Nov 172016

With thanks to Rob Adams.

louisdurra033-originalLouis Durra had a ready-made response when Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature last month. The Berlin-based Californian pianist, who brings his trio to the Blue Lamp on Thursday, November 24, has a very cool, groovy take on Tangled Up in Blue, one of the stand-out songs from Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks album.

So he was able to slot it into his live set instantly as a dedication to the new Nobel laureate.

The opening track on Durra’s 2012 release, The Best of All Possible Worlds, Tangled Up in Blue contributed to the pianist’s unlikely elevation to American college radio sensation. In a way reminiscent of Ramsey Lewis in the 1960s, Durra’s jazz piano trio versions of Dylan, Bob Marley, Alanis Morisette and Radiohead songs took a trick with deejays and became part of the soundtrack to student life across the U.S..

A follow-up, Rocket Science, released later the same year, made similar waves with its explorations of the Beatles, White Stripes, KT Tunstall and traditional Mexican and French Canadian material.

Durra is by no means the first jazz musician to explore Radiohead’s repertoire, for example, or the first to cover pop hits of the day. That’s an idea as old as jazz itself. Durra, however, takes it further than most, even finding jazz piano trio repertoire and inspiration in Scottish electronica band Boards of Canada.

“I’m not on a ‘say no to the mainstream jazz repertoire’ soapbox,” says Durra.

“I’m just as likely to play music by Cedar Walton, Hank Jones, Joe Henderson, Annie Ross or Brad Mehldau as, say, Snoop Dog. Jazz was once described as the sound of surprise and it’s my aim to make each piece have something unexpected about it, in the nicest possible way.”

Durra’s investigation of the wider popular music canon – his most recent album, Chromakey, has a typically understated exploration of country-noir singer Gillian Welch’s Orphan Girl – stemmed from his accepting a three-nights-a-week residency in a Los Angeles restaurant.

After years of playing an accompanying role, mostly in theatre, and having made a couple of jazz albums that sold disappointingly, Durra was in danger of losing interest. His residency, which presently expanded to four nights a week, allowed him to rediscover the hunger that had led to him turning onto jazz in his teens.

With four to five hours a night to fill he determined that he, his rhythm section and the bar staff and clientele alike wouldn’t get bored with the same tunes being played on rotation. So he worked up a repertoire of some two hundred items, ranging from jazz standards to songs by the Ting Tings, Radiohead and songwriter-rapper Ke$ha.

The restaurant’s customers liked what Durra calls his oddball pop covers. So he recorded a selection of them, gave the album to a publicist and found himself with a hit on his hands. When he then decided to investigate another market, he booked himself onto the Edinburgh Fringe and promptly won an award, a Herald Angel, one of the much coveted statuettes that Glasgow-based newspaper The Herald awards for performing excellence during Edinburgh’s festival season.

On his way back to California after his second Edinburgh Fringe run Durra stopped off in Berlin, loved the feel of the city and decided to move there. Wanderlust and the lure of the Parisian jazz scene will see him relocate to the French capital in the not too distant future but his raison d’etre as a musician remains as it was during his restaurant residency

“I want to connect with the public,” he says.

“And the best way to do that, the best way to draw them into my way of playing is to give them something they recognise every now and then. Just because you’re playing pop tunes doesn’t mean that you can’t make them artistic and expressive. Besides, there’s poetry in Bob Dylan’s music – it’s official.”

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Jul 082016

With thanks to Jessica Murphy, Senior Account Executive, Citrus:Mix.

Hilltop_Piano_Bristol 2009A leading business organisation is bringing art to life in the Granite City and it could be found in unexpected places.

From doors in Aberdeen city centre becoming a canvas for local artists, to decorated pianos and fun Oor Wullie characters, there will be a rich variety of culture on offer under Aberdeen Inspired’s Summer of Art theme.

The organisation is hoping to enthuse the north-east public and make art accessible to all with a range of fun projects under the banner.

Summer of Art kicked off with the appearance of 10 colourfully decorated Oor Wullie sculptures, which are currently on display at Marischal College until Sunday (July 10).  Organised by The Archie Foundation, DC Thompson and Wild In Art, the mini touring version of the Bucket Trail will, like its bigger version in Dundee, raise money for the charity.

