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Bob Chilcott will be known to many readers for his lifelong association with choral music, first as a chorister and choral scholar in the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, and for 12 years as a member of the King’s Singers.
Chilcott became a full-time composer in 1997, and has produced a large catalogue of music for all types of choirs which is published by Oxford University Press. His most often performed pieces include A Little Jazz Mass, Requiem, and Can you hear me?
In common with John Rutter, whose Piano Collection and Christmas Piano Album I have recently reviewed, Chilcott has lately turned his hand to creating a collection of piano pieces.
Nattily titled A Little Jazz Piano in reference to his popular Mass, this newly published collection from OUP contains three short pieces suitable for intermediate players. Let’s take a little look…
A Little Jazz Piano
A Little Jazz Piano may not be a transcription of A Little Jazz Mass, but it certainly channels the same bright jazz stylings of its choral predecessor, and will surely be immediately embraced as such by Chilcott’s fans.
But interestingly enough, the genesis of the pieces was educational, as the composer tells us in a blog post he wrote for publishers OUP:
“Soon after the COVID-19 lockdown started, I began doing combined piano and theory lessons with my daughter, who is eleven, and her friend, who is a year or two older, using Skype. I tried to show them a little about some different functions that help to build a piece of music, and in the end I decided to write a set of three short jazz-style pieces for the piano, to highlight a few things I had learned, and help make it fun for them.”
The first piece, Bobbing along has a “bright swing tempo”, its syncopated modal chords recalling Miles Davis’s Say What? but with a more contemporary lounge jazz flavour. The melody is catchy too, and the piece has all the makings of a classic addition to the intermediate jazz repertoire, where it will comfortably nestle alongside the tunes of Mike Cornick.
Becky’s Song is more lyrical, its gentle melodic line shadowed by quartal harmony (harmony that is built on perfect fourths) that hints at Chilcott’s barbershop credentials. As he explains:
“Quartal harmony does not only have quite a contemporary sound but also a mobile and fluid function within the harmonic language of a piece. And, within a build up of fourths, there is an inevitable seventh which is a key interval in jazz harmony.”
The results are delicious, and my favourite of the three pieces.
While the first two pieces are for intermediate players (I would estimate around UK Grade 3-4), the closing number Walking with Ollie is easier to play, if also perhaps a bit less interesting. With its simple walking bass LH and single-line melody in the RH, the piece would nevertheless be enjoyable and accessible to a late-elementary player (around Grade 2 perhaps), delivering an attractive conclusion to the set.
Chilcott tells us that his pedagogic intention here was not only to help his daughter and her friend develop better independence of left and right hands, but also to maintain a good and constant sense of pulse.
Taken as a whole, the collection offers a delightful diversion for any player in the early intermediate phase who wishes to explore jazzy styles, but without necessarily becoming more fully committed and immersed in jazz just yet.
All three pieces are winners, and I enjoyed reading through them immensely.
A Little Book
The 8-page book is printed in OUP’s house style and comes clothed in their tasteful standard cover design:
Inside, apart from the title page we just find the three pieces, two pages for each. As always with this outstanding publisher, the notation is beautifully and spaciously engraved.
The only minor disappointment, given the level and educational context of the book, is the lack of fingering suggestions, which would have been welcome here, and supported independent learning.
A Little Conclusion
A Little Jazz Piano is a delightful and hugely welcome addition to the intermediate jazz literature. This little book is well worth your investment and time!
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