Category Archives: Piano

stanley cowell

A group of Jazz musicians from Philadelphia and New York came through Winnipeg in the mid 70s. They gave workshops before giving a big concert. I signed up for the piano session. It was with one of the first musical monsters I ever met, Stanley Cowell. He spoke to us (7 young pianists) about what’s happening on the piano in New York, watching him play it was apparent this situation was overkill, hiring Evil Knievel to discuss how to balance on a tricycle. He didn’t make us feel awkward, he was a gentleman, he said where I come from people are trying to have an independent left hand. I got that message and even though it was a long time ago, that idea remains never too far from my piano mind.


Sometimes people talk about different keys of music as if they are distinct emotions. Sister Rosetta Tharpe said B is the sad key, in an interview once, Dylan said E minor is the mystical key. Where do people get this certainty? And maybe it is true, but they seem equally sad or mystical to me. I’ve tried checking this out, paying attention to whether I have an emotional response, is there something I can articulate about this key or that key? And there is something emotional but isn’t that the potential for all music in any key? Plus each instrument affects the player by unique ways they are laid out physically. To play in E is different for the hands than to play in F etc. and that has a certain emotional response, me anyway. I do like the idea of this though, maybe because I just like the idea of music having super powers because it does. Like when the humans play 3 notes to aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and then the alien ship responds with 2 notes that complete the phrase.



Used to drive on the left and faster than the pack but experience altered me. Now the slow lane, no guarantee but better odds for longevity. Hard to not play fast when you know how to play fast, it often impresses everyone, except maybe you. Sitting with Jonnie Bakan yesterday discussing his thesis about cafe culture and Harlem and how politics and music intersect and that other more important school he graduated from, Freddie Stone school. He directed me towards spicey books I now need to eat: Adorno, Attali, Denning. Left music school in the 80s because of how much money I owed from having a student loan and what to do with my relationship to the piano. There is no substantial audience for what I’m drawn to do, freely improvised music, might as well pack it in rethink what to do with life and then I met John Oswald. Sometimes you have imaginary ideas about someone when you meet them. He hosted a jam session of improvisers in the back room of the Cameron and invited me to come. I agreed but internally imagined he wouldn’t be up to my speed. Turns out I was the inferior one. Lucky about Blue Rodeo but luckier to befriend John. Those years I played with him every Saturday afternoon I could, often just us. Loved our molecules smashing round the space while trying to keep up, the free draft beer from Herb, Handsome Ned painting bandanas in the other room, an audience of maybe 2 people and other guest musicians. Changed my driving, golden lessons.