Soon after the Oor Wullies have travelled on to their next destination local artists will descend upon the city centre to do some decorating with a difference as they transform a number of sites.

From mid-July guest artists will work on decorative paintings on doors of local businesses, shops and other premises with the aim of brightening up the city centre and creating living art. Locations for the painted doors will start at Langstane Place and Windmill Brae and progress to The Green and Correction Wynd. The full trail will be announced in due course.

This Aberdeen Inspired project will be followed in August by the installation of the Play Me, I’m Yours piano trail, a global sensation which has reached more than 10 million people worldwide.

The brainchild of British artist Luke Jerram, it has seen more than 1,500 pianos installed in 50 cities across the globe, all bearing the message “Play Me, I’m Yours”.

From August 2 to August 21 imaginatively decorated pianos will be placed in a variety of prominent city centre locations ranging from the Castlegate and Union Plaza to the Courtyard at the Academy, with the aim of encouraging people to interact with each-other and express themselves.

The next weekend (Saturday August 27 and Sunday August 28) the arches at Union Terrace Gardens will host a Street Art festival. Led by urban and street art artist Karl Porter and up to ten artists, each participant will be given an arch to canvass their art onto, leaving a vibrant, varied and creative colourful space.

Gary Craig, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said:

“Summer of Art is about community engagement and making art accessible to all, as well as being a fantastic way to utilise and brighten up spaces in the city centre.

“It is also a prelude to welcoming Nuart, an international contemporary street and urban art festival made famous in Norway. Everyone at Aberdeen Inspired has been working hard to make these projects a reality and we are looking forward to seeing them come to life in the city centre in coming months.

“We have also been delighted to team up with The Archie Foundation to include the Oor Wullie Bucket Trail under this banner and it has been fantastic to see the great reaction from the public to the sculptures already.

“Local artists have been planning their artworks for some time now for our painted doors project and are excited to start working on them later this month. This alongside the Play Me, I’m Yours installation and Street Art festival will add vibrant and fun splashes of colour, as well as offering both visitors and locals the chance to try their hand at tickling the ivories.

“The level of engagement it has brought amongst people in other cities is amazing and something we hope to recreate here.

“There was a tremendous response to our appeal for pianos and after being inspected by Gordon Bell of Gordon Bell Pianos, who has kindly offered his musical expertise, all accepted donations are now at North East Scotland College where they will be decorated by students. We can’t wait to show off their handiwork and give people the opportunity to play them as part of Summer of Art.”

Aberdeen Inspired is the banner under which the Aberdeen BID (Business Improvement District) operates. It is a business-led initiative within the city centre in which levy payers within the BID zone contribute. Proceeds are used to fund projects designed to improve the business district. Further information on the work of Aberdeen Inspired is available at

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Jan 282016

Hilltop_Piano_Bristol 2009With thanks to Jessica Murphy, Senior Account Executive, Citrus:Mix.

Music could be found in unexpected places in Aberdeen later this year thanks to a leading business organisation.
Aberdeen Inspired is spearheading plans to bring a popular street pianos project, which has been touring cities globally since 2008, to the Granite City.

The Play Me, I’m Yours initiative is the brainchild of British artist Luke Jerram and has reached more than 10 million people worldwide.

From New York to London, over 1,500 pianos have been installed in 50 cities across the globe, all bearing the message “Play Me, I’m Yours”.

Aberdeen Inspired will bring the global phenomenon to life in the city centre if voted through for another five-year term. A renewal ballot will open on February 04 and will run until March 17, with city centre businesses with a rateable value above £27,500 invited to vote on whether the organisation continues to deliver city wide benefits and improvements.

The exhibition will consist of a minimum of 10 pianos, which will be brightened up and imaginatively decorated by students at the North East Scotland College. They will then be placed in a range of prominent city centre locations available for anyone to tinkle the ivories for two to three weeks. The project aims to encourage people to engage with their city by providing a resource for the public to express themselves and interact with each other.

Gary Craig, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said:

“The Play Me, I’m Yours project is a fantastic one which has achieved worldwide recognition and one we are hoping to bring to Aberdeen. The level of engagement it has brought amongst people in other cities is incredible and something we wish to replicate here.

