Barry was cool. I arrived in his attic a miserable wreck of a teenage piano player and left walking on air.
Any joy I’d had from the instrument had been sucked out by the ‘classical’ teaching style of the terrifying Miss Wesley. A fire-breathing dragon in human form, she was adept at reducing her pupils to gibbering fools and enjoyed nothing more than keeping up a running commentary of my failure as I tried to plough my way through a piece of Bach a student twice my age would have baulked at. My parents said they found her in the Yellow Pages – but I swear they dug her up.
Thankfully she moved away to make someone else’s life miserable and I had to cast around for a piano teacher. I found him by word of mouth – a music teacher at school told me the legend of the blind pianist who taught the blues. He could play anything by ear – and he didn’t mind what he taught his pupils, the Beatles, Beethoven, Bartok, Lady Gaga, Jimi Hendrix…he loved it all. He couldn’t read music so he knew all of Beethoven’s sonatas off by heart, an incredible man.
So there was no sheet music in his attic, none at all which felt really weird because every music teacher I’d ever had had insisted on regularly foisting music on me to take home and learn.
But Barry…Barry asked me what I wanted to learn. I couldn’t believe it – what an opportunity, I could ask to learn anything, anything at all. So I said I wasn’t sure, I didn’t know. So he nodded wisely and said, “We’ll do the blues”. And he taught me the blues scale and how to improvise with it…and I was off. Soul music.