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This is day 4 in my Dance Inspirations Advent Calendar (II)

Why Blue Moon and Malcolm Williamson? It’s simple. When I first met and worked with Malcolm in Angoulême in 1982, I was enthusing to him one day about the popular music of the 30s and 40s, which I said I thought was a golden age in music. ‘Really?’ he asked, in an astonished voice. I thought I’d made the most awful faux pas. Here I was with the Master of the Queen’s Musick saying that I thought The Girl in the Upstairs Flat and the Flat Foot Floogie were symbols of a golden age in music. What was I thinking of?

But then Malcolm, with characteristic good humour and captivating wit and erudition began a disquisition on popular music of the 30s and 40s, with musical examples played on the piano from memory. “And then of course there’s the extraordinary middle eight of Rodgers’ Blue Moon which modulates so cleverly, you wonder how he’s going to get back but he does. It’s quite brilliant.” His explanation was timed perfectly to coincide with the key changes, the kind of thing which people would spend hours trying to achieve in post-production these days. It was doubly entrancing because it was the first time I’d heard the song.

I was astounded that Malcolm could pull all these tunes out of his head, and that this great, modern composer would have the mental space to deliver a lecture on the greatness of popular composers, and that his respect for the music extended to playing them more beautifully than I could ever hope to. He managed to play the theme of Blue Moon entirely with the thumb of his left hand in the tenor register, a feat which I’ve tried and failed to replicate since, except in the most rudimentary way.

Malcolm probably wouldn’t thank me for associating him with this song. As he said at the time, those songs of the 30s and 40s reminded him too much of all the nights he spent playing bar piano in night clubs to supplement his composer’s income to get as enthusiastic about them as I was (and as it happens, I share that feeling somewhat now!). But I was bowled over at the time by hearing the greatest musician I ever met playing Richard Rodgers, and whenever I play the middle eight of Blue Moon, I can still see and hear every nuance that Malcolm gave it, and I’ll never be able to hear it any other way.


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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist