Sunday, May 4, 2008

Jon Weber @ Piano for Kids, BMW Edge

12:00pm Fri 2 May

Jon Weber: Likes to Play Piano

It was well worth rising early (by jazz festival standards) to go and see Jon Weber do Piano for Kids. I arrived late and tip-toed in to see Jon sitting at the piano, surrounded by little people craning their little necks to see over his huge shoulders.

He sat, played, stood spoke, twirled and joked like a wise, warm guru, planting the seeds of music enjoyment and appreciation. Some of these kids might live a life devoted to jazz and may well forever remember the day they first heard the music of Duke Ellington played live.

It was such a heart-warming scene seeing this piano giant surrounded by kids (about 30 or so), as engrossed (as 3-to-11-y-o’s can be) in his mini-tour of piano styles and musical moods.

In the space of an hour, JW managed to cover major and minor feels, stride, Duke, quotes, improvisation as making your own version (something kids do instinctively), blues, classical, night, images, film + tv, Take Five, James P Johnson and on and on. These were all delivered in bite size chunks – easily digestible, fun snippets that I think had the desired effect. He maintained the flow and pace throughout, demonstrating a clear grasp of the young attention span.

The constant stream of information came predominantly in the form of actually playing the piano, occasionally speaking while playing incredibly complex things as if to say, “Practice, kids, and this will one day be easy”. Jon places enormous trust in the music to get the message across, using words, jokes, facial gestures and body language sparingly to entertain and keep things moving.

This Piano for Kids thing is a beautiful idea and in JW’s case worked in an impeccably improvised fashion. The spontaneous creation of a fun learning environment ended up just being a simple, logical extension of Jon’s persona: a piano player who loves to play. His visible, audible enjoyment is contagious, regardless of age.

I heard Jon say that if even one kid went away and took on jazz music in their life, he would be immensely happy. I’d say there may well be a few little ones coming down with a bad case of jazz after today!