Sunday, May 30, 2004

RigasRitmi Festival Riga, Latvia '04

Here is the main Festival where I'll be performing on my upcoming overseas tour.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Busy, busy

I'm steeling myself for the next two busy weeks. Monday is the first run through with Deborah Lander of the new viola composition. Wednesday saxophonist Graeme Blevins arrives from Perth and we do two performances at the Side-On Cafe (Wednesdays June 2 & 9) as well as rehearsing, recording and mixing the tracks for my new jazz CD which will be in the can by June 11. Through all that I will be finalising the itinerary for my international tour - I depart June 27. More on that one later.

Monday, May 24, 2004


Practising: Schumann/Liszt, Bach, Scriabin. Tinkering: with final details on the viola piece Finalising: international tour & CD recording arrangements
Reading: The Essential David Bohm Getting over: my weekend cold

Saturday, May 22, 2004

In the family

A bit of shameless and nepotistic promotion. Yesterday I built a website for my wife Jewel's business. It's here.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Publisher's Pick

Just got a major international promotional breakthrough for my new CD Keeping the Standards. All About Jazz is the #1 international jazz website, based in the USA. Publisher Michael Ricci has told me that he really likes the new CD and it is currently one of his 2 "Publisher's Picks", which means the CD cover art linked to a review is displaying in prime position on the homepage. With 320,000+ visitors a month to the site I'm not going to sneeze at that! Have a look while it lasts. UPDATE: It's over.

Thursday, May 20, 2004


I'm seeing double but the score is basically done.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Slaving over a hot score

Still in the land of dots and dashes. The 2nd movement (Lullaby) of the viola piece is down, but needs performance markings. I am getting pretty good at driving Sibelius notation software. Here's a page.

Estonian island

Just added another concert date to the Estonian leg of my international tour, July 10 in Saaremaa, Estonia's largest island.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Vale Neale Sandbach

Today we farewelled ABC recording engineer Neale Sandbach, who died too soon (early 50s). Neale seemed larger than life - it is hard to believe he is gone - and I along with many musicians who had the pleasure of working with him will miss him. The funeral was this morning at St Patrick's Watsons Bay, I was asked to play a musical tribute and played Danny Boy which Neale had told me at a 1991 session was his favourite song. The Wake was held at a local ABC Ultimo watering hole, more music, wizz-pianist Kevin Hunt and I played 4-hands and it was great to see also-wizz-pianist Matt McMahon and piano tuner extraordinaire Terry Harper there. I'm posting this from an Internet cafe around the corner on George Street. It's a day for farewells, I'm staying in town and heading to the Side On for the farewell party for saxophonist Roger Manins, who with partner vocalist Caroline and baby Millicent are moving to New Zealand. I feel happy to be part of a warm community of friends, brought together by the love of music and music-making.

Monday, May 17, 2004


First movement of the viola piece is in the computer, fully-scored with all the interpretive detail. Lots of nice Italian terminology, hands up who knows what mesto, mormorosa, incalzando, sussurando & supplicando mean? At the other end of the scale I also fiddled around with the drum charts for the new jazz album and sent them to Felix.

Sunday, May 16, 2004


James Muller and band were remarkable at the Side On Friday night. It was nice to play on the late night jam session, getting to sleep at 5am was rather more challenging. Visited Ambre Hammond yesterday, hope that our plans for me to write a concerto for her will come to fruition. So much for a relaxing weekend: practising the D minor Book 2 Prelude from the Well Tempered Klavier last night. Tomorrow: the viola piece score.
UPDATE: Couldn't wait, Sunday aftenoon was more on the Bach and have made a good start on the score already. Daughter Melanie is baking a lemon tart, yum!

Friday, May 14, 2004


Just finished sketching the viola piece! Tonight I'm going to paint the town, hear James Muller play, go to the after midnight jam session. Spend the weekend recovering and visiting friends and start the hard yakker of the actual score Monday.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Process of composition

Sometimes it flows onto the page but at other times - well - try 4 hours today fiddling around to get just 11 seconds of music down . .

The breakthrough came as I stopped trying to hear what I wanted - simply because I wasn't equipped to do so at the point in the piece I had reached. I usually rely on my inner ear to imagine and "hear" the shapes I want, which is a very intuitive process akin to improvising phrase by phrase and alternately transcribing the results.

I had got into a passage of enormous harmonic complexity and was trying to "hear" the next phrase, but it wasn't coming. What I could hear was anticlimactic, stock cookie-cutter shapes. I couldn't hear beyond where I had got to: I had lost an intuitive sense of direction due to the complexity of the thicket I found myself in. I dutifully kept trying for several hours to hear something worthy of what came before.

