Award-winning UK pianist David Gordon draws on Latin music, modern jazz and Bach’s compositions for his new album released on Mister Sam Records. He’s worked with Jacqui Dankworth, Andy Sheppard, John Etheridge and Wynton Marsalis as well as being an in-demand classical pianist and harpsichordist. He talks about bringing jazz and classical music together with an ecological message. Feature by Alison Bentley:
LondonJazz News: How did you get into jazz?
David Gordon: I got into jazz mysteriously when I was about 10 – I had no jazz exposure. I was playing piano duets with a friend of mine. Without realising, I played a I VI II V chord sequence and the whole thing started to swing. I guess I’d heard something I wasn’t aware of. Then I started listening to jazz thanks to a teacher at my school.
I’ve had the opportunity to bring together Baroque music and jazz in many ways over the years. I wrote a concerto for jazz piano and strings called “Inspired by Bach”, where I was asked to base it on the 5th Brandenburg Concerto. Bach’s harmony is amazing, but I think I’m more interested in the motivic structure in the pieces that I’ve written. So April Fool for example, on the record, is based exactly on the 3rd Keyboard Prelude from the 48 Preludes and Fugues – in the second half we have the same structure but improvise instead.
LJN: It’s quite funky…
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DG: Actually, I wrote that way back in the 90s, when jazz dance was a thing.
LJN: The first track is Il Filo in seven?
DG: There’s an 18th century reference to “Il filo”: it’s ”the thread” in Italian – I think it was maybe even Mozart’s father who coined the term. When you write a piece of music it’s like a thread – it could go this way or that. Paul Cavaciuti (drums) does a great job of finding a Latin groove in seven!
LJN: Pachyderm is for your father…
DG: The tune and title came into my head when I was visiting him in his last years. Then it became a tribute – he had this incredible memory and wisdom so it seems to fit quite well.
LJN: It’s full of unexpected pauses.
DG: We tried a specific bass line so it would follow the melody but it took away the spontaneity.
LJN: It’s also about the extinction of nature?
DG: It can easily be a bandwagon, of course, but I’ve been very interested in ecological matters, particularly nature loss, since I was a kid. People respond well to Pachyderm and say there’s something joyous about it as well.
LJN: What’s behind Brandy for Four?
DG: It’s a silly joke. I was playing Bach’s 4th Brandenburg in a concert and in the last movement there’s this blinding sequence of chords. Then I incorporated a bit of the second movement into that as well, wrote a melody and more or less stuck it together. I love playing the melodica and doubling on piano – that’s done live, so one hand on each instrument. I’ve been heavily involved in tango music for a long time as well – it’s lovely to capture some of that phrasing. And of course as a keyboard player, to be able to sustain a note, and crescendo through it, isn’t something I would otherwise experience.
LJN: How did you develop your Goldberg Variations Variations?
DG: I don’t make it that explicit, but the very first thing I play is sort of chorale, with the Goldberg bass line as a melody. In the next section the left hand chords that I’m playing follow the movement of the ground bass line with different bass notes and I improvise over the top. I became very interested in the idea of the tenor line being a thing we improvised around, because as jazz musicians – in fact musicians of all types – so much what we do is bass up or melody down. The next part is a milonga rhythm on the celeste. The last section is in 11 with a bit of boogie woogie thrown in!
I should pay tribute too to Matt Butler who engineered it and co-produced all my records. He’s coming from a very different perspective – more rock’n’roll. He was Paul McCartney’s personal engineer and we had quite a bit of fun with adding effects.
LJN: Snapshots is another adaptation of the same commissioned piece as Il Filo?
DG: It’s basically the second and last movement adapted from the orchestral version. Drummers enjoy playing it! I got very interested in scale theory when I was writing this one. Each of the solos has a different take – in the first if you keep changing one note of the mode with a different bass line, you get a very pleasing sequence. In the second one I got interested in the idea of the melodic scale which is different on the way down from on the way up. It’s really hard to play – I end up with these Messiaen-like modes. The last section uses symmetric scales.
Tom’s Midnight Prelude refers to Tom Hooper, who is now the drummer In the trio but wasn’t when the record was made. He suggested I write something in 5, and again it’s based on Bach – one of the Preludes from the Second book of 48. It’s almost like a dream. It was originally for two melodic instruments – very few bass players would have been able to manage it, but Oli [Hayhurst] sails through.
LJN: You’ve mentioned Bill Evans as an influence?
DG: I got completely strung up on him when I was about 17 or 18 – his music was haunting me day and night. Tom’s Midnight Prelude reminds me of the slow movement of the Ravel Piano Concerto, and some musicians have made connections between Bill Evans and Ravel.
LJN: Shifting Baselines made me smile.
DG: I hope so – it’s a bit of a menagerie I think. It goes through various adventures, including this Elizabethan folk song called “Goe From my Window” which popped up in the middle. I’m playing harpsichord and virginal, which is a much better instrument for playing melodies as it’s more like a guitar or lute. Shifting Baselines are things I’ve become very conscious of: however we meet the world, that’s our norm. For example, the fact that here in the UK there are virtually no flying insects around these days – that’s normal to young people.
LJN: Mi-Fa is an atmospheric, dreamy waltz?
DG: It’s an old rule from the beginning of the 17th century about mi followed by fa, and the tune is all based around mi-fa progressions, rising semitones. I must have been going through a real phase of unloading a lot of things that I’d picked up and wanted to put into a jazz context!
LJN: Are there any jazz musicians who’ve influenced you in particular?
DG: The four big players from the 60s: Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett. More recent players include Michel Petrucciani, Jacky Terrasson, Jean-Michel Pilc – and about a million others!
LJN: What do the other musicians on the recording bring to the music?
DG: It’s the first Trio record that Oli Hayhurst’s been on, though we go way back. He’s a remarkable and deep listener as well as outstanding player and reader. Drummer Paul Cavaciuti’s sense of fun and groove and his go-for-it spirit are amazing too. The artwork was a fun thing to be involved with as well – I called it a Noah’s Ark for our time!
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LINK: David Gordon’s website
Categories: Features/Interviews (PP)