play my piano solos differently every time, perhaps thinking that all jazz performances were pre-written. Others see it on the other end of the spectrum - that improvisation is purely inspired, akin to being psychic or touched by God. The truth is it's somewhere in between. (Okay... maybe not as close to the "touched by God" end...)

But here it's interesting to note that the performer is very definitely planning certain licks for certain points. The prepared bass part has a riff at about 1:57 that the piano mimics - he's clearly planning to play that part then. And when combos rehearse tunes for performance, it's common for instrumentalists to work out favorite licks to the point where a solo section becomes a bit more structured and prepared; very different than what would come out at a fakebook jam. It's more prepared than I'd want to be for a gig.

I still get stuck in wanting to know what the "right" way to do it is - if I'm improvising "too much" or relying "too much" on licks I already know. I think the truth is there just isn't a right (or wrong) answer.

Hi There!

Yep, it's the first real entry of my new website. If you're reading this, you probably got invited to show up, and now you're wondering what the heck you're doing here and what you should do next. Assuming you already know who I am, then here's what to do!

First, you very definitely should sign up for my mailing list! That's the most important part! It's the best way to be kept informed of what's going on with me musically. Here, I will make it easy:

Did you do it? Really, do it! Sweet, we're on our way.

Now for the rest. Over on the right sidebar you'll see a "Browse Music" section. That's where you can find all my music, sorted in various ways. (Or you can just look at all of it.) Go ahead, click around - every entry has a nifty little "play" button.

You can also get all that audio delivered to you automatically if you subscribe to my podcasts. I highly recommend that. I upload something I write, and it just sort of appears on your iPod. It's like some kind of magic.

This front page is where I'll be talking about what's going on in my musical life - what I'm doing, where I'm playing, and what music I'm creating and uploading. You can also subscribe to this page in your favorite RSS reader.

And don't forget to subscribe to the mailing list. It'll be low-traffic and non-annoying, I promise! This is what you should subscribe to if you have any interest in what I'm doing musically, because I might forget to email you otherwise. Regular readers of the site should subscribe as well. Also, if you have a myspace page, feel free to add me.

Thanks for dropping by! Stick around!

Theme & Icons by N.Design Studio
© 2007 Curt Siffert. Some audio protected with a Creative Commons license.
Syndicate content