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  • Writer's pictureXavier Harry

The 3 albums that I would take with me to a desert island...

More precisely, the 3 albums that made me want to become a professional musician 😀🎹

I wanted to start this blog with this queston because I have often wondered which 3 albums I would want to take with me to a desert island. Finally, the question is : what are my top 3 ! Of course, as you can imagine, this is completely subjective. But above all I want to share with you the records which are my favorites and which still remain so many years later !

Fontenay-sous-Bois Media Library

To come back to this famous question "What are the 3 albums that I would take with me", I answered it quite early. From my beginnings in the world of instrumental practice in 1996, I had a thirst for "aural discovery". Not yet having the internet at that time, I regularly went to the Fontenay-sous-Bois Media Library to borrow some CDs.

I was going to look for them directly in the categories that interested me, namely jazz, classical music and hip hop. In 1996, my knowledge of jazz, for example, amounted to not much except the artists my father listened to and to be honest, I hadn't remembered their names 😅In any case, go borrow some CDs at the media library remained a good way of discovery because I spontaneously went towards artists I didn't know.

Audio Tapes

I discovered lots of musicians like french drummer André Ceccarelli, Afro-Cuban pianist Omar Sosa, the jazz band Dirty Dozen Brass Band, french saxophonist Julien Lourau, french pianist Hélène Grimaud, etc. These are artists who have really marked me and I forget heaps of them in passing. I used to copy on tapes the albums that I liked the most to listen to them in my walkman (there I just lost the young generation 😂).

But there is a first disc which touched me, it is Playground by Michel Petrucciani (Blue Note 1991). I almost remember the day I borrowed this record... I didn't know yet this artist (At the time I was really starting to listen to jazz and as I wrote above, I didn't know not many musicians) and I simply selected this disc because of its cover. I didn't know it would change my musical life so much...

Pochette de l'album Playground de Michel Petrucciani
Michel Petrucciani

What a surprise when i listened this CD! I just found the music very beautiful, soft, accessible, sensitive and this sound on the piano... just amazing ! Looking back on it, I found that the themes of Michel Petrucciani's songs were as beautiful, rhythmic and warm as his improvisations. I can clearly say that it was while listening to this record lots and lots of times that I said to myself: "I want to make music as beautiful as this, I want to become a professional musician".

That's what this album means to me ! It's fine to write but nothing is better than good listening. Here is the album in question (YouTube playlist), my favorite track is "Home". Good listening to you !

Scores by Michel Petrucciani

I tried to play Petrucciani quite early in my first years of piano and also during my first concerts. Listening his music, it seemed simple and accessible but in reality, no ! It was really hard and it was very difficult at the time. I remember learning the score of the piece "Rachid" by heart, both the theme and the improvisation. It's an idea and a desire that I have, I should try again to play Petrucciani today 😉

The 2nd album I'm going to talk about is just a CD that changed... My life !! Or more precisely my vision of what I could call "the art of solo piano". As with the previous album mentioned above, this is a record that I also borrowed from the library without knowing what was on it. But I admit that I already knew the artist. Indeed, my piano teacher at the time talked me about the illustrious pianist Keith Jarrett 🎹 and his excellent album Whisper Not. But it's not this album that I'm going to talk about because even if Keith Jarrett's trio is great, it's not what I prefer about him, it's his solo piano that I love. The CD in question is La Scala (ECM Records 1997).

Pochette de l'album La Scala de Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett

I remember my first listen and what I felt at that moment. Every listening, as soon as I hear the first notes, I feel the same thing ! The 1st title (which remains my favorite) lasts 40 minutes and the 2nd 30 minutes! I was overwhelmed by the sound, the time management, the silent sound, the different increases in intensity, the musical light, the orchestral sensation... It's just magnificent. It's like someone is speaking, not with words but just with his piano. I lack of superlatives but you understand that I simply loved this disc. In addition, you should know that this album was recorded "live" and at La Scala in Milan, that's the title of the CD of course.

Despite the length of the tracks (apart from the 3rd which is not my favorite - it must have been intended for radio broadcasts hence its short duration of 6 minutes), I am not bored for a second. For those who know me, you know that, regarding "my solo piano art", I like to take the time to express things, tell a story, go in depth, improvise, etc. And I discovered that record that was in line with what I wanted to do and what I felt. It confirmed my idea of ​​continuing in this way of expressing myself.

From my first compositions, I was in this perspective of musical pieces mixing writing and improvisation. For example, you can listen bellow, Désillusions, one of my first compositions played during a concert at the St Germain Church at Fontenay-sous-Bois in 1999. It was my own Scala 😉🎹

As for Petrucciani's record, nothing is better than a good listen so here is La Scala. For the little anecdote, I was very close to meet Keith Jarrett. The meeting was planned but you can imagine that there is a "But"... This will be the opportunity to write an another article of the blog. In the meantime, happy listening !

For the 3rd and last album, I am going to talk about a piece that is close to my heart and which was composed by my favorite classical musician, it is the Goldberg Variations by Jean-Sébastien Bach. Of course, one of my favorite interpretations is that of Glen Gould and more specifically his 1981 recording.

Pochette des Variations Goldberg de Jean-Sébastien Bach interprétés par Glenn Gould
Glenn Gould

That's also my first teacher who talked to me about this piece and I discovered it on a VHS tape included a prior interview with Glenn Gould. From the first listening, especially the Aria, I found this music so pretty, calm and the sound of this pianist was so extraordinary and precise... Even on the fast tempo variations, he has a sound excellent and in particular this left hand which was both precise and deep, great art !!

I remember my teacher telling me that these variations were inaccessible for me, which might be true because I must have had 2 or 3 years of piano practicing at this time. But you know me ! As you can imagine, I started practicing on them and was able to integrate some of them into my concerts. I played 5 variations and the aria. At the time, I practiced the piano for 6 hours a day so it was possible to play some of these variations despite the difficulty. It was during this period that I waked up at 5 a.m. to go to practice piano and then I went to the university for my commercial studies. My wife will be able to testify of this period. In a future article, I will tell you about my piano practice and all the history that goes with it.

Over the years, being busy with my own projects, I left these variations aside and it is only in the last few years that I have played them again. My dream since the beginning of my career has been to play them in concert in their entirety and I think this is possible today. Currently, I know 12 pieces of the 31 !

Here's a photo of the sheet music book that I own, it's not in great condition because it's the one I bought at the time and I use it frequently 😅

We can also say that I am a fan of these pieces because I own both the CD, the Box Set, the VHS and the DVD.

Les Variations Goldberg de Bach jouées par Glenn Gould
CD, Box Set, VHS & DVD

To talk about Glenn Gould's interpretation, I discovered later the first version that he had made in 1955. He plays all the variations in 38:26 (theme played 2 times, etc.), we feel the passion and speed of youth. In the one from 1981 (my favorite), the whole album lasts 51:14. He takes his time and it sounds so much better. Glenn Gould himself in the interview speaks of maturity. 😍

So here is the link of the famous video. It's up to you to listen !

So we have reached the end of this first article of my blog. I hope you enjoyed it. More articles will come ! With this blog, i can share with you what I am passionate about.

Please tell me in the comments which 3 albums you would take with you to a desert island.

Thank you for reading and see you soon !

Xavier Harry

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