What saved me was the sudden impulse to use an empirical device, to just mechanically transpose the phrase I already had up a minor third. The musical parameters were so complex that I couldn't simply imagine the passage transposed with all its attendant contrapuntal and harmonic complexity, I had to physically work it out by rote transposition. And lo and behold, the sequential treatment of the phrases that resulted seemed to be exactly what the piece needed at that point. So I found myself dutifully measuring intervals, counting steps to mirror the shapes precisely in the new stratum, a quite unusually structuralist methodology for me!

It's all as if a visual artist, who having a good eye for shape and perspective and who normally created shapes from her imagination had suddenly got to a point of complexity where she had to measure out geometrically the next shape she wanted - she couldn't just see it in her mind's eye. My transposition device was a kind of musical protractor and compass set.

It was an pertinent lesson for me: the balance between inner hearing and empirical working out and manipulation which can supply what cannot be instinctively created.

Interestingly, as my rote working out gave me a map and I felt secure in the new territory, I found myself intuitively changing one aspect of the sequence so that the shape was not quite literally transposed. The use of the protractor and compass was enough to again allow me to draw some freehand shapes within the strictly governed design that resulted.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004


Ahhh - back to dark colours for the last movement of the viola piece, after all the coquettish filigree of the lullaby. I hope to have my sketch finished by the end of the week and then will begin work on the scoring proper. Night Songs for viola and piano will have three movements:
Night Song
Dream Chant

Friday, May 07, 2004

Ambre Hammond

Playing the jam session at the Avillion Hotel last night we had an extraordinary guest. Classical pianist Ambre Hammond sat down and played Liszt's transcription of the Schumman song Widmung with a depth and resonance of touch that hushed the room. Later, after hours, when most of the punters had left Ambre and I played piano musical chairs. She continued to amaze the post-midnight die hards with excerpts from the Carl Vine piano sonata, Bach, the Scriabin C# minor etude and Rachmaninov and I did some extemporisations on classical themes. Then we played 4 hands. She did her Licentiate Diploma at 12, goodness me! I had heard about her from trumpeter James Morrison who tried to convince the Melbourne Symphony to extend their commission for me to write a concerto for James into a double concerto for James and Ambre. Anyway, as a result of last night today I'm sitting around in my pyjamas playing Schumann, Strauss and Scriabin - thanks for the inspiration Ambre.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004


Today I threw away two days of work - mediocrity - and then as if to remind me they were still there the angels brushed me, I couldn't stop, didn't even eat lunch. It was hard work finding exactly the right colours, shapes and pacing but I'm so proud of the first movement of the viola piece. I've called it Night Song. I'm falling in love with this instrument, the viola, so dark yet warm. I wish I could play it to you.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Australian press for new CD

I believe there are reviews in the Sydney Morning Herald & Limelight magazine soon to be published, but I'm delighted by the response in the press for my new CD Keeping the Standards. Here's a roundup to date:

“The world of Mark Isaacs is a strangely compelling place. Passionate, whimsical, joyfully erratic, sometimes eccentric and always deeply thoughtful . . letting loose, overflowing with ideas”

“There have been some hugely impressive jazz trio albums released in the past 12 months, but none has made me smile as much as this new one from Isaacs . . littered with moment after moment of superb timing and crack ensemble”

“Numinous interpretations delivered with a measured grace, displaying all the beautiful reasons why the piano trio format is so bewitching and ageless”

“The trio’s musicianship and Isaacs’s inventiveness make the standards fly. His power lies in his ability to put each standard through many re-inventions. He morphs the familiar into the unexpected and then repeats the process over and over again. Great music, whatever genre, is about tension and release. This has it in spades”

“It's as if Isaacs' mission is to show a tune all the different things it can be. As ever with Isaacs, it is direct, concentrated and free-wheeling, as playful and serious as art can be”

“A gorgeous rendition, this is where the trio is at its most inspired: there is a sense that they are simply letting the music happen and you feel fortunate to be a witness”

“Their interpretations avoid any suggestion of the prosaic and become pieces of rare and sometimes fragile beauty”

“Taking on the challenge of finding something new to say with some familiar songs [Isaacs] succeeds brilliantly”

Composing and exercising

Started writing the piece for viola today, back into the familiar land of putting scribbles on a blank pad that hopefully mean something. And keeping the brain alert and body supple with a 7am daily workout on the treadmill (2km power walk). I like a strict routine when I'm on a major project, up at 6am, read the news on the Web, breakfast, aforementioned exercise, ablutions and composing by 8am. At least I don't have to commute!