Podcast: Sam Makin Plays a Grand Piano Interpreting Classic Jazz Standards
This is a podcast of Edinburgh musician Sam Makin playing a grand piano interpreting some classic jazz standards. A talented pianist, composer and teacher, here he plays for the Ragged University audience. As a solo performer on Piano he has played at various events over many years polishing his skills and expanding his repertoire.
With an eclectic taste and a passion for picking up classical piano technique to bring into the jazz genre, you will be able to hear the distinct edge he brings to the jazz standards:
- Don’t Get Around much any More
- Just Friends
- Beautiful Love
- Stella by Starlight
- Blues by Five
- I Wanna Talk about You
- Manic Minor
- Song For Connie
- Lapen Culture
- All of Me
- Black Orpheus
In Sam’s Words…
When planning a solo performance for a focused attentive audience I tend to think in terms of a curve of intensity which reaches its height at about two thirds the way through or a little later, so for an hour long performance this is about the 40 minute mark. This intense part I like to think of as the “Fireworks” where things, hopefully, lift a bit and new things may happen.
For the Ragged audience I have chosen to play mostly Jazz Standards alongside three of my original compositions. I start with a relatively familiar tune, then my current favourite standards, a blues, my own pieces, some “light relief” in the form of a slightly comical standard, then an end piece of some serious note.
A jazz standard is generally a thirty two bar structure with a set melody and chord sequence, on which many of the great players built their noted and now lauded live and recorded works. It serves as a template which can be altered and extended in many ways. A blues is a 12 bar structure that has grown from the blues tradition which in turn are loosely based on the old work songs and spirituals.
On solo piano there two main challenges while performing standards. These are creating variety of feel and what to do in the left hand as accompaniment.
It is important to consider the feel and mood of the piece as well as avoid using similar devices too often. In the left hand, a chordal approach may not be driving enough, while a feel too close to rag time -plonk, chord, plonk, chord can sound too, well, ragtime. So I generally mix and match various chords, extracts of bassline, and double with both hands, ie play the same thing on different parts of the keyboard simultaneously.
Usually the “head”, or melody, of a piece is presented first, and also at the end. In group performances, soloists often take turns to “blow”, that is, improvise over a set harmony. An illusion of this can be created using various techniques such as highlighting a “walking” bassline with the left hand, as the double bass player would in the band.