With his sharply tailored suit and easy charm, singer-pianist Anthony Strong seems to happily fill the role of ‘the English gentleman’ often thrust upon him. His swaggering vocals, swinging piano style and feel-good energy continues to entertain audiences at his live shows around the world.
On Thursday 4 May, he returns to Late Night Jazz. In the build up to the show, we sat down with Anthony to discuss his musical background, inspirations and the time he supported B.B. King in Paris.
Could you tell us about your musical background? Had you always enjoyed jazz and swing music?
I was always crazy about music as a kid. From a very young age, I knew music was going to play a big part of my life. I went to The Purcell School of music to study clarinet, and I really got into jazz piano there. I didn’t really know much about it before that, and I didn’t even have any records! From The Purcell I went on to study jazz piano at The Guildhall School of Music and the rest is history!
Who are your musical influences, and are there any artists currently around who you consider to be particularly innovative or unique?
My influences – like my music – are pretty straight ahead… for piano, I love Bill Evans, Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly, Oscar Peterson. But I’m also into some more modern things. For my dissertation I transcribed lots of Chick Corea. I love Jarrett and Herbie obviously. Singers-wise, I’m really into: Mel Tormé, Kurt Elling, Diana Krall, Stevie… And when it comes to new music, Jacob Collier (another ex-Purcellian!) is doing some incredible stuff. As a jazz musician, it’s rare to hear something you can’t really get your head around – Jacob’s a true genius.
Have you always been a fan of jazz?
As soon as I discovered it, yes – although I was a late bloomer! I’ve always been a harmonist (someone who’s into chords) – and I remember being so captivated by all these crazy sounds. I didn’t know what they were but I was so excited to find out. I knew I was going to be a jazzer when I found myself longing for my next piano lesson as soon as the last one finished!
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Hmm… Probably when I played the Hollywood Bowl last year – I was playing solo with a Big Band from LA – and the festival was sold out. It holds 17,000 people – it was a hoot!
Did you get a chance to jam with B.B. King when you supported him? If you could play with any musician (dead or alive) in the world who would it be?
Oh no, I didn’t even get to see him off stage! He had crazy tight security the whole time – I mean he should do – he IS blues royalty! I was just honoured to be opening for him and then he said some lovely things about us as he was playing. A sad loss. RIP Mr King.
Last year you released your latest album, On a Clear Day. What’s next? Do you have any other albums, projects or collaborations lined up that you’re particularly excited about?
Occasionally I record with Clean Bandit (I played piano on ‘Rather Be’ which won a Grammy last year) so I’m hoping to work with them a bit more. I’m also producing a new EP for Emma Hatton (who recently finished the lead in ‘Wicked’ in London) and I’m in the middle of writing new big band arrangements for my next record – which comes first, I am not sure!
This isn’t your first time performing at the Hall or Late Night Jazz. What’s your fondest memory of playing here?
I remember loving the Elton John connection with the room – and the colour of that piano! Weirdly, the piano I recorded ‘On A Clear Day’ on, was once owned by Elton too. It had a massive scrawl inside that said “I hope you enjoy this piano as much as I did! Elton” What a legend!
What can we expect from your show in the Elgar Room on Thursday 4 May?
I’ll be playing songs from my previous records, a few new arrangements and possibly a new song we’ve written in French! We’re playing as a trio so anything could happen!