by Ian Mann
October 27, 2019
The music from Steve Tromans' remarkable eleven hour solo 'Piano Marathon' from 2011 has finally been released into the public domain. Here Steve and Pam & Ian Mann remember this unique performance.
“Directions In Music”
Digital Box Set, available via Bandcamp https://stevetromans.bandcamp.com/album/directions-in-music-the-complete-harmonic-festival-marathon-solo-performance
On Saturday November 1st 2011 the Birmingham based pianist and keyboard played an extraordinary eleven hour ‘piano marathon’ as part of that years Harmonic Festival. The music from that performance has just been released into the public domain for the first time as a kind of ‘digital box set’ and is available to purchase from Steve’s Bandcamp page (reference above).
The much missed Harmonic was the brainchild of Birmingham musicians Chris Mapp and Percy Pursglove and was a laudable attempt to bring a cutting edge jazz and improvised music festival to the city.
It ran for two years, commencing in 2010 when it was centred in the middle of Birmingham with the CBSO Centre as its base. Events took place in the main concert hall and in the foyer space and featured performances from both local and nationally known musicians plus a set from international headliners Claudia Quintet, led by the American drummer and composer John Hollenbeck. The inaugural edition of Harmonic also included events in city centre bars and restaurants, I recall witnessing a performance by an ‘organ trio’ led by guitarist Matt Chandler in the somewhat incongruous surroundings of the Slug & Lettuce!
In 2011 Harmonic moved to the Midlands Arts Centre (MAC) adjacent to Cannon Hill Park. This proved to be an altogether more satisfactory location with performances taking place in the Main House, the smaller, more intimate Hexagon Theatre, which proved to be particularly suitable for freely improvised performances, plus the MAC’s restaurant and foyer spaces. There was almost ‘wall to wall’ music, plus the added attraction of Cannon Hill Park itself on an unexpectedly warm and sunny Autumn day.
The second edition of Harmonic, again spread over two days, featured a similarly diverse range of performers and included exceptional performances by headliners Food with guest guitarist Bjorn Klakegg and Dreams Of Tall Buildings with guest trumpeter Arve Henriksen.
Sadly this was to be the final Harmonic Festival. 2010 and 2011 had both been artistic successes and delivered some great music, but audience numbers were sometimes a little disappointing. A combination of this plus the fact that the musical careers of both Mapp and Pursglove were really beginning to take off led to the cessation of the Festival as the organisers decided to focus more fully on their own playing.
However in recent years something of the spirit of Harmonic has returned in the shape of the annual Surge in Spring Festival, curated by Belfast born, Birmingham based musician, poet and bandleader Sid Peacock. This event also takes place at the MAC and follows a similarly adventurous musical policy, taking in a variety of genres including jazz, improv, folk, gospel and more. Steve Tromans, who plays keyboards in Peacock’s Surge Orchestra, is also a regular performer at this Festival.
Tromans’ remarkable feat of musicality and endurance took place in 2011 at the second Harmonic Festival, an event that I covered comprehensively. The unique nature of Tromans’ performance also encouraged my wife, Pam, to write her own account of this unusual event, her second written contribution to the Jazzmann following her review of the “Pitch Black” performance by Phronesis earlier in the year at Brecon Jazz Festival.
It is not my intention to review eleven hours of solo piano music, which would probably represent an endurance event in itself, but I do feel that it is important to draw attention to the fact that this music is now out in the public domain and is available to be listened to.
Steve’s recollections of his ‘Piano Marathon’ experience, as sourced from his Bandcamp page, appear below, followed by Pam’s account of the performance as experienced by a listener, plus my own thoughts on the event within the context of the Harmonic Festival as a whole. Our accounts have been directly lifted from the reviews first published in 2011.
Steve Tromans writes
Directions in Music: the Complete Harmonic Festival Marathon Solo Performance
The Harmonic Festival was a contemporary jazz and improvised music festival in Birmingham (UK) in 2010 and 2011. The 2011 festival was held at the Midlands Arts Centre (mac) and featured a host of top class performers.
As part of the 2011 festival I performed a marathon solo piano concert that lasted the duration of the day’s events on 1 October. I was located in the café area of the arts space for the entire performance totalling just under 11 hours of improvised music-making (with a brief break at the halfway mark after Part IX).
The audience were able to listen to my performance by means of wireless headphones which enabled them to move around the space of the centre and outside in the park at while still listening to the music I was making throughout the day.
