Ted Gioia at The Daily Beast:

Aspiring musicians nowadays spend lots of time at a keyboard — but usually they are making their tracks at a computer keyboard. Judging by the hit records and most-watched videos, it’s probably wiser to learn how to manipulate software and sound files than spend years mastering a traditional instrument. Sure, a few hit songs still rely on the old 88 keys. Adele’s “Someone Like You” or John Legend’s “All of Me” each prominently feature the piano, and both rose to the top of chart. But these are exceptions in an environment in which acoustic instruments are mostly viewed as anachronisms.

In the midst of this decline, the jazz world has gone the opposite direction. The piano has not only survived in jazz, but is thriving. As I look back at my favorite jazz albums of recent months, almost all of them feature an acoustic piano, and pianists are leaders of the band in close to half of these recordings.

On the acoustic piano in jazz.

I just signed up for this. I feel I could use some inspiration and insight right now, and who better to deliver this than Chick Corea. It’s amazing how even one or two new techniques or ways of thinking can influence your playing, practising and overall approach to music for years to come. I expect this will be $79 well spent.

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When you confirm the subscription, you’ll immediately be able to download a copy of Who Are Your People?, a chilled-out and jazzy hip hop track I produced in 2012. This one was mastered by Streaky Gee, who’s done work for high-profile clients like Groove Armada, Lily Allen and Michael Nyman (Britney, too) – no expense spared.

Late last year Queen released a previously unheard track from the archive. Recorded in 1983, ‘Let Me In Your Heart Again’ is a beautiful, if delightfully cheesy, ballad written by Brian May. Quite a few Queen demos have leaked online, but — save for a 1988 version with Anita Dobson on vocals — this track was genuinely unheard outside of the Queen organisation. In the video above Brian May describes the background to the recording, which is fascinating if you’re a Queen geek like me.

He isn’t exaggerating when he says the sound quality on the original tapes is clear and crisp. It’s also good to know that it’s an amalgamation of two or more takes of all four of them (plus Fred Mandel on piano) playing live in the studio.

And kudos to Brian for the mix. A William Orbit version was released as a single but it’s pretty rubbish (as is his mix of the Queen-Michael Jackson duet ‘There Must Be More To Life Than This’). There’s no one better at mixing Queen tracks than Brian. Freddie’s vocal is always upfront − unlike in Orbit’s two efforts. Brian’s mix is available on iTunes.

From what I understand there were only ever a few unheard full songs (or ideas that could be fleshed out into full songs) in the Queen archive, and we’ve heard them all now across 1995’s Made In Heaven, the 2011 album remaster deluxe editions and now on Queen Forever.

Certainly latterly, the group tended to abandon ideas which they didn’t feel they wanted to take through to completion, rather than writing and recording a whole bunch of full songs then deciding which ones to use on the album. There are maybe one or two early tracks which are still unheard: a studio version of ‘Hangman’ has long been rumoured to exist. A Queen version of ‘I Dream Of Christmas’ from 1984 is said to exist, but it’s uncertain as to whether it has Freddie singing or if it’s just an early demo with Brian on vocals. Otherwise, I’m not aware of anything else. (Though I’d love to hear The Miracle-period jam track ‘Dog With A Bone’ get given the remix treatment.)


Once again, declines in sales of CDs and downloads overshadowed a relatively small gain in vinyl LP sales. Total album sales dropped 11.2 percent to 257 million units, according to Nielsen Music. Track sales declined 12.5 percent to 1.1 billion and are down 17.5 percent from the high of 1.34 billion in 2012. Vinyl is a small victory: sales were up 51.8 percent, but accounted for just 3.6 percent of album sales.

A 51.8% increase in vinyl sales in 2014. Hmm. Vinyl is great for the artwork and for those who like their music in a physical format, but the most important thing for me is sound quality. Mastering for vinyl involves too many compromises — digital allows you to hear the music how it sounded in the studio (or as close as you’re going to get to that experience). That’s what I want to hear.

One of the main reasons for setting up this blog was to give me a space to reflect on the process of creating and performing music. I’d like to document the various techniques I’ve tried over the years, the mistakes I’ve made and how I’ve overcome certain neuroses. Therapy for me and hopefully interesting and useful to others. Or it could be irrepressibly drab and awful, in which case I apologise for boring you.

To set the scene, I’m 33 years old and have been playing piano since I was around six or seven. I’ve been writing music for about as long. For many years I had ambitions of becoming a highly accomplished and successful musician, up there with the likes of Brad Mehldau or Jason Moran. That didn’t happen, or at least hasn’t happened yet. Probably, any sensible person would have given up on that dream long ago. But since I’ve always made progress — slow progress, but progress nonetheless — I’ve kept going, hoping that one day I’ll have the chops and good taste to produce quality work.

I hope that the very fact that my aptitude for music is, at its core, fairly limited may help encourage anyone else who’d like to pursue music as a pastime or career but isn’t immediately Bud Powell reborn. I’m writing this as someone who struggles with music consistently; not as an accomplished pro. Creating music is a worthwhile endeavour, as long as you don’t let the frustration get to you.

My journey towards becoming a half-decent musician has been a long, excruciating one. I spent a number of years in the beginning learning classical music, which I absolutely hated, but which did sort out some major flaws in my keyboard technique. The transition from classical music to being able to play jazz then took years. I still struggle with what you might call typical jazz gigs (showing up and playing jazz standards with a “scratch” ensemble), so much so that I gave up doing it a few years ago (there are reasons unrelated to just ineptitude, which I’ll go into in a later post).

I’ve seen others struggle with the transition from playing classical music to jazz, and I’ll address that subject in a future post.

What has kept me going early on is that every so often I was able to create something that sounded OK. First it was a single phrase I’d find in a recording I’d made which sounded kind of cool. This happened on at least two occasions between 2001 and 2006, once while jamming over Someday My Prince Will Come and then during a solo recording of Someone To Watch Over Me a couple of years later. The rest of the respective recordings sucked, but the fact that there was a good phrase in there was encouraging. If I could do it once, I could in theory do it again. I eventually managed to record three minutes of music (a whole song!) that was good enough to post online (a free improvisation, in 2007). A few years later still, 2014 in fact, I was able to record five tracks and put out an EP which got some good reviews and even a play on BBC radio.

Of course, truly talented musicians have likely put out a few critically acclaimed albums by this point, but I’m happy with the modest progress I’ve made, despite often sounding monumentally shite in the process. I very much look forward to documenting my rise to mediocrity through posting on this site.