From Synthesiser to Steinway: Multi-faceted musician Robert Sudall brings his improvised jazz piano to Bradford Cathedral

Robert Sudall.

Robert Sudall is a jazz pianist based in Bradford, organist, composer and producer, with a musical outlook of unique scope and ambition. His piano recital as part of our autumn Coffee Concert series will include pieces by Marvin Hamlisch and improvisation, and we spoke to him ahead of his concert to find out more.

On your Instagram you have some photos of some very interesting pieces of technology; what’s all that about?

It’s another musical endeavour of mine. More recently I’ve been dabbling in synthesis and more electronic forms of music. It’s still a work in progress, but as things develop I post up little snippets of what I’ve been up to. It’s just another musical aspect of what I want to do eventually. It’s called modular synthesis: the idea of building up synthesisers from lots of different modules. The idea is to eventually create a lot of different soundscapes and textures and build things up like that, introducing field recordings as well into the music, which all fits into what you might call ambient music. It’s just another interest of mine; dipping my toe into a very expensive hobby! But it’s all good fun.

Could you give us an introduction to yourself as a musician?

Jazz is, again, another aspect of what I do. I grew up really as an organist and studied organ at music college. Even though classical is always what I’ve trained in, jazz music has always been a big part of what I do. I got into music through playing theatre organ from being very young, so the jazz side has always been there, and it’s something I’ve branched out into more and more, once I left music college. I set up a trio shortly after graduating, and began doing more and more solo things as time has progressed.

As a musician I do a whole host of things, from accompanying choirs to teaching, to jazz performances, to organ concerts, so it’s all quite multi-faceted, a bit of everything! The jazz is probably where I feel most at home; it’s my biggest passion really. The freedom that entails, and how it allows me to be myself with my own voice, is what I enjoy.

Does this help keep things fresh for you as a musician?

I hope so. I’m continually inspired by all sorts of influences, and always trying to find ways to bring those influences to what I do. I like to think that there are also more traditional elements there as well, with the classical influences coming through. It does keep it fresh and interesting but hopefully with a purpose and intent.

Could you give us a flavour of your upcoming Coffee Concert?

This is something that I’ve been working on over the last twelve or eighteen months. It’s very much taken from the ideas that people like Keith Jarrett have championed over the last few decades, which is to basically aim to present an entire concert completely from scratch with no pre-conceived ideas; everything will be improvised. It’s something I’ve been doing at other venues, sitting down at the piano and improvising some tracks. The entire concert in November, apart from the final piece on the programme which is set down, will be however the moment takes me.

I try to give a structure to the whole concert so it’s not kind of wild with no direction, but essentially I don’t know what I’m going to play. It’ll be as the mood or the setting takes me.

Do you find that level of improvisation keeps it exciting for you?

I wanted to take my improvising to the next step. Usually as a jazz musician we play jazz standards or improvise from a set composition that’s been written down and then you take it in your own direction. I wanted to try things differently and challenge myself to see how comfortable I was with sitting down with literally no pre-conceptions and no idea of what I was going to play. It was a bit of a challenge to myself to see whether I could come out the other end smiling!

The other concerts I’ve done have been largely successful so hopefully it will all pan out alright on the day. It does keep it fresh and exciting, but at the same time I want it to have some structure and direction or ideas can become a little confused if there’s no thought of where you’re going to take it. It’s a bit of a challenge!

Your closing piece will be ‘The Way We Were’. Is that a personal favourite?

It is a current favourite, you might say. It’s a song that works really well in an improvised setting. In terms of jazz music, it’s relatively modern; jazz standards are often from the 30s/40s/50s, but this is slightly more recent and up-to-date. It’s a great song that blends well into the way my harmonic and musical direction goes. It fits quite well with that. It’s one I’ve been dabbling with privately quite a bit. It’ll be a nice one to end the set off with.

We’ve covered how much variety you have in music, but you’re also part of an act called ‘Motion Complex’?

It’s again all quite improvised. We tend to write our own material, and we’re a trio of piano, bass and drums, and quite a contemporary band. Our influences take in everything from contemporary jazz and neo-classical ambient sounds, through to more rock and post-rock. There are electronica aspects too. It’s quite a structured group, but at the same time there’s a lot of scope for improvisation. That was a band I set up 3-4 years ago now and we’ve done quite a lot during that time. We’ve not played as a group for about six months now but it’s always good to get together!

You play as an accompanist to the Ilkley Choral Society; is that a lovely place to perform in?

I do a lot with them, and have been with them for around eleven years now. There’s also another choir in Ilkley that I work with called Cantores Olicanae, and then from time-to-time with choral groups across the district. More recently I’ve been working with Northern Ballet at lots of their academy classes and workshops, which was quite a different experience to get involved with. This will be my third year with them, which is yet another string to my bow!

Finally, what are your plans for 2020?

As my synthesis elements progress I’d like to do more in that field, otherwise it’s business as usual. A lot of projects I tend to get involved with come up at fairly short notice, so at the moment there are no big projects in the pipeline but we’ll see how the next few months pan out. It’s definitely going to be more with the electronic side of things though in the next section of my career; but it’s good to keep an open mind!

Join us for our Coffee Concert with Robert Sudall on jazz piano, on Tuesday 12th November 2019. The concert starts at 11am with refreshments available from 10:30am. Entry is free and you can turn up on the door, but you can also express your interest by booking your free place at robert-sudall.eventbrite.co.uk.

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