Take Five Minutes With...David Grey

The latest instalment of our Take Five Minutes with… segment features Birmingham pianist and composer, David Grey. On 7th-9th April he will premiere his new project Wolves Are People Too, a vibrant new performance piece bringing together the worlds of ballet, contemporary jazz and live illustration at Birmingham Hippodrome’s Patrick Centre

1. When and how did you come to start playing music and then how did you get into jazz?

I first started playing when I was around 6 years old. My parents obliged my request to start playing the keyboard/piano, thinking that I’d probably get bored after 3 months, but clearly I never did! As soon as I had access to a piano I found myself improvising naturally, coming up with melodies and ideas, chord sequences etc.
With respect to jazz specifically, my early listening tastes were informed by my Dad’s fairly wide reaching record collection. He had a music room, and I’d go in and raid the shelves, picking up CDs from Miles, Coltrane, Wynton Marsalis etc as well as other things classic records from Stevie Wonder, Hendrix, The Wailers etc. I’d listen to the discs and then I’d check out the liner notes to see who else was on the record. I think that’s where my love of jazz and musical discoveries began.

2. What are your fondest musical memories?

I remember shutting myself in the room where the piano was kept. Playing until late, after my parents had gone to bed. Coming up with little compositions or trying to play some piece of classical music. That was an important period for me.
Also there are certain gigs that are etched into my memory. My Dad took me to see Hugh Masekela in Birmingham and I remember really enjoying it, the energy of the live performance.
Some other standout gigs for me include Claudia Quintet at CBSO Centre, Soweto Kinch at The Rainbow, Thomas Stronen at Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Phil Donkin with Ben Wendel at Urban Coffee (?!), D’Angelo at the O2 Arena and Ambrose Akinmusire at Colston Hall – not to mention sharing the stage with Snarky Puppy at Manchester Jazz Festival and supporting Marcus Miller at Birmingham Town Hall.
On a more personal basis I’ve had some really great opportunities to play with and learn from some great musicians including Mike Williams, Hans Koller, Jacob Sacks, Leo Genovese, Liam Noble, Pete Saberton and Michael League.
There’s so many great musical memories to choose from, it’s hard to narrow it down!

3. Tell us a bit about the path of your musical development. How did you get to where you are today?

In short: I studied music at GCSE and A-Level, that’s when I first started to get serious about it. I then went on to study Music (and philosophy) and The University of Birmingham. I didn’t really feel satisfied at that point with the amount of (practical) music I was doing, it was all very academic. In 2007 Birmingham Conservatoire launched one of its newer courses (an intensive one-year, graduate jazz studies program), I applied and from that point on I found myself right in the heart of creative/contemporary music in the city.
Since then I’ve gone on to do a lot of educational work myself, for THSH, Holyhead School, The RSA and lots of other organisations, so I guess it’s all come back around full circle.

4. When you are composing, what are the key elements do you aim to incorporate in your music?

I don’t really aim to ‘specifically’ incorporate anything other than a sense of story & drama or a sense of creating something from small beginnings. I like the challenge of seeing how I can build or develop an idea from something very simple. I enjoy taking a small and resonant idea and trying to turn that into a fully formed piece of music. I also try and think about the people who will be playing it. That tends to have quite a big influence, both consciously and subconsciously.

5. Which musicians/bands/composers have had a key influence on you and your music?

Ambrose Akinmusire, Brian Blade, Joe Hisaishi. I hate this question. Those guys have definitely been influential though.

6. If you were introducing a friend to jazz music for the first time, what 3 artists or albums would you recommend to them?

Gretchen Parlato: In A Dream/The Last & Found – because they’re accessible. Beautiful vocals but the whole band sound amazing too. It grooves, and the compositions are solid. Everything’s well presented.
Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band: Seasons of Changes – because it’s got everything in there, and the end of ‘Return of The Prodigal Son’ is probably one of the best things that has ever happened musically.
Ambrose Akinmusire: Confessions To My Unborn Daughter – because I think that’s about as honest and emotional as it gets, and I think that album would prepare you well for anything else you might stumble across in the world of jazz and improvised music.

7. Please explain a bit about your upcoming project or tell us about any musical ambitions/plans you have for the future (new projects, collaborations)

The main thing I’m working on at the moment is my forthcoming production with Hansu-Tori and Birmingham Royal Ballet, it’s called ‘Wolves Are People Too’ and it’s a multi-discipline performance piece inspired by the Japanese animation film Wolf Children.
Essentially it’s a unique blend of ballet, contemporary jazz and live illustration, featuring new original choreography from Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Kit Holder, illustrations from Nick Robertson and new music written by myself.
The show is taking place at Birmingham Hippodrome on the 7th, 8th and 9th of April, and I’d urge everyone to come along! It’s going to be great and not like anything witnessed in the UK before. We’ve also recorded an album of the music and we’ll release it later this year.
Aside from the ‘Wolves’ project, I’ve written a suite of new music for piano trio (with some additional parts for voice and cello) that I’m planning to record this year also. It’s called ‘Amidst A Swarm Of Butterflies’ and I’m really excited to get it recorded and play it out. No doubt there will be some interesting things/new recordings happening with my other projects too.

David and his collaborators are currently raising money to support the Wolves Are People Too project via a Kickstarter campaign. You can read more and make a donation here

Wolves Are People Too PerformanceTimes:
April 7th: 8pm
April 8th: 8pm
April 9th: 2:45pm
Birmingham Hippodrome: The Patrick Centre