“It is about bringing the Aberdeen community together through music and is a great way to utilise and brighten up spaces in the city centre for residents and visitors, with an open invitation for anyone to enjoy them and try their hand at playing something.

“This is a project everyone at Aberdeen Inspired is very passionate about and hope to bring to life for the people of the Granite City. We are asking anyone with an old piano they are willing to donate to get in touch with us and if we are voted through for another term, we will make Play Me, I’m Yours a reality.”

“In the meantime, we are looking for organisations to host the pianos during their display, covering them if it rains and taking them inside at night, so if your business is interested in this please let us know.”

At the end of the street pianos event in Aberdeen, a number of the pianos will be auctioned off. All proceeds will go to local city centre charities; Grampian Society for the Blind, British Heart Foundation, Barnardo’s, Befriend a Child and Cancer Research UK.

Aberdeen Inspired is appealing to anyone in the Aberdeen area who is willing to donate an old but still playable upright piano in relatively good condition to email If successful in the renewal ballot, the organisation will get in touch soon afterwards to test suitability and arrange uplift. Gordon Bell of Gordon Bell Pianos has offered his expertise in examining the pianos and tuning them if needed.

Aberdeen Inspired is the banner under which the Aberdeen BID (Business Improvement District) operates. It is a business-led initiative within the city centre in which levy payers within the BID zone contribute. Proceeds are used to fund projects designed to improve the business district. Further information on the work of Aberdeen Inspired is available at

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Oct 222015

Philip Clouts Jazz Quartet_©Lucas Aliaga-Hurt-1With thanks to Rob Adams.

Pianist Philip Clouts’ quartet plays the Blue Lamp in Gallowgate on Thursday, October 29 as part of a UK tour to mark the release of a new album, Umoya, one of the first releases on the new jazz imprint of American classical label Odradek.

It’s an album that confirms the Cape Town-born Clouts’ ongoing love affair with South African music as well as encompassing rhythms and melodies from around the world.

“Jazz and world music have been important to me throughout my musical life,” says Clouts, who grew up in London.

“I’m inspired by both the freedom of jazz and the rootedness of world music with its sense of dance, community and spirituality. Listening to both genres always suggests a variety of rhythmical, harmonic and melodic approaches.”

Although he came over to the UK from Cape Town with his family as a young child in the early 1960s, Clouts grew up hearing the music of his homeland thanks to his parents having brought their favourite records with them.

After his two older brothers began taking piano lessons, he impressed the family by picking up what his siblings were playing by ear. His own piano lessons didn’t go so well initially but hearing the great British pianist Stan Tracey on a television programme when he was twelve attracted him to jazz and made him take the instrument more seriously.

He later formed the band Zubop and toured all over the UK, playing jazz with a definite South African flavour, before he moved to his current home in Dorset where he put together a quartet that continues the African connection and embraces his other musical influences. Sufi music, Nigerian dance rhythms and folk music from Romania and Southern Italy, as well as gospel music, all figure in his latest compositions.

His quartet currently features saxophonist Samuel Eagles, bass guitarist Alex Keen and the Yamaha Jazz Scholarship-winning drummer Dave Ingamells, all players who have, says Clouts, taken to the multi-cultural mix of his music with real enthusiasm.

“Umoya is the Zulu word for ‘life force’. It can also be translated as ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ and I’m really pleased with the way Sam, Alex and Dave bring out these aspects out of the music,” says Clouts.

“We played at the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen about a year ago, with a slightly different line-up, and we’ve heard a lot about the Blue Lamp being the best jazz venue in Scotland. So we’re really looking forward to being back up there.”

Jan 232015

Leo piano With thanks to Rob Adams.

Leo Blanco has never forgotten the night he played at the Blue Lamp as part of Aberdeen Jazz Festival in 2007.
Now the Venezuelan pianist is playing at the mammoth Celtic Connections event in Glasgow with a band he has named after the Gallowgate venue.

Blanco played at the Blue Lamp with three of Scotland’s leading musicians, alto saxophonist Paul Towndrow of horn quartet Brass Jaw, Mario Caribe the Brazilian bassist with klezmer-jazz band Moishe’s Bagel, and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s star drummer, Alyn Cosker and the audience response stayed with Blanco when he was invited to appear at Celtic Connections with the same musicians.

