Blues, Boogie, Jazz & more…

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Paul Birchall is a veteran keyboard and piano player with a career in commercial music spanning four decades of touring the world with the likes of M People, Jim Diamond, Snake Davis and Wang Chung. Now based in Manchester, he composes for TV, film, theatre, and for his own record label.

Some readers may know of Birchall’s Daily Expressions, previously published by the enterprising EVC Music. Now he’s back with a brand new publication. Blues, Boogie, Jazz & More (again from EVC Music) offers a superb mix of nine pieces in contemporary popular styles with full backing tracks, suitable for intermediate piano players…

Exploring popular styles

Introducing this new collection of pieces, Birchall writes,

“This book of nine original dance-style piano pieces will make an enjoyable educational project for pianists and keyboard players who are looking to expand their repertoire. It aims to show how different piano styles work. The melodies, bass lines, chords and rhythms all contain clues to the specific genre in which the piece is set…”

The titles naturally offer their own clues too, and are:

  • Slimline Blues
  • Piano Ballad
  • Perro Peqñeno (Bossa Nova)
  • Rock-n-Roll
  • Country Waltz
  • House Beat
  • Bebop (Smooth Jazz)
  • Silly Old Rag
  • Kerfuffle Shuffle Blues

For pieces whose stated aim is to teach the core elements of different popular styles, I would not expect particular innovation, but rather a survey of common tropes and the signature elements that make up each genre.

Birchall delivers on these expectations brilliantly, bringing the abundance of musical expertise one would expect from so seasoned a pro performer, while also creating pieces which have personality and are thoroughly enjoyable solos in their own right.

You can listen to these pieces for yourself and make up your own mind on the EVC site. Personally, I could wax lyrical at this point, because I found this material an absolute delight to play through. My recommendation of this publication to students and teaching colleagues will be a very enthusiastic one indeed!

The book appears in eye-catching EVC Music house style. In addition to the author’s introduction it notably includes informative footnotes for each piece, introducing its musical style and historical background, with tips and playing suggestions. Outstanding stuff!

The scores are as ever presented spaciously and with fine attention to editing detail. Helpful fingering and pedalling are included, along with the suggestion that they might be amended to suit the needs of the individual pianist and setting.

Play-along audio

Significantly adding to my overall enthusiasm, each of the pieces is accompanied by three audio tracks, accessed via the publisher’s website. These offer:

  • solo piano recordings of the music as it appears in the score
  • backing tracks which can be streamed
  • performance tracks showcasing both piano and backing tracks together

I confess that when I first sat down at the piano with this publication, I didn’t consider the included audio. I reached as far as the fifth piece, House Beat, before realising that something important was missing! On the one hand, this illustrates how excellent the pieces are as solos in their own right. On the other hand it points to the high added value that the audio tracks bring.

As to quality, the backings are inevitably digital and sample based, but are of a higher quality than I tend to expect. In short I found them musically inspiring and am confident that players who use them will add considerably to their learning and playing experience in so doing.

I might add that sight-reading the remaining tracks in the book while staying in time with the backing tracks was an enjoyable challenge that teachers and more advanced players could gain much from!

Closing Thoughts

In a relatively few years, Elena Cobb has developed EVC Music into one of the most exciting boutique publishers of commercially appealing, pedagogically useful piano music, to a point where I now eagerly await each fresh release.

Paul Birchall’s Blues, Boogie, Jazz & More does not disappoint. There are many resources available for learning to play popular music styles these days, but as is their custom EVC Music have released a winner here: a publication which takes a simple idea and delivers on it with educational clarity, musical inspiration and tremendous assurance.

Blues, Boogie, Jazz & More… more please! This is simply brilliant!

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.