Many of us, as both pianists and teachers, have enjoyed Nikki Iles’ previous books for piano: Jazz in Springtime; Jazz in Autumn; Jazz on a Summer’s Day; and Jazz on a Winter’s Night. I, and many others, were therefore pretty excited at the prospect of not just one, but two new books from her.
Perhaps these new books are, in fact, a bonus, because Nikki has gathered alongside her some of the most eminent jazz pianists, arrangers and composers working today. The two books, both titled Nikki Iles & Friends include both original compositions and arrangements and it’s been a real joy to explore their contents.
Book 1: Intermediate
Book 1, aimed at pianists of around Grades 4-6 standard, contains 16 original compositions and arrangements featuring Pete Churchill, Tim Garland, Andrea Vicari, Kate Williams and others.
One thing which struck me in both volumes is the very clear use of articulation which really helps to give the music that quintessential jazz feel. The pedal markings are also especially useful, some of them essential for creating the desired musical effect. Attention to details such as these really matters, especially for those of us not necessarily natural jazz pianists.
In book 1, my particular favourites were: ‘Blues for Rufus’ (Iles); ‘Breezin’ Through’ (Iles); and ‘West Hollywood Avenue’ (Vicari). I think these three pieces also demonstrate the breadth of jazz styles included, from blues to groove, and much more.
Book 2: Intermediate to Advanced
Book 2 contains 13 original compositions and arrangements aimed at pianists of presumably Grade 6+, once again, curated by Nikki Iles and featuring Gwilym Simcock, Jason Rebello, Zoe Rahman and others. On balance, I felt Book 2 was perhaps less successful but that might be down to my taste in jazz piano music!
I particularly enjoyed: ‘Lakeshore Drive’ (Vicari); ‘Time Will Tell’ (Williams); and Nikki Iles’ sumptuous and velvety arrangement of ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’. The short programme notes at the back also offer a little insight into each composition and arrangement.
In my view, one slight slip-up is found in reference to the included arrangement of ‘Abide with Me’. ABRSM have credited this tune to be ‘traditional’. Whilst the book correctly states that the original tune is called ‘Eventide’, the original hymn tune is by W.H. Monk and is therefore not ‘traditional’. This is a small point, but I’m increasingly seeing sloppy errors creep into publications such as this which I find disappointing.
Overall, these books will bring so much pleasure to both pianists and teachers alike. I don’t consider myself a jazz pianist and it’s not generally a genre I listen to, but I do get a huge amount of pleasure from playing jazz. The real bonus in these books is that by gathering other composers and arrangers around her, Nikki has curated two volumes of outstanding jazz piano works. It’s also worth noting that just as Nikki herself writes:
“I hope this is a starting point for your own interpretations and creativity.”
One downside is perhaps the inclusion of a CD with each volume. Whilst audio recordings are useful, I find fewer and fewer of my students have access to a CD player these days. I would have welcomed the option to purchase the books without the CD, and to be given the chance to download the audio tracks should I so choose. Luckily, on this occasion, I don’t think the inclusion of the CDs has inflated the price of these two books which are both excellent value.
These books are already firm favourites with me and I’m sure they will be with my students too. They do exactly what they say on the tin:
“new and original jazz piano music for those seeking to explore accessible jazz repertoire”
Bravo, ABRSM, for publishing these!
I was sent a review copy of this book free of charge; however, this review is my honest opinion as a teacher. You can find my Reviews Policy here.
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