Thursday, 28 January 2010

Composer - Player & Duke Ellington

One sheet of Stan's original hand written manuscript for 'Afro Charlie Meets The White Rabbit'

Do you find writing difficult?

STAN: I find it difficult in that I reject a hell of a lot of what I do.. y'know of what I write. For instance I start writing a piece and about 4 or 5 sheets of manuscript later there's just a couple of references in the final product to how it started out. First of all I write far to many notes then I start honing it.. and slimming it down and sometimes in the slimming down something else will suggest itself that is better than what I have and then having done that what precedes or follows that better idea I can hear I could have done something better to get in to that bit or coming out of it, or what follows it could have been better, so what precedes or follows it is rejected in favour of something more sympathetic to the new idea that came about at that spot. As the process, as I say about 5 sheets of manuscript later it has completely or 90% of it is a different theme or piece to the way it started.

Do you work the lines and the harmonies at the same time?

Whatever comes first. It could be the rhythm or the harmonies or the melody. Just writing the first two bars is the hardest thing even of it's rubbish. If I've got two bars of rubbish I can turn it into something a little better and build on it. But it has to pass my good house keeping test and a lot of it fails that test. Trouble is of you write a phrase instead of doing the wise thing and carrying on I start dwelling on that phrase and the longer you dwell on it... it's like if you start saying a word over and over again it sounds completely silly.. I don't know if you take the word 'belly' if you keep saying the word belly over and over again it looses all meaning. It just becomes a meaningless sound and that's what happens to me if I keep going over a phrase. It becomes meaningless. So I've taught myself not to do that as much as I use to. Just pass on.. come back to it. It's at the back of my mind I'm not really happy with it and I'll build on that or go back to it, and that's when the transformation takes place. Maybe I'll reject... sometimes when I go back to it just falls into place like that. Why didn't I think of that in the first place, it's so simple and so right. Then having done that everything that follows it needs to be changed. Maybe of there's some particular part of it I want to keep I'll try to keep it even in it's original form or a slightly different form, y'know containing the essence of it and then just building it up until I'm satisfied with the whole thing. And it takes along time. I'm not a quick worker. I think a lot of the stuff I do.. like if I'm at the keyboard I sort of disappear up my own arse sometimes.. with it all. I write far better stuff and more logical watching television. Y'know I'll take down on a piece of manuscript.. take it down stairs and I can watch a television programme and I'll drift off the programme in my mind on to the piece of music I'm writing and because I'm not concentrating so hard on doing it ideas come easier, better ideas come easier and a lot of the stuff I've written has been done watching the television. It really works.. which is handy. (laughs)
If I'm sitting at the keyboard I start playing like a piano player and not a composer, when I'm away from the keyboard I'm a composer.

Not that you have to make a choice but would you still rather play. Is playing your main thing?

I would still rather play. I find writing the most difficult thing. All I ever wanted to be was a piano player having fun, but I guess I have to do some writing. There are people who ask me to do it and I suppose I might as well play my own charts than other peoples. Financially it's rewarding, although I have to say I do not do it for the reward. There is no ointment that will take that pain away... but er it not my choice, not my first choice.

There's this nice piano solo album 'Hello Old Adversary'.

Oh right yeah..

Because that has reference to your free (music) periods.

Oh yeah whatever came out of that there was nothing preconceived. I was still on the instant theme packet.. add water and there's the theme.

But the chord changes a lot of times, the harmonics too..

Yeah I can improvise chord changes until further orders, that no problem. I'm lucky in that respect so with an album like that because handling harmonies going in all directions is no problem for me it's fairly easy to fake a theme over it.


One of the tunes on that album is dedicated to 'Eddie K' (title)) which is blues appropriately enough. We haven't talked about the influence and what Ellington means to you.

NOTE: Stan's album liner notes in 'Hello Old Adversary' to the track -
EDDIE K. is, I hope, a not too irreverent diminution of Edward Kennedy Ellington. For me Ellington the pianist, composer and orchestrator is supreme - and a constant inspiration. The contribution made and the enrichment given by the giant talents of Edward Kennedy to Jazz are beyond assessment.

STAN: Well I'd heard Ellington but I didn't really hear him until I was in my thirties or approaching nearly thirty-ish and then suddenly I heard him and I realised what a monster talent he had as an orchestrator, composer and a pianist. Totally unique music. Everything about it just beautiful. I have to say he's been a great influence. Something to aspire to, not to reach those great heights but to inspire me in the direction I'm in.
There's quite a few Ellington pieces I like to play... 'Sophisticated Lady', 'Prelude To A Kiss' several others I can't recall at the moment. Yeah they're fun to play.

Duke Ellington and his orchestra in concert in Copenhagen (1965-1971) - saxophone Harry Carney