In this week’s episode of The Adelaide Show, we deliver a show with “that swing” as we dive into the world of piano with Kym Purling and all that jazz!
The person responsible for connecting us up with Kym, Kari Seeley, helps Steve open the show.
And the photographer who snapped Steve and Kym at The Highway, was Kerry Marsh.
We also duck up to the Barossa for a Cabernet Franc tasting with Jo Irvine.
And in the musical pilgrimage, we hear an original jazz composition by patron of the Southern Jazz Club Inc, Chris Kelsey.
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The SA Drink Of The Week is 2017 Levrier Cabernet Franc from the Barossa Valley. We taste it with winemaker, Jo Irvine.
00:11:37 Kym Purling
Kym Purling is a gifted pianist who first took the piano by playing songs by ear that he’d heard his sister playing during piano lessons. Fast forward to 2020 and this Adelaide boy (yes, we claim him as ours even though he was born in Vietnam), has toured the world and performed with many of the legendary names from the music world, the likes of Julio Iglasias, James Morrison, Engelbert Humperdink, Natalie Cole, and Harry Connick Jnr. Due to covid, he’s back in Adelaide and has generously taken Dave Brubeck’s advice to Take 5 with me for a chat about his life and jazz.
At the time of recording, you are getting ready for a performance at the Southern Jazz Club at the Anzac Highway, which I can’t wait to see. But before we wade into your world of music, I’d like to tease apart a few strands of your story because they really illuminate some of our history from the 70s.
I was one of the foundation students at Marion Primary School, starting in its first year of operation in reception and then spending the next 7 years of my life there. At the bottom of the block of land which was originally covered with 6 foot high weeds and grass, was a tree and across the road from that, was a house, all on its own, just south of Westminster. That’s where you lived, yes?
Your sister, Rebecca Purling was in my class at Marion Primary and I’m not sure if she told you but that tree across from your house was known as the kissing tree, as we hit years 3 and 4. Did you ever experience or witness that action?
I started by mentioning this because my recollection of life in the early 70s in Adelaide was one of simplicity, heat, and dust. We had Italian neighbours, who were gregarious and introduced me to beer, and my parents knew just about everybody on the block. But across the sea, the Vietnam War was underway and in that horrid episode of human history, you were born and then estranged from your birth parents, becoming one of the first children to be adopted from that war zone. I know this is still significant in your life, can you share any recollections of that time and your visits back to Vietnam?
is it heartening to see how we have adopted Vietnamese cuisine in this country?
I was acutely embarrassed to hear you were the subject of racial abuse when you first returned home?
And what is home? Can home be more than one place? is it a factor of time spent, or some other type of connection?
The story of you being driven to music by Rebecca’s piano lessons is fascinating. Was it really a competitive spirit? I ask because my daughters have fierce rivalry and I don’t know whether to stop it, encourage it, or just back off.
How do you play by ear? Do you visualise keyboards or you are “seeing” themes and melody in certain ways?
You used to play anything you could hear, including Billy Joel. Are you the epitome of his Piano Man?
Take me through the arc of your awakening to music, classical, and then jazz.
Is playing off chords important for jazz? In fact, can you tell me why I am drawn to it like a moth to a flame – but mainly when it has an off beat, rather than all smooth and tinkly?
Can you demonstrate the off chord and talk us through its importance?
A confession. The piano is your key method of musical expression. Sometimes I glaze over with piano. It is the bass, the drum, the sax that holds me. What am I missing? Or have I been too influenced by Fats Waller who thumped the lower keys to drive the rhythm in his tunes?
I’ve heard you re-interpret music into the jazz format. Does that work best when we all know the original tune deeply – do you assume that so that you can push out further – or should we try to enjoy a piece for its own sake? And as an example, I cite Sweet Georgia Brown performed live by Oscar Peterson at the 1977 Montreux Jazz Festival. I struggle to find any trace of the original melody in that piece.
There are some hauntingly beautiful pieces of music that I guess are called Jazz. One is Si Tu Vois Ma Mere – I have heard the Claude Luter version on the soundtrack to Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris. What style is that and why can it basically repeat itself non stop and not bore me?
We interviewed Kiah Gossner in episode 296 of The Adelaide Show and he does some quite avant garde compositions. He believes though, that you do need to insert little treats throughout more obscure pieces to keep the audience with you, a bit like Hansel and Gretel leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. Do you agree?
If you had to curate an aural self-drive tour into the landscape of jazz, what are the landmark pieces, performers, and styles you would put into the intinerary?
In the world of Spotify and iTunes where people quickly sample a few seconds of a song, how does jazz survive and connect with new or young audiences? Or must you have some years under your belt to “get it”? For example, I find the best jazz (and perhaps music) is very elemental and has an almost sexual charge to it.
On the performance side, I would like to finish with a couple of questions.
Firstly, how rigorous are you with practice and rehearsals? For example, could you not play for a month and then just pick things up like riding a bike? Or do you need to constantly hone your skill?
Secondly, you mentioned in a recent article that you enjoyed your jazz studies at Adelaide Uni but did most of your learning on The Strip in Las Vegas, watching how the world’s best entertainers put a show together: what they say, the songs they choose, how they open the show, etc. Can you please take us through a couple of examples, whether that might be Harry Connick Jr, Sandra Bernhard, Natalie Cole, etc.
Finally, how are you structuring your performance at the Southern Jazz Club at the Highway Hotel next week?
01:37:25 Musical Pilgrimage
In the musical pilgrimage, we have a track composed by Adelaide jazzman, Chris Kelsey, and performed by the Golden City Jazz Band from the Original Tune Competition CD from 1993.
SFX: Throughout the podcast we use free SFX from freesfx.co.uk for the harp, the visa stamp, the silent movie music, the stylus, the radio signal SFX, the wine pouring and cork pulling SFX, and the swooshes around Siri.