Tomasz Zyrmont is a pianist, composer, Groove Razors band leader and piano teacher based in London. He has performed concerts at a wide variety of venues in the UK, Poland, Germany, France, Belgium and the US. In London, he made his name participating at the London Jazz Festival, Jazz FM shows, Wigmore Lates, also performing at the British Parliament, Ronnie Scott’s and Boisdale Canary Wharf. Tomasz was honoured to play a Silent Piano concert for the Yamaha company and also a piano set before Hiromi’s exclusive concert. His music has been broadcast on many radio stations including Jazz FM, Polish Radio London, Belgrade 202, Resonance FM and Near FM Dublin.
I first met Tomasz a few weeks ago at the Yamaha store in London and was impressed by how focussed and driven he was. We caught up this week at the Jazzgir music venue in Canary Wharf’s South Quay for a quick chat and to find out what he’s up to musically.
Q. You’ve studied at the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Poland and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. Do you still study regularly and if so, what does your study currently involve?
In furtherance of my jazz education and to progress my music career I decided to move to London in 2007. The possibility for exploring new areas in music, interpersonal contact with so many fantastic international musicians which offered new inspirations, and the great multicultural atmosphere London offered with such diversity, gave me easy access to many different varieties of music venues.
I think that regular practicing and challenging yourself should be very essential to all musicians. It’s good to establish some practice routines including technique and reading exercises, developing harmony and improvisation skills. Also listening and working on a new repertoire! I usually try to spend as much of my time practicing on the acoustic pianos. I dedicate myself very often to creative composing, and to develop the difficult elements which arise in such innovative musical exploration that also permits me to work out some crucial musical aspects.
Giving piano lessons to my students is always another great opportunity to catch up with some jazz standards and to execute musical constancy.
Q. Part of your daily practice seems to involve improvisation. Can you give a couple of tips for musicians who may be struggling to get started in improvisation?
The improvisation is a unique manner of expressing your thoughts, emotions or impulsive ideas through sound in the infinitive but never in a monotonous or repetitive way. It’s kind of extemporaneous composing, so obviously it includes so many different aspects such as knowledge of the art, good hearing, rhythmic skills that must be constantly developed.
It’s usually best to start with some basic progression, or at first to stick to one scale. To start your adventure with improvisation it would be easier to play in a few different keys. For example, the Blues would be best played in a few different keys.
Transcribing your favourite instrumentalists and regularly listening to their solos might also develop a good sense of your internal improviser.
Imagination is a huge part of self-expression. It is worth experimenting and breaking some rules, but strong musical foundations and experience will always let you go out of the box.
Q. What methods do you use for composition?
Composing music is a process which is usually hard to plan. It needs some inspiration or internal concept which might come and go spontaneously. You can sit at your piano and you already know what it is all about. These accumulated lines or chord progressions can be naturally expressed, joined and written down.
After that I like to consider what aspects could be substituted or evolved into another direction. Playing new compositions with my band can also modify their initial form and vibe. My strongest inspirations come from other artists and travel to new countries.
Q. You seem very focused and driven. Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a professional musician?
I think that I decided to become a professional musician when I joined my first band in high school in Poland. I had a strong enthusiasm for music since I can remember and I was influenced by people who were very closely related to music. Leading two bands, composing, and teaching piano require a lot of time and energy which is fueled by my passion for music. Living in the musical environment in London is demanding so it is very important to remain extremely focused to attain your goals.
Q. What drew you to jazz?
Jazz is a fantastic way of expression because of its freedom and solid impact that comes from great musicians, but also its roots that came from ordinary people. I respect classical music a lot, but jazz feels more open and closer to me. Also, at the first concerts I attended I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the jazz clubs and festivals which impressed me intensively. As a teenager I used to spend my pocket money buying jazz CDs.
Q. Which musicians have inspired your playing?
There’s so many of them. I have been very amazed and driven by pianists like Herbie Hancock, Mulgrew Miller or keys players like Scott Kinsey and Cory Henry, with their masterful piano control, endless flow and enormous creativity, they are definitely extremely influential to pianists but also to many other jazz musicians.
Q. You have a few different line ups. Can you tell us a little about these?
Groove Razors, is my main music project which was founded in London in 2009. It’s a fusion jazz quintet that performs mostly my original compositions. The band includes great musicians such as Laurie Lowe on drums, Kevin Glasgow on bass, Nik Svarc on guitar, and Alan Short on sax and flute. I play the keys. We have performed at many events, including London Jazz Festival, Jazz FM shows, and we have kicked off a few gigs for Yamaha. The band also collaborated with such fantastic musicians as Lorenzo Bassignani, Sean Khan, Adam Baldych, Ant Law, and Frencesco Mendolia.
The second project I lead is my Tomasz Zyrmont Trio. This one is an acoustic instruments oriented one, with Jakub Cywinski on double bass, and Flavio Li Vigni; we play a mix of jazz standards, my compositions, and some Polish traditional music too. We have had the honor of being invited to perform at the Polish Embassy in London, to perform at the Polish Music Week Festival, to take part in Wigmore Lates, and represent Poland at the South Social Film Festival last year.
I also perform piano solos regularly with various duets, trios, and some other bands.
Q. What are your immediate and future plans for your jazz career?
The strong desire for composing, performing and exploring music always motivates me to become a more active and creative person. Playing more concerts, cooperating with other artists and reaching bigger international audiences are definitely my next future goals.
It is very important to me to progress myself as a musician, composer and piano teacher, but also to maintain a good balance in other aspects of my personal life.
I really hope that members of Groove Razors meet together in a studio again by this summer, and we release our second album this year. It would be truly great to play more gigs in Europe, or hit some grooves in Asia in the future.
Q. Let’s talk kit. What equipment do you currently use and what’s your favourite keyboard instrument?
I generally try to keep in good contact with acoustic pianos that are available. A good action, realistic sound, portability and additional features make stage pianos and synths an amazing equivalent for acoustic instruments nowadays. Yamaha CP4 is my main gigging and recording gear. I really appreciate its wooden keys, CFX sample and a very solid construction. However, I am very excited to test its replacement the newest arriving CP88 model.
When playing with Groove Razors I usually need a second keyboard on top of my main piano for the tunes’ arrangements complexity. The Yamaha Montage 6, or lighter MODX6 with their brilliant sound do a fantastic job. Some NORD keys are also excellent and work for me very well too.
Q. Let’s talk a little about your upcoming shows.
We’ll be performing with Groove Razors in Poland at the prestigious Jazz Club Pod Filarami this month. It’ll be a very special trip for me as I am taking my band with me for the first time abroad to Gorzow Wielkopolski, a town with a strong jazz scene, where I was born and grew up. We’re really looking forward to playing and meeting a fantastic Polish audience there.
Our next gigs in London are booked for my trio with our guests including cooperation with superb jazz saxophonist Sean Khan. You can also find me playing regularly piano solos and some duets across central London’s venues, and check my music and videos online.
TOMASZ ZYRMONT is available for gigs and private tuition. Check for upcoming gig dates and tickets at www.tomaszzyrmont.com