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Celebrated pianist plays Dorothy House fundraiser

By Somerset Guardian  |  Posted: October 03, 2013

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Internationally acclaimed as one of Britain's finest contemporary musicians, working alongside artists such as Peter Gabriel, Madeleine Peyroux, Chaka Khan, Jeff Beck, Omar and Mica Paris, Jason Rebello will be playing a benefit gig to raise funds for Dorothy House Hospice at Cooper Hall in Frome on Saturday.

Jason has generously donated his fee, and all profits from the event will be given to support the work of this invaluable local charity.

Fay Goodridge, trustee and associate director of the Cooper Hall Foundation, spoke to Jason for Your Time:

"Rebello" is a somewhat unusual name – where did you grow up and what's your background?

Jason: It's not that unusual, it depends where you come from!

It's originally Portuguese, although has travelled by way of India via my grandmother who lived in Burma.

The only link to my heritage was that there were always excellent curries served up at home!

You were born and grew up in London, so what prompted your move to Bath?

I regularly came to a meditation centre in Bradford on Avon and fell in love with this area.

It coincided with the time I met my wife who was keen to move to the West Country and we arrived in Bath from London to settle and eventually start our family.

It afforded us a much better quality of lifestyle than being in a big city.

Do you think your cultural and spiritual heritage have directly influenced your music?

I consider myself very "English" having been born and grown up here, so culturally "No", but spiritually I would have to say "Yes".

I still meditate regularly and as a young man originally wanted to be a Buddhist monk.

So in that sense all my life experiences and observations filter into the music and certainly when I write lyrics that reflect my interests and experiences.

When did you first start playing?

I took up the piano, aged 5. My teacher could play the theme tune to Match of the Day and I thought being able to do that was incredible ...something I had heard on the television could be played in real life!

Those early music memories leave a lasting impression, and when I finally had kids of my own I spent a lot of time watching children's television and listening to the songs of their generation.

Getting to watch endless episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine was the starting point of me composing and making a jazz album specifically to appeal to children.

Who were your earliest musical influences?

I found jazz very difficult to listen to as a young child – my Dad played me Miles Davis and I just didn't get it ... it all felt a bit bleak ... where were the words?!

I listened mostly to my parents' collection – The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, then moved on to listening to more soul and funk – The Crusaders, Grover Washington, Weather Report moving towards Jazz Fusion.

Then I discovered Dave Brubeck, and re-listened to Miles Davies and was hooked. I think you need to develop your palette and learn the language of a new musical genre and that can take time.

I love piano jazz – Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal and more recently Neil Cowley and Zoe Rahman. I'm going to put you on the spot and ask you who are favourite pianists?

The most influential person for me has been Herbie Hancock, who I went to see live at the old Hammersmith Odeon aged about 14.

It's still the best gig I've ever been to – I was awestruck and just wanted to be part of that scene ... jazzy, funky, electronic, experimental, and open-minded.

As a fan of Weather Report back in the day, tell me about working with Wayne Shorter.

When I left college I was part of an enormous jazz boom in the UK along with Courtney Pine, Loose Tubes etc, and BMG wanted to sign me and asked who I would like as a producer.

Wayne Shorter was my dream ticket ... there was no other dream ... and it came true!

It was an incredible experience working with him, he had been almost god-like to me, but I learned very early on in the industry that all my heroes were normal people and that being successful and famous wouldn't make me contented.

Then it seemed like a bit of a disappointment, yet in reality it was a real blessing.

It's part of the reason why I've always nurtured the spiritual side of my being as well as the music.

How did you become the pianist in Sting's band?

Another piano player I greatly admired was Kenny Kirkland who was the original pianist in Sting's live band, who had apparently recommended my playing before he sadly died.

Sting sent me an email and asked me if I would like to come out to Italy and work with the band and I have played with him regularly since the early '90s.

What are your most memorable gigs?

There are lots of memorable gigs for different reasons.

When you are on tour you perform the same set each night, but once in a while a certain magic happens when everything is just right and comes together all at once – the band plays perfectly, the audience responds in a certain way as is with you, the ambience is electric ... I had experience that playing with Sting at the Royal Albert Hall.

As a key part of the boom in the British jazz movement of the '80s and early '90s, how do you view the health of the current jazz scene in the UK?

I think it's very healthy, vibrant and exciting. I'm always amazed by the quality and quantity of younger performers still coming through.

Let's talk about the new album, Anything But Look which is due out on November 4...

I'm just putting the finishing touches to it now.

It's a return to a jazz/funk/soul inspired album with guest vocals by Omar, Joy Rose and Will Downing.

It's honest and I hope people pick up on that and enjoy it as an album in its entirety – it makes me smile!

■ Tickets cost £25 to include a champagne reception which starts at 7pm

Jason's gig starts at 8pm.

Book online at www.cooperhall.org.

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