Music pupils were given a real musical treat in December in the shape of “Harry the Piano”, a man considered to be, in the words of Jonathan Ross, the “best damned pianist in the civilised world”. From a very young age Paul “Harry” Harris has set out to prove that he can play “absolutely anything” on the piano and he certainly lived up to his promise. From classical to jazz, from film tunes to mobile phone ringtones, we named it and Harry played it – effortlessly. No request daunted him; when asked to play the piano backwards, he obliged without a hint of protest! Harry also managed to capture the audience with his wit as he described his early interest in a musical career which took him from a classical music degree at Sheffield University to becoming the resident pianist at Soho’s Groucho Club, one of the most exclusive venues in London. From someone who can play the piano (albeit not too well these days!) the words of concert pianist Martin Roscoe accurately sum up Harry’s uncanny abilities at the piano ‘You practise all your life and you think you can play the piano and then you hear Harry’
Graham Sneddon, The Scotsman
LINCOLNSHIRE JAZZ AND ROCK ACADEMY
The Jazz and Rock Academy, as ever under the watchful eye of director Lee Hextall delivered a fine performance alongside their hugely-experienced guests, who had travelled up for the day to lend them their expertise and advice. Star guests Simon Bates (sax) and ‘Harry the Piano’ (keyboards) took the stage to play a wonderfully amusing medley of cartoon themes. They were then joined by guitarist Dave Ital, bass man Dave Swift and drummer Chris Dagley for a brilliantly-played set that explored all avenues of jazz style, mellow to funky, and featured some superb soloing and tight ensemble work. A tough act to follow, but the students showed they were up to it in a richly varied second half.
Bob Neish, The Lincolnshire Echo
DEAN CLOSE SCHOOL
“Pupils at Dean Close Prep School have had a taste of professional life as a musician. BBC pianist Harry Harris, aka Harry the Piano, visited the school to host improvisation workshops, directing a series of 75 minute sessions with groups of pupils experimenting with improvisation and developing pieces together.
Rachel Hellier, Year 8 said, “Wow, what an experience. Harry has given me the confidence to try styles of music I never thought I would enjoy playing, I am really grateful for such a wonderful opportunity.” The pieces put together were showcased at an evening concert in the Centenary Hall, followed by a performance from Harry who astonished with his cabaret style party pieces. Harry said: “I love teaching children improvisation – watching them grow in confidence as they experiment with different styles and techniques is so rewarding. It can give them a fresh perspective to their music and is a skill they can enjoy for years to come.”
Tim McVittie, Head of Music said, “It has been a real privilege to welcome Harry to Dean Close. He is an absolute inspiration and our pupils have enjoyed the opportunity to perform and develop their skills and laughed a great deal as well.”
Harry the Piano Dazzles at Ardingly
The evening of Monday 8th May saw the visit to Ardingly College of piano virtuoso and improviser extraordinaire, Harry the Piano. As with other artists who have performed as part of the Music@Ardingly concert series, Harry first delivered a couple of masterclasses to pupils of both the Prep and Senior Schools. These focused on improvisation technique and gave the pupils plenty of ideas to take away.
In the evening, already wowed by some of the YouTube footage this phenomenal artist has (he has over 3 million hits), the audience of pupils, staff and members of the public were left spellbound by a display of sheer flamboyance, musicianship and skill as Harry dazzled us with his impressive memory, virtuosic fingerwork and light-hearted charm.
With numbers that ranged from interpretation on mobile phone ringtones to a medley of Gershwin hits, this performance was interspersed with witty commentary which culminated in a requests medley from the audience. This included improvisations on Batman, Queen, Test Match Special, Billy Joel and Mozart to name but a few and left the audience in a state of amazement as to the creativity, spontaneity and sheer brilliance of this fantastic artist.
CHELTENHAM LADIES COLLEGE
“Virtuoso jazz pianist and master improviser ‘Harry the Piano’ paid an inspirational visit to College last Thursday. In two afternoon workshops he gave girls an informative and entertaining introduction to jazz piano improvisation. Harry soon had girls improvising right-hand melody lines over his own 12-bar accompaniments and learning to convey different moods and characters even with the simplest melodic material. Many of these piano students had rarely attempted improvisation before but Harry’s expert guidance made things much easier and confidence increased with every chorus!
Harry’s evening cabaret-style concert was attended by a large and enthusiastic audience who were treated to his distinctive blend of charm, wit and astonishing piano-playing. Harry played his own arrangements which included classic medleys of Gershwin and Duke Ellington as well as comedy “mash-ups” such as Scooby-Doo in the style of a Mozart sonata and an operatic tribute to ringtones entitled “La Donna e Mobile”. The second half, however, contained the real highlights. Firstly, CLC girls Lily Jones, Ekaterina Nikolaeva, Stephanie Fong and Elaine Wong showed great courage and talent in extemporising jazz solos in a public concert after only one hour’s tuition. Harry ended by taking requests from the audience – “any tune in any style” and weaving these together into a completely improvised (and entirely unique) grand finale.”
World-renowned improviser, Harry The Piano, gave a keyboard improvisation masterclass to a selection of piano pupils, ahead of his evening concert. During the afternoon workshop, several of our piano pupils from nearly every age-group were given the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of Harry’s immense skill in sophisticated improvisation in every musical style imaginable – and were offered the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform alongside Harry in the evening’s concert!
Harry shared his depth of knowledge on the skill of improvising. He opened the masterclass by asking the pupils what elements of playing they find most daunting when they are called upon to improvise in a specific style, and used queries around manipulation of harmonies to guide pupils with demonstrations of subtle nuances of style, such as classical music. Harry also showed pupils how to improvise melody lines over a pre-decided chord progression, focusing on the 12-bar blues and accompanied pupils as they each had a turn.
After the masterclass, Harry the Piano performed a concert as part of Millfield’s International Concert Series. The concert began with a medley of well-known tunes, described by Harry as ‘…whatever comes into my head…’ Everything from Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor– as made immortally famous by Morecambe & Wise, to America from Leonard Bernstein’s West-Side Story. The climax of the first half left us with an inspiring improvisation on one of Harry’s all-time favourites, Somewhere over the Rainbow, performed in a beautifully sensitive manner.
The second half commenced with Millfield Musicians Robert Mulchrone, Yukha Machino, Theo Hirt-Madden, Harvey Morland and Lily Della Valle performing various, excellently crafted blues-style solos over the top of Harry’s striding bassline and crunchy chords, that they each learnt in the earlier afternoon workshop.
After this inspiring collaboration, Harry provided insight into how his mind works when improvising, explaining to the audience several of the techniques he employed to disguise the tunes and create new and exciting takes on existing works. Harry brought the performance to a close by improvising tunes randomly suggested by audience members in as many different styles as the audience could imagine – it truly was another dimension of creative thought; he even played a Mozart Sonata backwards!