Hugh Masekela

Working With Hugh Masekela

The first time I met Hugh Masekela, we were hanging out in the kitchen of Francis Fuster – Paul Simon’s ‘Gracelands’ percussionist. Francis had just asked me to be his musical director for an up-coming tour of Ghana. Hugh and I found ourselves sitting together eating joloff rice and stew and I naively asked “are you a musician”? He very humbly explained that he was a trumpet player and he spoke about himself as if he were a rank-and-file member of the band, rather than the legend he turned out to be.

It was only later on when we played together that I realised just who it was! We played some warm-up dates in the UK and then Hugh flew out to play some dates with us in Ghana, after which he returned to SA. It was a real privilege to play with the man and we managed to hang out a few times in Accra and Kumasi.

Hugh was generally known as the father of South African jazz. He was briefly married to another South African legend, Miriam Makeba and they remained good friends throughout their lives. He was close friends with Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk and also played with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. He was also one of many who passed though Fela Kuti’s large entourage of outstanding musicians.

I’m very happy & honoured to have trodden the red earth with him (and the boards, of course). RIP Hugh, you’re in very good company in that township in the sky!

 

 

Piano Lessons – Not The Same As Getting Your Nails Did.

Piano Lessons - Not The Same As Getting Your Nails Did

People who start piano lessons for the first time, or who resume after a break of many years often ask me for advice about what to expect. I usually respond by asking a few straightforward questions:

Do you have TIME for piano lessons?

This may sound really obvious, but believe me, people don't ask themselves this question enough. Taking piano lessons isn't like getting your nails did - you don't walk into the 'piano salon' and come out with your piano hands on after sitting in a chair gossiping for half an hour.

To see any noticeable results, piano lessons are a medium to long-term commitment, requiring more than just a 40 minute weekly session with your piano teacher. That's only a small part of it. To achieve the goals the two of you agree in your piano lesson, you'll need to set up a practice schedule to do the homework assigned by your piano tutor. To progress in any significant way and justify the money you're paying in piano tuition fees, you'll need to dedicate a minimum number of practice sessions in between, to make sure you're prepared for the next lesson.

I personally recommend no less than 3 half-hour practice sessions per week. Increase that exponentially if you have more than one piece, are practising scales & exercises, or working towards an exam, showcase, or recital. If you'd like to find out more about practising, read this article on effective piano practice.

If you're able to schedule a programme based on the points above, you'll be able to see noticeable results in a short space of time and before you know it, you'll be building up a repertoire of piano music to impress your friends and colleagues. It's a great feeling of achievement to finish a piece and deliver it to a high standard in front of an appreciative audience!

Are you READY for piano lessons?

Before deciding to book piano lessons, it's a good idea to check if you have several things in place.

  1. Do you own an acoustic piano, digital piano, or have the budget to buy or rent one?
  2. Do you have a space away from distractions and noise where you can spend quality time practising the piano?
  3. Are you in a mentally and/or physically demanding job or study programme? It's worth asking yourself if you have enough energy left at the end of a long day for lessons AND practice sessions. Consistency is the key to progress as with many things and to achieve noticeable results, you should be sure you can keep a regular practice schedule in addition to your other commitments.
  4. Following on from this, are you in an unpredictable job that will have you cancelling your piano lesson on a regular basis? Some of my keenest students have included a doctor, a head of marketing, a cabinet office employee, a record label boss and a travelling photographer who were all very committed to learning, but whose work continually required them to stay late or cancel at short notice. Unfortunately something had to give and it was their piano lessons. So it's essential be honest and realistic with yourself about the practical side of learning the piano.

Summary

Hopefully these questions have made you sit up and think. With any luck I've pointed out some stuff you hadn't thought of, in which case, you're welcome! If you're waaaaaaay ahead of me, good for you! 

Playing the piano is one of life's most satisfying achievements. There's nothing like expressing yourself in music and communicating one of the the deepest parts of the human experience to others. If you improvise, using the knowledge you already have, this is the purest, and most soul-fulfilling aspect of being a musician and I believe it is this unfettered freedom of expression that most attracts people to music and musicians.

So are you ready for piano lessons???