The Lion Roars Again!
Had a rather splendid time at a village hall in Cumnor performing as Willie "The Lion" Smith again as the guest of the Cumnor Historical Society. It's strange how taking on a persona and staying in character can affect the way you play and address the audience. Taking on the guise of such a fierce and egotistical character is a bit like swigging whatever compound Dr Jekyll invented and releasing some latent match energy from my deeper psyche.
It's almost disappointing to become Nick Gill again with his middle class sensibilities and voluminous library of insecurities and self-doubts.
The Lion just knew he was among the best - if not the best - of the Harlem stride piano players and would even go out of an evening searching for Art Tatum in the hope of beating the master technician in a cutting contest. In some ways he was more interesting than Tatum, but it would be foolish to make comparisons between two genius jazz piano players who had both found unique voices and pushed those voices to the extreme.
And that, I guess, is what it's all about - finding a unique voice as a musician so that the performance becomes a musical rendition of a large part of your spiritual identity. That may sound pretentiously contemporary, but bear in mind that The Lion was well into his cosmic mysticism - hence wonderful compositions like Echoes of Spring and Rippling Waters.
Thanks to having a benign audience I felt that I stepped into the creative furnace myself and some of the same fire infused my performance as lit up the playing of the great classic jazz pianists.
My other half Kerry filmed some of the concert on her smart phone, so it may be possible for the reader to see some of this fiery spectacle on face book by following this link -