Heather Hammond is well established as one of the best-loved educational composers in the UK today, with more than 100 publications in print (piano and woodwind) from a variety of publishers.
The last time I took a good look at Hammond’s music was in my review of her Ballads Without Words, brought to us by EVC Music. In this review, I’m considering a contrasting series of her music from the same publisher.
Grooves for Piano Dudes currently includes three volumes, including one with a special Halloween theme. All are suitable for intermediate players, and between them offer 37 fresh Hammond compositions in jazz, rock, blues and boogie styles…
Into the Groove…
Introducing the first book in the series, which appeared back in 2016, Hammond wrote,
“As an educational music writer I think it’s important to find as many ways as I can to reach budding musicians. There is nothing more satisfying for a composer than hearing their work performed. I am hopeful that through digital media, as well as traditional publishing, my music will hit many pupil concerts, festivals and perhaps school exam performances too!”
I am sure that in the intervening years Hammond’s wish has been fulfilled, because the eleven pieces in that first collections are consistently enjoyable:
- Imminent Danger
- Alarm Clock Blues
- Dudes Keep Struttin’
- Risky Business
- Mr. Jazz Man
- Beat Route Blues
- Brighton Breezy
- Blast Off!
- Good Morning Boogie
Four of these pieces have swing rhythms and make great choices for any player enjoying the jazz style and looking for catchy new material. The laid back Beat Route Blues (get it?) in 6/8 time is similarly committed to a cool vibe!
Elsewhere in the collection, Imminent Danger, Risky Business, Free-Fall and Blast Off! are written in an urgent, rocky style, Brighton Breezy is a delectable ragtime piece, and my personal favourite Good Mood Boogie is, well, exactly what the title says!
We must assume that the first Grooves for Piano Dudes book has been as successful as it certainly deserves, because this year EVC Music have brought out a sequel, delivering a further fourteen pieces.
Introducing this new collection the composer confides,
“When I was having piano lessons as a child, I was never given an opportunity to learn to play cool-sounding pieces, and, as a result, I actually stopped playing the piano for a number of years. I composed the Grooves for my own young students, as I know how important it is for them to play music they love!”
As with the first collection, many of the pieces indeed include personal dedications to children Hammond teaches, and how thrilled they must be!
The titles this time, equally exciting, are:
- Situation Critical
- Struttin’ Down Broadway
- Midnight Jazz
- Feet Keep Dancin’
- Jelly Bean Jump
- Choc-Chip Funk
- Tango ‘Til Dawn
- Wipe Those Tears Away
- April Fool Blues
- The Clown’s Apprentice
- Springtime Swing
- Back Yard Boogie
- Count Me In
Some of these fourteen pieces tread similar territory to those in the first collection, while others expand the range of styles covered to include calypso (Feet Keep Dancin’), funk, and tango. Wipe Those Tears Away channels the mood of a cabaret song, while Jelly Bean Jump is a 5/4/ pastiche of Paul Desmond’s ever-popular Take Five.
The overall range here is also a little more difficult than the first book, making this an ideal follow-up collection for players who have quickly devoured the first book in the series and want more. An easy recommendation!
Completing this trio (for now) of books, the third collection has been designed specifically for Halloween, offering a further twelve performance pieces:
- Prepare to be Scared
- Disco At Werewolf Wharf
- Ghostly Legionaries’ March
- Baby Vampire’s Lullaby
- Spooky Wood Hollow
- Midnight Ball Rendezvous
- Vampires Go Struttin’
- Tomb of the Unknown Egyptian
- Troll Forest Tango
- Night of the Vampires
- Für Grisabella
- Is There Something Out There?
Each piece is preceded by a scene-setting couplet in verse, and the difficulty level and general stylistic approach is the same as for the other collections, making this an ideal Autumnal addition for players enjoying the series.
Once again there is a consistency of quality across all the pieces here, making this book an equally strong recommendation for any intermediate player looking for a frightfully good Halloween collection.
As for adding to the musical scope of the series, this collection includes the waltz tune Midnight Ball Rendezvous, the only piece with a 3/4 groove. Elsewhere, Night of the Vampires describes itself as an “epic ballad”, while Tomb of the Unknown Egyptian is a deliciously evocative character piece.
Hitting the Groove?
Grooves for Piano Dudes is another triumph for both Heather Hammond and EVC Music: a series that sets a high bar in terms of consistent musical quality and enjoyment.
If I have almost forgotten to mention the books themselves, it’s because by now readers will hopefully be familiar with the house style of EVC Music. The three volumes sport 20, 28 and 20 pages respectively, printed on white paper within vivid covers.
Helpful fingering is included throughout, and the notation has excellent clarity and spacing. And as ever, recordings of all the pieces can be enjoyed and downloaded free from the EVC Music website here.
It could be pointed out that there are many educational composers exploring similar territory, but Hammond’s toe-tapping tunes in all three of these collections are notably a cut above similar fare. Importantly, these are collections where all of the pieces are worth playing, not just a few.
To summarise then, I think these books are superb, and can enthusiastically recommend you take a look for yourself!
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