Peter James

A musician with a strong identity and inner calling... as an improviser James is lucid and imaginative and truly communicates... a talent with a lot to say and the vocabulary to say it soulfully!
— Julian Joseph

"I listen to all kinds of music," says Peter, "and the attraction of jazz has always been to me about its openness to real-time musical dialogue, drawing on whatever musical vocabulary there is to hand, rather than it being about a particular style in itself... It's got to come from the moment and from the heart. In composition, I'm trying to explore the tensions between form and freedom - leaving room for the unexpected and bearing in mind the individual musicians that I write for.

Early jazz piano influences came from my dad's record collection - which thankfully included a healthy selection of greats like Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. Later on I heard pianists like Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock, who really expanded my horizons. One of the first Jarrett albums I heard was Changeless (1989) and I remember thinking at the time, 'I didn't know jazz could sound like this!' Other early epiphany moments include hearing Herbie's playing on My Funny Valentine from the Miles Davis live 1964 double album and Abdulla Ibrahim's rootsy playing on the Mindif soundtrack. I love hearing new sounds that manage to both demolish and rebuild your musical universe at the same time! Latterly, on the jazz front, I’ve been listening to Fred Hersch, Tigran Hamasyan, Enrico Pieranunzi and the late John Taylor, to name but a few.

I’m also hugely impacted by classical music and I love pouring over scores, whether a Prokofiev Piano Concerto or Arvo Pärt’s choral music. When I heard James MacMillan's orchestral piece, The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, it pretty much blew me away it - as did a performance of John Tavener's seven hour piece, Veil of the Temple, which lasted through the night! Hearing works written for larger ensembles inspires my thoughts about instrumental colour and longer narratives in composition. That sense of story telling is something I appreciate in jazz, too - Vince Mendoza’s Epiphany and Maria Schneider’s Thompson Fields spring to mind, as beautiful examples.

The ‘inner narrative' is something I'm currently exploring on a new Trio album and in a setting of Song of Songs for Kairos Ensemble. Sometimes, it's an abstract or spiritual journey I'm seeking to express though composition. At other times, it maybe something as straightforward as a thought, intention or a feeling that's hard to put into words, but somehow finds its expression through arranging musical sounds. I find the process of unearthing these sounds very rewarding - it can feel therapeutic at times and it's one of the things I love about music: it helps express the inexpressible."

For more information and to listen to some of Peter’s music, click on Peter James Trio, Kairos Ensemble, Current Projects and Mulberry Tree Music.