Franz Liszt's Birthday - 22 October, 1811.

I cannot possibly have a blog about piano, Jazz or not, and not make an entry about my idol - and the greatest pianist to have ever lived.

There is far more information about Liszt on the internet than I am about to write, but for those who are unaware of his life, this is it in a nutshell:  He was a child prodigy, got funding to move to Paris, got better, gave some lessons, had a period of sadness when his father died, saw Paganini and decided to be that good on the piano, did, toured, became famous, wrote more stuff, mingled with royalty across Europe (and Russia), left the scene on a high note ('scuse the pun) then relaxed a bit and wrote lots more music, taught for free (as he'd always done), did tons of chairty concerts, travelled between Rome, Budapest and Weimar (German) and became involved in religion by becoming an AbbĂ©.

In this blog, I want to discuss how we can apply his teachings and playing approach to our own, even when we're playing Jazz.

First of all, we must admire his practice efforts.  He was known, during his time in Paris, to drive neighbours crazy with his practice of repetitive scales, runs, chords, songs, etc.  He practiced daily and had a purpose to his practicing:  become the best.

He taught his students about expressionism and personal connection with the music they were playing.  He used to tell them to "do their dirty laundry at home".  What he meant was that, he was not interested in teaching scales and chords; he wanted you to know those already.  Once you do, you then have merely the tools to produce hopefully great sounding music.  When at home, might I suggest you begin to find a purpose to your playing rather than just playing because you can.  Liszt has taught us to be 'aware' pianists.  Do not play a piece of music because you can, play it because you can give the piece the emotion it needs.  On YouTube, there are far too many people playing Liebstraume (Love Dream).  Great, they can play it, but 99% of the versions are empty, too fast, incorrect or lacking the skill level required to play the fast runs well enough.  Fine, play for fun, but this blog is about becoming better than the rest; becoming better than you thought possible.  Do not be like the rest, be great.  Liszt also taught us that, too.

Liszt was benevolent.  He didn't charge for lessons (apart from when he had to support himself and his mother in Paris for a few years during his teens).  He performend endless charity concerts and took no money, he played lesser famous musicians' works just to help them get recognised.  He strongly promoted Wagner's music, Schubert's music, Chopin's music... the list is quite endless and it was all for nothing in return.

Whilst you may not have the chance to promote other peoples' music in such a way, it is worthwhile realising that being an excellent pianist is not only about yourself, your own talent and your own financial gain, it is about being a kind person and showing how your emotions go beyond the piano keys and extend into real life.  Having a positive image in society is definately a reason to be known as a 'great' pianist, even if you're not a virtuoso.

Compose music.  Liszt composed a great deal and while a lot of that music is not house-hold known around the world like that of Chopin (for various reasons), it still exists to be discovered.  I have listened to more Liszt than I can possibly remember and I continue to find new gems.  I admit that I'm not a fan of his religious organ works, but I appreciate why he wrote them.  So try composing - you might be surprised (like I am!)

If there is anything to learn from all my other blog entries, it is that you are not the only pianist in the world, someone will always play better than you, faster than you, with more passion than you or with a larger repertoire... but you will ALWAYS be the greatest pianist if you play with and for a purpose, with honesty and as well as you can following your own endless practice.  In other words, some pianists can play well without much practice, some learn hundreds of songs a year, some play really really fast solos.  So what?  I guarantee that if you ask them "Why are you playing that song?" or "What do you think about when you are playing?", 99% of them will have either no answer or a pathetic empty answer.

I wish you well.

Dan.