04 November 2014
A fixture on UK television and radio with his boogie-woogie piano playing, jovial personality, and banter with other musicians, Jools Holland really does love what he plays. Erica Worth meets the high-energy star. Read Part 3 of the interview now.
Jools Holland interview continued (Part 3)...
The big Squeeze
Whether he learned to read music to perfection or not, Jools’s path to fame seems to have been like a breezy walk in the park. At age 15, he formed the band Squeeze, with Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford. They started off by playing in pubs around the East End, and when Gilson Lavis came on board (he is still Jools’s drummer today), the band began to hit the big time. Jools has since made his name as a media celebrity – a performer and presenter who at times has seemed to put others in the limelight more than himself. Then there’s his famous 18-piece Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, which started its life on a smaller scale in 1987 as the duo outfit Big Band with Lavis. Jools obviously enjoys and needs communication with other musicians as well as sitting down to practise alone. Practising, and perfecting his style, is clearly one key to his success.
‘Ultimately, the real thrust of it is that you can only teach yourself. You have to start off by playing what you love and loving what you play. Then as you evolve you have to play what you mean and mean what you play – that is, you have to be confident about it, and clear, and play your own thing. Whoever you listen to, whether it’s Chopin or Fats Waller, you’re never going to sound the same as someone you’ve listened to. Two people cannot sound the same. It’s like two voices – no two voices can sound the same. You need to be inspired, but ultimately you have to make your own thing up.’
‘One thing I learnt’, he reiterates with even more passion, ‘is that if you want to play something and you really love it, that’s what you should try to play. Don’t bother with those you don’t. If you play what you love, you will learn it much quicker. The other thing I have learnt is that the more you do, the more you are able to do. Your mind gets in a set way of learning. You become more familiar with the paths that music takes – the chords, the themes etc. The process becomes easier.’ That sounds familiar territory for classical musicians. Haven’t we all been told that if we do our daily sight-reading, we’ll learn music more quickly?
And as I continue to talk with Jools, it strikes me more and more how there are so many parallels between classical music and ‘modern’ (for want of a better word) styles. I pose the question to him: do they share common ground? ‘My definition of good music is that if you want to hear it again, that’s a good piece of music,’ he replies. ‘It’s like you think, “What’s that piece? I have to hear it again”. It’s that longing and desire, and as a pianist, the desire to play it. That’s one of the great things that Duke Ellington said about music – the more you look at it, the more faces it reveals to you. Yes, the more you look, the more you are likely to find.
‘They say the two worlds don’t meet, but it’s all the same thing, that’s the point. It’s music – connecting and communicating with people. I suppose with classical music, it’s stricter in that there’s a whole form that has to be gone through. With pop music, you can condense it into three minutes. Here’s an example: there was a stride pianist called Donald Lambert who did a great version of the Pilgrim’s Chorus from Tannhäuser. I heard his version and I thought, “What’s that? I want to learn it.” So I got a copy of the original Tannhäuser – and it’s three hours long! But I kept listening to it. How did Lambert end up getting it into such a short bit? I thought there’s no point me just copying him, so we made a three-minute version of it – which will most probably drive the Wagner obsessives mad. But the chords are just great – the changes, the melodies.’