|CBD Interview with Mark Almond|
CBD: You are a self-described piano “quitter,” yet you now teach the instrument. What events in your life led you to a career in music after such a rough start?
MA: The first spark was a friend in high school who played by ear. My best friend was his drummer in a jazz trio, so I listened to them play by the hour. At age 16, I was an envious onlooker who couldn’t play anything, even though I had four different piano teachers as a child. Next, an adult friend in my racing pigeon club loaned me a recording of Errol Garner, the great jazz pianist. After many hours of blind guessing, I was able to re-create one of the stylistic sounds from the album in just a few phrases of Autumn Leaves. You don’t want to know how many times I played this short little section of music! This was somehow enough to inspire me to major in music all the way through college, even though I finished in philosophy.
Two very special books have been instrumental in my progress over the years. The first was discovered in the college library my freshman year—Great Pianists on Piano Playing by James Francis Cooke. The author traveled the world to interview the greatest pianists alive during the golden age of performance just after 1900. I thought he was exaggerating when he claimed he had spoken to all of the top pianists in the whole world, but he absolutely was not! The second book is Speaking of Pianists by Abram Chasins. Chasins was one of the few students of Josef Hofmann, the greatest pianist in the 20th century. His personal recollections of direct encounters with Hofmann, Rachmaninoff, Godowski, Paderewski, Horowitz, and others are beyond invaluable.
The last great event, or series of events, in my musical life that I will take time to mention has been listening to piano music both at live concerts and on recordings. Even during a busy schedule in college, I would hide away on Friday and Saturday nights, when the music building was completely empty, and turn the volume up on Oscar Peterson, Errol Garner, Peter Nero, Roger Williams, Horowitz, and a number of classical pianists, but only the ones who could play with spirit. The Russian Ivo Pogorelich has been especially influential in recent years. He is from the same school of thought as the classical pianists from the “golden age of performance” listed above.