Considered one of Britain’s leading pianists, Julian Jacobson has performed throughout Britain and in more than 40 countries worldwide. He has been soloist with several principal British orchestras and has recorded 25 CDs.
It’s been a remarkable career, one, he believes, which would have been very different without his years of “Worthing rebellion”.
Julian, who offers a performance in the Amici Concerts Series in the Chapel of the Ascension at the University of Chichester on Friday, November 20, was born in Scotland, but the family moved to Worthing when he was a year and a half: “And I was there until I went to the Royal College of Music at 17, and then vacations until my mother finally moved back to London where she had been a student, but I have still got family in Worthing.
“It was a lovely place to grow up, but I would be lying if I said it was a wonderful school. I am sure it was fine for other things, Worthing Boys High School, and I think they did what they could with me, but I wanted to do music. I had all my lessons in London from the age of seven and used to travel up every week. And then I rebelled against the whole scene when I was 12 and would hardly do any practice anyway. I can’t really blame the school for that, though maybe things would have been different if they had had a very, very strong musical tradition.
“Basically, I went mad about pop and rock ‘n’ roll and then jazz. I can say exactly what it was that brought me back on track, and that was the Worthing Youth String Orchestra. I had been trying to teach myself improvisation and to play jazz, and then I found the orchestra.”
Young Julian became pianist in the junior band at a time when the pianist in the senior band was a certain Keith Emerson, later to find fame with Emerson, Lake and Palmer: “He taught me how to read chord symbols and how to read jazz, and when he left and became professional and went to London and became famous, I took over in the senior orchestra. We did gigs, and it felt great, and I wanted to be a musician again, but I wasn’t ready to be an establishment musician,” recalls Julian who would have been known in Worthing at the time under the surname Dawson. He adopted the professional name Jacobson for the simple reason there was already a pianist named Julian Dawson.
“But at that time, I decided that I wanted to be a jazz pianist, and I couldn’t exactly stay in Worthing to do that. I thought I had better go to London, and at that point I picked up my classical playing, which was very rusty, and scraped into the Royal College of Music. I then worked my way back into the classical scene, though I still play the jazz for fun.”
And it’s all this that made him the pianist he is today. The point is the jazz gives you an ear, an ability for spontaneous composition – and the upshot of that, Julian believes, is the fact his memory is generally fine at an age when many of his contemporaries have long since stopped playing from memory. Julian stresses he wouldn’t remotely criticise anyone who prefers to read the music, but his preference is to do without: “There is evidence that the audience enjoy it more, that they get a much better sense of connection with nothing in the way, the difference between a speaker who is constantly referring to his notes and stands behind a desk and a speaker who speaks from memory. The audience is more engaged.”
Tickets from Chichester Festival Theatre.
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