I owe my late career experiment as solo pianist to Kate, who proposed the idea of an album. Having never aspired to be more than an adequate band pianist and accompanist I was not keen on the idea. Most of my piano playing these days is done behind closed doors, heard only by Kate when we are working on a song, or overheard from her studio nearby. I made a piano record forty years ago and didn’t feel I had anything more to add. To play Hélène Aziza’s Steinway in Paris, recorded by Jon, was the only way I could contemplate making a new album. I was relieved when one look at the budget ruled this out. But I’d reckoned without Jon Hiseman. He overcame my resistance to the idea in one fell swoop by announcing that he’d like to do the recording at his own expense. True there were other incentives. Jon was by then seriously into filming and had a load of new equipment to try.  He had obtained a once famous ribbon microphone which had fallen out of favour and become something of a rarity.  Jon had a theory about using it to record the piano.  He wanted to test it. This involved suspending the microphone just within the piano lid, in addition to the stereo pair.  His aim was simply to record what the pianist was hearing.
The Blake settings which appeared in Tyger have been subject to reworking and recolouring over the years.  Others have been added, creating what has come to be known as the Westbrook Blake.  The original emphasis on the prophetic and political strands in Blake has remained and been developed to encompass more fully the visionary and the spiritual.  Cultural, social and political awareness has been deepened by a growing interaction with Blake's sense of the sacredness of creation and humanity.
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The WestbrookJazz Moving Picture Show has moved here
12 March 2021
No. 47
The Westbrook Blake Fifty years After Tyger
 
I'm sitting looking at a 1971 programme, costing 10p, from the National Theatre production at the New Theatre of Adrian Mitchell's Tyger: a celebration of William Blake, music by Mike Westbrook.  Julia and I were so bowled over that we made return trips, buying tickets for the front row so that we could watch the band as well as the stage.  It was the start of something very special.  For Mike, it turned out to be the beginning of half a century of Blake-centred work in progress and continuing development.
Blake, in his use of street ballad, hymn and nursery rhyme forms, expressed himself in the ordinary language of men and women.  Mike takes these forms and provides them with musical settings which are both sturdy and fitting, and which leave space for the text's ambiguity, irony and imagery to flourish.
Blake wrote that in his engraving technique he aimed to display 'the infinite which was hid'.  Body and soul, infinite and divine, are indivisible, as are ethics, religion, society and politics.  All creation is held in unitary paradox, and Blake seeks to lay this bare and so to proclaim personal and social liberation.  Always the dissenter - religious, political, intellectual - he opposed every sort repressive authority: the established church, the monarchy, the straitjacket of rationality.  He set up his own subversive, image-stacked and heterodox cosmology in work that moved from childhood innocence, through experience and desire, into the liberation of eternal imagination and vision.
All is this is brilliantly encompassed in the rich and varied settings provided by the Westbrook Blake, performed with unmatched passion and commitment and rising to a conclusion of grandeur, deftly shifting in format and genre but always fitting the text with apposite genius, by turns witty, incisive, angry, liberating and, in the end, gloriously uplifting. 
Adrian Mann
Airshaft Trust
Tyger Programme
See our WestbrookJazz Moving Picture Show celebrating 50 years of The Westbrook Blake and 50 Moving Picture Shows HERE
19 March 2021
MIKE WESTBROOK @ EIGHTY FIVE
No. 48
WE’LL  ALWAYS  HAVE  PARIS
Mike Westbrook writes:
As a child my main interest was in drawing and painting. Having failed at  everything else I eventually got to Art School. I came to realise, although fairly skilled, I had nothing original to say as a visual artist. I fell into the world of jazz. I had no musical training but found in jazz the freedom of expression I longed for.  Fairly soon I realised as a soloist I would not change the world. Composing was to be my thing. But to have my work performed I needed a band. No one else would want to play my stuff. So with fellow Art students I formed my first band.  That was over 60 years ago and I’ve had a band of some kind or other ever since.
I have worked with some of the most brilliant and creative musicians around, and have traveled and played music in all kinds of situations. Sadly we’ve lost some of our closest colleagues, good friends and ‘companions of the road.’  They are remembered in the music every time we play.
I’ve been fortunate in having the help and encouragement of many people on the European music scene as well as in the UK. I salute those people dotted around the globe who have supported our music and taken this journey with us.
My musical education has been through listening, and through improvising on the piano. I learnt to play ‘on the gig’ and to compose and arrange by trial and error. I think I’ve now written for just about every Western instrument, (except the harp) and for many types of ensemble, jazz or classical. The discovery in the 1980s of a system that I termed 'The Smith’s Hotel Chord' was a personal breakthrough in composition. Setting Kate’s lyrics has done a lot to shape my musical thinking, and taken us into theatre music, opera and something we may have invented, by chance,  the Jazz Cabaret.
From the Brass Band to the Granite Band, the Trio to the Uncommon Orchestra, it’s been a colossal adventure, and still is. Through good times and through difficult times, through swings in fashion, cultural changes and political upheaval, with the help of our friends we’ve been able to keep our ‘good old wagon’ on the road.  The effect of Covid may appear to be dragging some of us kicking and screaming into early retirement. Not so,- We ain’t finished yet!
Jon arrived in Paris in a van packed with gear, together with Barbara and with his cameraman Azar Azar.  We all stayed at 19 rue Paul Fort, near the Porte d’Orleans. Hélène has converted a tall town house into a big exhibition space in which she shows ceramics from all over the world. There are also several apartments. And in the basement a gallery and performance space. Here the Steinway lives.  And here Jon set up a makeshift studio, with a control room in a cupboard along an adjacent corridor.
The session took place just a few days after the terrorist atrocity in Nice. France was in shock. We were unsure whether the concert should go ahead. Hélène’s view was that it was particularly important that it should.
Between the two concerts we had a daytime session. Listening to the talkback I am reminded once again that, in addition to his accomplishments as musician, bandleader and sound engineer, Jon was the best producer one could wish for. Since the mid 1980s Kate and I made over a dozen albums with him, on all kinds of projects. Invariably he helped us clarify our intentions and was an infallible judge of whether or not we were succeeding. He was generous with his approval when things were going well, and frankly critical when we needed a kicking.  Not a day goes by but that we miss him.

I remember those days with Jon in Paris as a high point.
Mike Westbrook
March 2021
westbrook jazz Moving Picture Show
WE’LL  ALWAYS  HAVE  PARIS
Solo performances by Mike Westbrook at 19 rue Paul Fort, Paris July 2016, filmed and recorded by Jon Hiseman,  film edited by Chris Topley, screened in three weekly instalments on Friday from 11:30 am
First Set March 19th   Second Set March 26th   Third Set  April 2nd and available thereafter.
Moving Picture Show Index Page

Watch the three sets in one film here
Mike Westbrook solo piano recordings

PIANO Impetus 1978 download only
PARIS   ASC Records 2016
STARCROSS BRIDGE   hatOLOGY 2018
available from westbrook records
Mike Westbrook’s 85th birthday is marked with a screening, for the first time, of films made by Jon Hiseman at the sessions that produced the 2016 PARIS album

 
Mike Westbrook                      PARIS score                            July 2016
Mike Westbrook          PARIS score                  July 2016
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