First, there was my love of jazz — the music of the rebellious ones that arose from their longing for freedom. It is hard to talk about a uniform musical style here: jazz beautifully combines the West African rhythms, that were brought to North America by slaves, with American and European music. So we will hear both folk notes and more complicated chords, full of artistry and intuition, but also elements of popular music, which are assumed to be light, easy and pleasant. Jazz also allows a great deal of freedom in interpreting a song or phrase — a good jazzman will never play a given melody the same way twice. And what fascinates me the most about jazz: improvisation…! In the past, it resulted from the fact that the first jazz composers, mostly descendants of slaves or the liberators themselves — did not know the notes. The other thing is that they didn't care much about this fact...
Whatever analyses one would carry out about how to and how not to classify jazz — there is something about that music that when it grasps your heart — it will hold it until the very end.
Everyone knows such names as Louis Armstrong or Miles Davies — even those who do not feel much about jazz, and who are not very interested in music itself whatsoever. Unfortunately, the great Satchmo will not play us anything anymore and will not sing that the world is wonderful. Therefore, you need to look for young generations in jazz, who will also have jazz in their souls.
Well, I found ...
The first was a short clue in some TV show. Then I looked up the name and listened to a few songs... "Too Darn Hot" immediately played in my heart ...! So I was tempted and bought the whole "Stepping Out" — and after the first listen I knew that it was money very well spent. "Luck Be a Lady" matched "Too Darn Hot" and I just love his interpretation of "When I Fall in Love"...!
Well, I found him on Twitter ... Sure, you can find everyone there: from Brad Pitt to Queen Elizabeth II. And following someone does not mean that they will automatically follow you back... But after a while he did...! After a few good days of hesitation, I pulled myself together and wrote a direct message — which not everyone likes. Amazingly, he wrote back. We started to write about music, inspirations, I asked about his achievements, plans, I wrote about my own close relations with music...
And so Anthony Strong, a very talented jazz pianist, singer and composer — became a good friend of mine. We don't write to each other every day — and yet each of us knows that once I write, this message will not remain unanswered, even in the form of a cute emoticon. Recently, I love surprising him with songs from the repertoire of other artists that I dream of singing in a duet with him. After all, I have already learned that dreams are worth having and consistently fulfilling them...!
I also waited a good few weeks to pluck up courage and ask him for this interview. But he agreed and there you are. Ladies and Gentlemen, Anthony Strong himself. I encourage you to read and then please, listen to his music. It is really beautiful jazz: a bit of a tribute to its creators from centuries ago, a bit of an escape, all wrapped in a halo of youthful vigour that is looking into the future...
— How are you? Hasn’t the coronavirus spoiled your plans too much?
— Hello! I’m very well thank you. Yes, well Coronavirus has stopped all touring and life is very different now! Normally, before Covid-19, I would be travelling a few days a week and then writing or producing music from home a few days a week. Now, I just find myself doing more studio work and less travelling. It’s fine, but now I just want to get back on stage!
— What’s your first, the very earliest music memory? How old were you then?
— It’s one of those weird things, in which I can’t remember if it’s a memory that I remember, or a memory of a photograph — but anyway — I have a vague recollection of me making a huge mess (and presumably noise) in my Mother’s kitchen at age 2. I’d assembled pots and pans and was ‘playing the drums’ with wooden spoons. It was clear that music was going to be my path from a very early age…
— Have you ever had a moment of doubt and thought like “I should’ve picked up an easier profession, say — a car mechanic or an accountant”…? When did you decide to become a musician, a pianist? Was that early in your childhood or were you an adolescent then?
— No, not at all. But I do recognise that I’ve been very lucky in my career; a great team, lots of work, supportive friends/family… It’s not always such an easy ride, I know. But I am passionate about what I do and they say ‘find a job you love, and then it doesn’t feel like a job!’ And I do love it — if it weren’t for the long haul flights, it would be the best job in the world! Honestly, I feel very fortunate; I get to travel, play music with my friends and get paid to do it. You couldn’t pay me a million pounds to swap. Ha!
— Why the piano? Why not a trumpet or a sax…?
— Well actually — after ‘graduating’ from pots and pans (!) — drums, of course, was my first instrument! And then in school, I started clarinet and later piano, later still, sax and voice. I’ve always loved the range of colours one can produce from a piano, but the moment I really fell in love, was when my jazz piano teacher started playing harmony. Jazz harmony just blows my mind — and it still does nearly 20 years later.
— When I say “Poland” — what springs to your mind? What pictures can you see?
— Well immediately, I think of Polish beer and all the amazing food!! But really, for me, what really ‘makes a place’ is the people… and so I think of my Polish friends on Instagram — people I’ve met on tour in Poland, I remember all the crazy and fun shows… I have some incredible memories of Poland, all over the country. I can’t wait to get back.
— What is your musical achievement that you’re most proud of — and what is there that you’re still aiming at?
— Ever since I started making records, I’ve wanted to win a Grammy. It’s an outrageous dream but one I still hope to complete one day I hope! My proudest moment was probably signing my first major record deal. It was a huge moment for me and my manager, Matt. We work very much as a team and it was the culmination of lots of planning and preparation. In the end we had a few different companies trying to outbid each other. Signing a deal like that really validates you as an artist — it took months to really sink in!
— How does it happen that a piece of music is created? What inspires you exactly? How do you compose your music? For me the ability to create a new piece of music is the ultimate manifestation of human genius…
— Well the process is always different, but usually it’s quite fragmented. So whilst it has happened, it’s rare that I’ll write a song in one afternoon. Usually it’s a couple of hours one week, nothing the next, a few hours the week after, and so on… maybe after a month I’ll have the skeleton of the piece. I’m very lazy — but also a perfectionist — it’s a precarious line to walk! I usually work with a lyricist too, so something the lyrics come first, sometimes the melody — sometimes I’ll have an idea for an overall groove, sometimes my lyricist has an overall theme or story in mind — every time it’s different… It’s a hard question to answer but I suppose I base my musical decisions on the music in my life that has inspired me… I try and let my ear be the guide.
— Name an artist with whom you’d dream to collaborate musically. Why would it be this artist — what is so particular about them?
— Harry Connick Jnr has been one of my biggest inspirations for most of my adult life, so I’d have to say him. We’re very similar — both singer-pianists, arrangers, jazz musicians… I’m not expecting an invitation just yet (!), but it would make for an exciting record… Harry — call me!
— How do you recharge your batteries: how do you spend your free time, what relaxes you?
— I really like film. I could easily watch a movie a day. A movie with friends, a great meal and a nice glass of wine — this is my happy place.
— Last, but not least: you are often described as a man with an easy charm. What does that mean exactly and how do you do this…?
— Ah you’re very kind! I guess it’s just my nature… I’m quite relaxed about life: what will be, will be! My mantra is: Life’s too short to stress or worry…! And it really is, especially when there’s so much good music around!
— Thank you very much for this interview. But most of all, I thank you for the many emotions that you give me with your music. Grammy Award, more than one, I wish you from the bottom of my heart. And you better practice the song "If I Told You That"…!
Magdalena Maria Bukowiecka