INTERVIEW: Frank Harrison, pianist. (New CD: Live at the Verdict )

Frank Harrison. Photo Credit: Jon Frost

Pianist Frank Harrison has just released an album by his regular trio with Dave Whitford and Enzo Zirilli, recorded live at The Verdict in Brighton earlier this year. The album is being talked about as his strongest yet. Sebastian spoke to him about his development as a musician, and how the album came into being:  


LondonJazz News: What drew you first to the piano?

Frank Harrison: My sister was taking piano lessons so we had an old Victorian upright in the house. One holiday when I was 11 we listened to a lot of Billie Holiday, and I really liked the melodies and harmonies in those tunes. So when I got home I started trying to figure them out.

LJN: Who was the teacher who left the biggest mark on you?

FH: Peter Pettinger. He was a great classical pianist but also loved jazz. He introduced me to Bill Evans (of whom he wrote a brilliant biography) and that was a big revelation. Although he knew a lot of jazz theory, he took Bill’s attitude towards tuition: that you can show someone some chords, or a melodic or rhythmic idea, but then they’re just borrowing it from you. But if you let them find it for themselves, it’s theirs. So we talked about bigger things – the sound you get from the instrument, the overall shape of a solo. He taught me to focus on those things rather than on individual notes.

LJN: Was there a sequence in the way you got to know jazz after that?

FH: Yes – actually from Billie Holiday onwards I worked pretty much chronologically. I needed to hear each movement of jazz before I understood the next. I remember loving Blue Trane but hating A Love Supreme! Since then I feel like my musical life has been about removing those set ideas about what I like and don’t like, and becoming open to more and more music.

LJN: When I hear your playing I always find there is a strong melodic line and logic. Is that something that’s important to you?

FH: Yes. I try to play what I hear rather than what my conscious brain might come up with. I think that way you’re more in tune with the listener too – if you want a break in the line, they’re probably ready for one too. I think that’s something that Peter instilled in me from early on.

LJN: You’re a pianist of choice in a number of other bands, right?

FH: I guess so! I’ve got a few projects on the go at the moment. I’ve been playing with Gilad Atzmon’s Orient House Ensemble for fourteen years now and we’ll be touring a new album from January. I think it’s our strongest one so far. And I’ve just finished a tour with the Sirkis/Bialis International Quartet, which was a great experience. Asaf and Sylwia wrote some very deep music for that band, it’s unlike anything else I’ve played or heard. Now I’m starting a tour with Tommaso Starace playing music he composed for the photos of Gianni Berengo Gardin. It’s great – very melodic, and with a lot of humour. And I’ve got a new duo album with singer Edith van den Heuvel about to come out. I’m really happy with that one, it’s very intimate and beautifully recorded.

LJN: How long have you been working with Enzo Zirilli and Dave Whitford?

FH: We started playing together a couple of years ago. They’re both incredibly inspiring musicians to work with. Enzo kind of fits into Louis Armstrong’s definition of jazz: he never plays the same way once. He’s always improvising, always searching, and finds some very beautiful and unusual places. Dave is my ideal bass player. He’s got a perfect balance of rooting things when they need to be rooted, combined with a lot of freedom. Like Enzo, there’s no ego there – he just listens and plays what needs to be played.

LJN: How is this album is different from your others?

FH: The biggest difference is that it’s live! Our previous albums have always involved a lot of preparation, finding the right studio, writing and rehearsing the music… This one was never intended to be an album. We were on tour promoting our Lunaris album and I stuck my digital recorder on stage just to have my own record of what we were doing. But when I listened back to our gig at The Verdict in Brighton I heard something that’s very hard to capture in the studio. Playing close together in a great room and to an attentive audience lets you take risks, and - importantly -  have fun.  You’re not making judgments about what’s happening, you’re not wondering “is this the take”? You’re just listening and responding, so the music really plays itself.

We then spent a day in the studio mastering it – polishing it as much as we could, trying to bring the piano out a bit… The end result isn’t something that ECM would release but there’s something nice and honest about it.

LJN: In what formats are you making it available? 

FH: Since it was free to record, I decided to make the MP3 version of the album free to download. But as some people still like physical objects, we also printed a CD with a bonus track.

LJN: What gigs have you got coming up?

FH: We’ve got a couple of gigs in December to celebrate the new album. On the 3rd we’re at the Albion Beatnik in Oxford (the bonus track on the CD was from a gig we did in Oxford). And then on December 12th we’re back at The Verdict in Brighton. We’ll also be doing a London launch in the spring.

Frank Harrison Trio – Live at The Verdict is available as a free download or to buy on CD HERE  (pp)

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