This box set allows me to finally be able to document every note of the music that was made that day. And now this music is yours, dear listener.
released October 2, 2019
Directions in Music: Part I 29:58
Directions in Music: Part II 30:00
Directions in Music: Part III 30:00
Directions in Music: Part IV 30:00
Directions in Music: Part V 40:00
Directions in Music: Part VI 42:00
Directions in Music: Part VII 40:00
Directions in Music: Part VIII 30:00
Directions in Music: Part IX 26:22
Directions in Music: Part X 30:00
Directions in Music: Part XI 30:00
Directions in Music: Part XII 30:00
Directions in Music: Part XIII 30:00
Directions in Music: Part XIV 35:00
Directions in Music: Part XV 39:47
Directions in Music: Part XVI 25:00
Directions in Music: Part XVII 25:00
Directions in Music: Part XVIII 45:40
Pam Mann writes;
Steve Tromans “Directions In Music”, MAC, Birmingham, 01/10/2011, (part of Harmonic Festival).
I witnessed another unique and enjoyable performance at the Harmonic Festival which was held at the MAC which is situated on the edge of Cannon Hill Park in Birmingham.
Pianist and composer Steve Tromans wanted to deliver a performance that was uncapturable by traditional means. To listen you had to obtain a wireless headphone system from reception. This enabled you to explore the theatre and its surroundings whilst listening to an attempt at an eleven hour piano marathon. Some have compared the experience to that of the increasingly popular “silent disco” phenomenon.
When we first arrived Tromans was setting himself up in a space between the theatre bar and the café. We were due to dive into a ticketed gig straight away and initially had no opportunity to listen. However as we emerged from the gig one of the MAC staff passed us a headset and invited us to have a listen and immediately I was captivated. It was strange to be able to hear the music but not see the performer. Ian immediately went to reception to organise a headset for us and meanwhile I went to watch Steve play. It was equally strange to watch him hammering away at the keys of his electric piano but to hear no sound. He was wearing a headset himself and seemed to be quite oblivious to those watching him. By this time there were a number of people sat at tables and on sofas in the immediate vicinity listening on their headsets.
A lot of the time that I was listening I wasn’t actually watching him play. It was such a glorious day that I chose to sit in the outdoor area at the picnic style tables with my head bobbing away to the music. There were other listeners out there and we acknowledged each other with a knowing smile as if we were sharing something secret. Goodness knows what the other people using the park thought of us but I was enjoying the music far too much to feel self conscious.
We were in and out of gigs all day whilst Steve continued to play but I listened as often as I could, even having the headset playing while we were waiting for gigs in the theatres to start. At one point I was sat on a bench, swinging my legs in time to the music when Steve looked up, caught my eye, and smiled right back. It was as if we were in a secret world, there in the middle of a busy theatre complex with someone I had never spoken to before, a very bizarre feeling.
Unfortunately all good things have to come to an end and after the final ticketed event of the day I went back to to the area that Steve was still playing in, almost eleven hours after he had started, to catch the final moments of his marathon. He seemed to stop quite suddenly which rather took me unawares. The people who were still there broke into a spontaneous round of applause and Steve just said “it seemed right to stop right there”.
He must have been exhausted but had provided some excellent entertainment for those who were listening whilst at the same time receiving some very strange looks from people who had just wandered in from the park.
I would just like to mention the MAC itself, what a super venue with a lovely park on the doorstep, a café serving good food at reasonable prices, and staff that are genuinely interested in you and keen to ensure that you enjoy your time there.
Thanks must also go to Steve Tromans for producing a marathon performance that was consistently enjoyable.
Ian Mann writes;
STEVE TROMANS DIRECTIONS IN MUSIC
While we had been absorbing all the music described above Birmingham based pianist Steve Tromans was sat in the MAC gallery pounding away at the keyboard of an electric piano. Nobody could hear him unless they had hired a set of headphones to listen to Steve’s piano marathon. He played for the best part of eleven hours solid, starting at midday and finishing after 11.00 pm. During the brief breaks between bands on the other stages fans could be seen listening to Steve’s magnum opus unfold, there were lyrical, classically inspired moments, Keith Jarrett gospel style vamps and torrential percussive motifs clearly inspired by Tromans’ love of John Coltrane and his pianist McCoy Tyner. Of course anybody dipping into the performance may have heard something entirely different.
At the end of the evening a small knot of fans and festival staff gave Tromans a hearty round of applause as he lifted his fingers from the keys for the final time and the headphones from his ears. His lugs looked red and raw, his fingers more so. This had been a remarkable feat of both physical endurance and sheer musicality delivered in a unique way. I’d even been out exploring the environs of Cannon Hill Park with Steve’s music ringing in my ears.
It was also odd to hear the music and not have any visual input, the facial expressions, workings of the fingers etc. although some listeners did position themselves in such a way as to ensure they caught this. For me this aspect had parallels with Phronesis’ “Pitch Black” performance at this year’s Brecon Jazz Festival.
I had to head for home at this point but I hope somebody headed for the bar and got him a well earned beer.
Harmonic Festival links;
Phronesis “Pitch Black” (by Pam Mann) link;
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