Jools Holland on boogie-woogie piano technique

25 November 2014
imports_PIA_jools-pic-46581_14693.jpg Jools Holland on boogie-woogie piano technique
Jools Holland speaks to <em>Pianist</em> editor Erica Worth about his piano technique and what makes a good boogie-woogienplayer ...
Do you need a special technique for boogie-woogie and stride?
Stride left hand is more demanding because you have to think about it first. For both, though, you have to figure out what the left hand is, and then do it on its own and not think about it. It’s like rubbing your tummy and stroking your head at the same time. And then you are also playing a piece that’s syncopated. So you are being a drummer as well! That’s the interesting conundrum of learning a piece – exercising your mind to learn and working out all the chord changes – and then forgotting it and letting it go.
Are you left-handed?
What about the pedal?
One of the biggest errors in this type of music is the pianist’s use a sustain pedal. Certainly for boogie-woogie, you mustn’t use it. But in music, Rule No 1 is that there are no rules! Same with the stride piano – if you need to use the pedal, do it sparingly. You need to hear the staccato. It won’t sound like a rhythm section otherwise. It will sound more fluent, which is not what you really want. Your left hand has to be like a rhythm section of a band. It wants to be quite choppy to make people dance.
Do you find playing boogie-woogie physically tiring?
No, not really. But one thing I have learned, as I’ve gone on, which Stan Greig said to me some 20 years ago (he was a great boogie-woogie and jazz pianist): ‘You play quite hard. Do you want to try to playing a bit lighter?’ He said, ‘I’ve worked with Count Basie and he used to play quite light’. So I’ve lightened up and I have found it less strenuous. I suppose it’s because I played for years on acoustic pianos that weren’t very loud… and everyone else was.
Do you do exercises?
Sometimes if I’m finding I’m missing something consistently, I will. An upward glissando is very easy for me, but downwards not quite as concise. Sometimes I will deliberately do a lot of arpeggios up and down, in different keys. Sometimes I notice I’m speeding up, so I will turn on the metronome and really listen. Particularly with boogie-woogie and stride piano (a small part of my live repertoire), it’s all about timing and making people want to dance. Too fast or too slow is no good.
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