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AT the age of seven, the mum of London-born Andrew McCormack insisted that he learn the piano that they had at home.
The lessons didn’t last, but at 13 he became “more curious” about the piano, “then slightly obsessed by it.”
When his dad brought home a vinyl Columbia jazz sampler he put on So What, the first track from the epochal Miles Davis album, Kind of Blue.
“That was it for me!” McCormack tells me. “The music seemed otherworldly, and I wanted to know what the musicians were doing. So I started to explore as much Miles as I could find and the pianists associated with him — Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock.”
His parents were actors, “so I think performance in an artistic realm was always natural for me.”
He was lucky to find some inspiring teachers and one of them was saxophonist Jean Toussaint, an ex-Art Blakey Jazz Messenger, who was living in London.
“He taught me the language of jazz — that it’s an aural tradition, and how I needed to assimilate the skills of the past masters with the aim of doing my own thing with them.”
Since then, McCormack has made a clutch of albums and become one of Britain’s prime jazz pianists.
His duo records with alto saxophonist Jason Yarde like Juntos and My Duo are particularly fine and his live performances with Toussaint are brotherly and brilliant.
I ask him about this powerful creative empathy he has developed playing alongside marvellous saxophonists of Caribbean lineage like Toussaint of the Virgin Islands, and Yarde and Shabaka Hutchings — of Jamaican and Barbadian roots respectively.
He tells me: “It’s one of the wonderful things about living and working in London; being exposed to all the cultures and interacting together. These saxophonists are exceptional. I admire their artistry greatly, as well as them being personal friends.”
His new record is The Calling, made with his band Graviton, a multi-talented quintet with vocalist Noemi Nuti, either Tom Herbert or Robin Mullarkey on electric bass, drummer Joshua Blackmore and saxophonist Josh Arcoleo.
McCormack describes the album’s narrative as “an irresistible summoning to adventure which the hero cannot avoid without devastating consequences.”
It’s a journey of consciousness, so I ask him what qualities of consciousness does the protagonist seek, now-times in 2019?
“I think we could do with more truth,” he asserts. “I’m regularly disgusted by the dishonesty, vagueness and outright lies that seem to be acceptable now.
“One of the tracks — The King is Blind, is a timeless warning about arrogant leadership and its terrifying ramifications. Never has it seemed so relevant.”
I ask him how jazz musicians could provoke reflection and change about such official untruth.
“It’s enough for me to deal with the musical ideas themselves. I try to create honest works that make people’s lives better. Music is powerful and my place in the world is to use it for good.”
Hear The Calling and its testimony, potent sounds which “speak to us all on a collective level that we can intrinsically understand.”
Its narrative objectives are challenging and its music compelling: a griot’s tale from the heart and head of London.
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