The Blue Lamp Quartet was how he remembered them, and that’s the name he’s chosen for them eight years on.

“Musician” seems hardly adequate to describe Blanco, whose group appears at Celtic Connections on Sunday, February 1. As well as playing in groups such as this South American-Scottish quartet, Blanco is a concert pianist who has worked with top symphony orchestras.

He is also a composer, whose works have been performed by leading string quartets in the United States and by the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, and a professor of piano studies at the famous Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts.

But that’s not all. Blanco’s first instrument was the violin, which he played in the youth orchestra from the age of eleven in his home town of Merida, in Venezuela’s Andean region, and when he moved to the capital, Caracas, to study piano in his teens, he worked as a bassist in one band and as a drummer in another to improve his knowledge of these roles when writing for his own group.

“My parents weren’t musical,” says Blanco,

“but they wanted their kids to at least get some enjoyment from music and when I was about seven or eight, a piano arrived in our house. I was immediately drawn to it, to try and work out melodies I’d hear on the radio or on records. But I also liked the violin because it seemed to me at the time the closest instrument to the human voice.”

Practising was never a chore to Blanco and the hours he put in set him on the fast track, firstly to Caracas, where he studied at the Ars Nova Institute and the University of Musical Studies and then to Boston, where he attended both Berklee and the New England Conservatory.

He quickly became recognised in the United States, becoming the first Latin American to win the prestigious Boston Jazz Society and Billboard Grant awards and he has gone on to perform all over the world, including at the Edinburgh Fringe, where in 2006 he was presented with The Herald newspaper’s Angel award for excellence in performance.

More recently Blanco has toured the UK in 2013 as a solo pianist, a trip that included a successful return visit to the Blue Lamp and helped to keep the memory of his first Aberdeen gig fresh.

“I’m really looking forward to working with Paul, Mario and Alyn again,” says Blanco.

“That gig we played in Aberdeen felt electric and the crowd were so responsive. So it’ll be great to meet up again and bring some sunny Latin American music to the Scottish winter.”

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Jun 212013

A South American musician who is due to play in Aberdeen next week has unwittingly set off an unprecedented clamour for concert tickets in a tiny hamlet in Somerset. Thanks to Brookfield-Knights.

Venezuelan pianist Leo Blanco, who was a major hit when he played Aberdeen Jazz Festival in 2007, had never heard of Broomfield before it appeared on a tour schedule sent to him by his British agent.

Then messages started arriving via his website, asking if there was any way he could personally arrange to supply tickets for his concert on July 6 as it had sold out, or if he had plans to play in the West Country again in the future.

We hadn’t heard of Broomfield ourselves,” says Loudon Temple of Brookfield-Knights, organisers of Blanco’s current tour. “We were put in touch with a promoter called Music on the Quantocks who had never presented jazz before, but had had some success with concert pianists, chamber music and light opera and liked the idea of a Venezuelan pianist coming to the local village hall to play a solo concert. They sold out Leo’s date in about 48 hours.”

Music on the Quantocks uses no posters or leaflets in its promotions. Everything is done by electronic media and word of mouth and it seems that people hearing about Blanco’s Somerset gig and sharing links to YouTube clips led to his Broomfield visit becoming a must-see locally.

Leo’s still building a reputation in the UK and isn’t signed to a major record company, and we certainly weren’t aware of any big pockets of fans in Somerset,” Temple continued, “But there are plenty of really good films of him available on YouTube and I think that’s helped in this situation. It shows that musicians can create a demand for their music just through the music itself.”

Constant requests for Blanco tickets eventually led to Music on the Quantocks adding an extra concert the following night, Sunday July 7. It also sold out within 48 hours and Blanco now faces the distinction of playing to five times the population of Broomfield over two nights.

Peter Lewis of Music on the Quantocks admitted:

“The demand for tickets took us by surprise – pleasantly – and we’re now looking forward to welcoming Leo down here for the weekend. Everyone’s talking about it.”

A spokesperson for Jazz at the Blue Lamp, where Blanco is appearing next Thursday (27 June), confirmed that there are still tickets available for the Aberdeen concert.

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