by Iain Ballamy
“Would you like to hear some great tenor playing?” I asked the Norwegian button accordion virtuoso Stian Carstensen. We were driving in icy conditions to perform a concert outside Oslo with ‘The Little Radio’ – a small but perfectly formed band consisting of just the two of us.
Chewing salty liquorice and occasionally swerving the Volvo to avoid colliding with stray moose, I selected an old favourite: ‘Sunday suite’ by the Cedar Walton quartet with Bob Berg playing tenor, recorded circa 1975 live at club Montmartre in Copenhagen.
After listening intently, Stian said: – “Wow, I don’t consider myself to be a jazz aficionado let alone a jazz musician but I do have to say that was pretty incredible!” Actually Stian is a superb jazz player but is also an unusually eclectic musician who plays pedal steel guitar, banjo, violin and several other things in addition to the accordion. His main interests are Bulgarian gypsy music and bluegrass.
How my heart sang at this positive reaction! – I love listening to music and raving about it with other musicians – in fact it is one of my greatest pleasures. When it was over he said, “Now it’s my turn – you check this out!”
In an instant, I found myself transported straight to Nashville by the sound of a kicking up-tempo bluegrass track with the violin and banjo heavily featured. But before I could stop myself I had bellowed the inevitable “Squeal like a pig, boy…” Stian groaned and said “yes, yes of course all that stuff but don’t just write it off instantly with a cliché reaction – just listen to the incredible musicianship…” So I did.
And it was incredible! – Perhaps one of the most exciting and impressive things I had heard for years in fact, when I started to really listen. And not for the first time in my life I felt both slightly embarrassed and hugely grateful to another musician for encouraging me to listen with open ears and pointing me in the right direction.
Moments like this are important because musicians switching me on to such great stuff over the years has shaped my life. And quite frankly, when you put your pre-conceptions aside, who honestly cares what the style or genre is of the music if it provides such inspiration and excitement.
We all need a guiding hand from others we trust and respect to initiate us into music that broadens our horizons into new and unfamiliar territory. These mentors open our ears and minds to the new or the different in art, music and culture of all kinds.