Improvising with Gwilym Simcock

Gwilym Simcock

Moving effortlessly between jazz and classical music, 33-year-old pianist and composer Gwilym Simcock blurs the lines between both worlds, presenting his own style of improvisational jazz.

Born in Wales, he studied classical piano, French horn and composition in Manchester and went on to study jazz piano at The Royal Academy of Music in London. His style of music is reminiscent of one of his biggest influences, Keith Jarrett.

Simcock released a critically acclaimed album, "Good Days at Schloss Elmau," in 2011 which was nominated for album of the year for the prestigious British music award, the Barclaycard Mercury Prize.

Q: This is your Spoleto debut, and as a solo pianist, how are you feeling?

A: I'm so excited. The beauty of being a piano player, is that you can do solo concerts and you can create a performance on your own. I try to package all my different influences all in a way that will be accessible to people but still have my own sound as a musician. I like to talk a lot to the audience, explain the stories behind the music.

Q: What's one of your favorite stories?

A: One of the pieces people seem to like most is called "Antics," written for the 2012 City of London Festival. The festival had lot of pianos on the streets and the piece had two dancers from the Sydney Dance Company come and join. They choreographed a dance for my piece and we went along all the 50 pianos in the streets and parks of London performing this piece. That's one of my favorites, it's about little children messing around and being naughty, and it's just full of rhythmic energy.

Q: What is the most challenging part about bringing in a younger audience?

A: As a musician, it is very important that you don't sell out or go populist. You want to do the music that you want to do, but find a way of communicating that to an audience. You can do that by making it accessible. When you come to a jazz concert, you come to a concert that is truly individual. There will only ever be one of those nights. It's unlike other genres where concerts can and are completely choreographed and no matter where you see them, you see them in London, in New York, anywhere, it's the same experience. But with jazz, it's an unique experience every time. And I think that excites the audience too.

Q: What is challenging about your style of music?

A: I guess it's the fact that it's instrumental. For a wide audience, 99 percent of the world is used to hearing a singer. Or a rapper. As a jazz musician, your life's goal is trying to make your instrument your voice. Building a seamless connection. And I hope to bridge this by making the music sing and have an emotional connection. I was introduced to jazz by listening to Keith Jarret, Egberto Gismonti and others. I was a little frustrated with playing traditionally, where you play your piece of Beethoven or your piece of Mozart, like a hundred times, exactly the same. Improvising with jazz, gave me an opportunity to do something more personal and something you have more ownership over. But a large part of my history comes from that classical European side.