A guy who taught me most of what I know about jazz piano had a stroke in June. A bad one. His independence has been diminished and he is facing a long and expensive period of rehabilitation. His name is Phil Ware.
He’s an Englishman living in Dublin, and was a tutor on the Sligo Jazz Project for quite a few years and a regular visitor to this part of the world.
I recently saw a beautiful post on Facebook about him, written by another ex-student of his – Greg Felton – who clearly had stayed in touch with Phil, and later became friends with him.
I didn’t have that type of relationship with Phil. When it came down to it, I don’t think I liked or understood jazz piano to the same level as he did and this made it more difficult to connect in this regard. I possibly didn’t practice enough for his liking either!
I do remember a great honest chat we had upstairs in McGarrigles one night though – late on in the thick of one of the famous Sligo Jazz jam sessions. This was a few years after he had taught me, and I hadn’t seen him since. I brought up a time he had pulled me up for missing a lesson and not telling him I wouldn’t be there, and he brought up a time he had gone to London to record with some of his heroes and they didn’t really acknowledge him. We spoke about standards, respect, and coming to terms with the fact that there’ll always be someone who can do things on the piano that you can’t.
But he was good to me, and had a huge impact. Subtly in each lesson, he softly but firmly let me know what it takes to be an accomplished jazz pianist, and even though I wasn’t quite there, he recommended me for a couple of really good gigs when I left college. And he is such a good player – I would happily sit and watch him for hours. Here is his version of Nobody Does it Better.
In his tribute, Greg wrote of a night when a regular on the Dublin Jazz scene asked him in JJ Smyths how he was getting on. Greg mentioned that he was teaching a good bit. ‘Ah’, said the man, ‘those who can’t, teach’. Phil, who was one of the most respected musicians on that scene, intervened and said ‘actually – his practice sessions sound better than my gigs’.
Because Phil knew how wrong that statement was. He could play better than most, yet he taught too, and his influence on my playing, that of Greg’s, other Sligo pianists, and many others all around the world, will be there forever.
And he will play and teach again we all hope – there’s just a bit of work to do first.
Phil is in need now. And many of his friends are musicians who have been out of work for months. So if any of you are inclined, you can donate to Phil’s rehabilitation here.