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Harry Pickens on Style

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In this excerpt from the KET Music Arts Toolkit, Harry Pickens discusses musical style and how each musician finds his own unique expression.

“Every musician, performer, and composer ideally wants to have his or her own unique style. It’s your own expression, your own voice. Your musical style is really an expression of who and what you are. It expresses what you love about music. It expresses your influences. It also expresses your greatest strengths. And the very name of the game in jazz is discovering your own style. Finding your own voice—coming up with that unique musical expression that is instantly identifiable as you, that expresses your greatest strengths and your deepest heart. As you learn to develop your style—as you learn to find and develop your own identity—then you find your own place in the evolution of this music called jazz.

“My own style comes from lots of different places and from people I’ve listened to. One of my favorite jazz pianists is a fellow by the name of Oscar Peterson. He has a very enthusiastic, virtuosic style. Another is Errol Garner, who symbolizes joy and exuberance for me in his playing. Bill Evans played such beautiful ballads and love songs, he almost reaches out to make your heart sing.

“I also love classical music, and this has influenced my style as well. I really love early Renaissance chorale music. Music like William Byrd, or Victoria, or Pallestrina. I also love popular music, from rock to hip hop and funk and soul music—I even enjoy some modern country music! Sometimes I’ll integrate all of this into my own style.

“Another element that affects a musician’s style is his or her natural strengths. For instance, I’m 6’ 9” tall and I have big hands, allowing me to reach out to larger chords along the keys.

“My style comes from my musical interests, my influences, and my strengths. Style in jazz, just like style in life, is about expressing who and what you really are and being true to yourself—finding your own voice.”