Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2017 Nov-Dec Contents 16 Rhythms
Pondering the impressive capabilities of the
orthopaedic registrar who operated on her broken
wrists, suffered after a fall while visiting the Gold
Coast, Jan Preston, in a booklet included in her latest
CD, Play It Again Jan, suggests that “my feeble skills
paled into insignificance when i considered that all
i’d ever learned to do was plonk on a piano and write a
few songs, and that had been hard enough.” well, this
self-deprecating new Zealand-born internationally
respected sydneysider, winner of seven awards, singer,
songwriter and composer – that’s her theme you hear at
the start of aBC-tv’s Australian Story – with nine solo
albums to her credit, has obviously achieved quite a lot
“plonking” away on a piano.
One of only four students to secure a five-year classical
piano degree at Auckland University, on graduating
you opted for a rock rather than classical music career
and in 1980 even scored an NZ with a single. Classical
training can, however, be as much a hindrance as a help
when you step away from the classical repertoire to
become a contemporary musician.
Absolutely, yes – I couldn’t agree more. The huge difference
with blues and boogie, the styles I play, is improvising.
It’s not freeform jazz or anything but you are playing
without things written down that you’ve learned and so it’s
terrifying for somebody who has always played ‘dots’. In
a sense it’s like diving into a swimming pool not knowing
whether you’ll be able to swim or not, not knowing exactly
what notes you’re going to play or exactly which fingers
you’re going to use. I think it’s very, very painful crossing
over, from intellectual brain to emotional brain. It can be
very difficult to rethink that approach.
So how long did it take to, in a sense, ‘unlearn’ the
strictures of a classical education and allow your
creativity to step forward?
I think I’m still learning! I mean here I’ve been playing
blues for decades and I still think that I have blocks. Some
of my friends and colleagues both here and in Germany,
where I tour every year – and I go to learn there as much as
to play – and I think they’re so much looser and freer than
I am and can just carve it up where I always still feel quite
tight. I know that it doesn’t sound like that and that I am
getting looser and more fluid.
It wasn’t until a few years after relocating to Sydney,
however, that you feel you finally ‘found’ your musical
voice as a boogie piano player and songwriter.
When you’re drawn to music as I was and you played piano,
you learned classical. That was all that was available to learn
when I was young, there on the west coast of South Island.
Fortunately nowadays there are a lot more ways to learn on
offer. So it did take me a long time to find my voice, but I
did find it! It feels like a very natural extension of myself,
my personality and vocal style, as a singer, a songwriter and
as a piano player to be doing the kind of material that I’m
recording on Play It Again Jan, which is boogie, blues and
maybe a bit of folk in there as well.
You recorded the new album in New Zealand.
I have a bunch of friends over there that I’ve always wanted
to record with and (upright bass player) Nigel Masters
has a fabulous studio there. They’re just a fabulous bunch
of people. Then Nick Charles, I flew down to Melbourne
and we added his acoustic guitar parts, which are a huge
infusion into the record I think.
People have commented that you’re singing is stronger
than ever and you suggest that’s perhaps down to your
embracing the Taubman Approach after breaking your
When I was recovering I discovered that a woman named
Dorothy Taubman, who was born around 1915 in New
York, had developed this approach that helped overcome
pain when playing. It’s really just kind of working with
gravity. You don’t have to be injured to try bits of it but
I found it incredibly helpful. Every musician is kind of
an athlete really; you’re just using different muscles and
smaller muscles, but our working lives as performing
musicians are as athletes and that involves posture and
efficiency, relaxation, intensity, point of contact, etcetera. It’s
Jan Preston tour dates in the Gig Guide.
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