Wendy Kirkland at the Steinway 2-Piano Festival

Written by | Artists, Concerts, Interviews, News, Women in Jazz Media

The Steinway 2-Piano Festival is coming to London’s Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho with a stunning programme of nearly 40 renowned pianists from across the world performing from March 21st to 27th. With some fascinating and unique pairings, this is set to be something very special.

Performing on March 24th are two outstanding pianists and composers.  One of the UK’s most well known and loved artists, Wendy Kirkland partners with the New York based award winning Charu Suri. Both artists bring their own unique artistry in different ways. Charu with her pioneering genre bending compositions, combining traditional Indian music with jazz and Wendy with her love of Latin and exhilarating improvisation. This event is set to be something very special and it was a pleasure to speak to Wendy about this upcoming partnership and more.

The 2024 Steinway 2-Piano Festival will be the largest ever, with a total of 36 different pianists in 20 different shows. Are you excited to be part of such a wonderful event?

I’m absolutely thrilled, not only to have been included, but also to be doing it with the amazing, award-winning US pianist Charu Suri! It will be a first for me in so many ways although I did play the festival in 2019 with the incredible Steve Melling. That was very special and, of course, a huge honour to have worked with him at this iconic venue and festival.

Not many jazz clubs have Steinways for pianists to play and this festival is of course celebrating their world-renowned pianos. What has been your experience, as a pianist, of performing and recording on Steinways?

Two of my three albums have been recorded on the same gorgeous Steinway model B at Spencer Cozens’ studio near Grantham. Spencer is a brilliant pianist himself and designed the studio around the piano, not the other way around – the humidity and temperature are set to a constant level to provide the optimum tone. All the details for the piano enthusiasts are here When performing at a venue, I’m always put at ease if I know the piano is a Steinway – there are some other really good pianos out there that I enjoy playing too, but of the most refined I think Steinways are in the majority.

‘Together Wendy and Charu will provide a genre-busting set including raga, jazz and song, to entertain and entrance.’ You are performing with the brilliant Charu Suri with what sounds like an incredible set. What can the audience expect to hear and how did you decide on the set?

Charu’s latest album Rags and Ragas which features Steve Gadd, Joe Lastie and John Pattitucci, is a wonderful blend of Indian raga music and her own brand of jazz. We decided to put together a blend of our own music which reflects our own personal style, and highlight where these styles overlap, and where they are different. I’ve played from ragas before but not immersed myself so completely in this music. There are ragas for different times of day, evoking different feelings, and we will be organising the set to reflect this.

You are based in the UK and Charu in New York, so how has the process been for you to prepare for the performance?

It’s been done entirely remotely! Through WhatsApp and file sharing, and of course remote meetings. We’ll have time to run through the set in person before our first concert, but personal preparation is just as important as a rehearsal, and of course we’ve both been doing this in earnest.

Your last London performance was returning to Ronnie’s Scott’s where you regularly sell out. You were nominated for the Parliamentary Jazz Award for Lockdown Innovation for your Latin Lockdown project, and I believe your Ronnie’s set is equally Latin inspired, which clearly the audience love! Can you tell me about your love of Latin?

I suppose for me it started with the acquisition of an Astrud Gilberto album back in my teens, there was a resurgence in jazz and bossa nova in the UK charts. I’d heard some of the music before through my dad playing Jobim occasionally at the club he worked at – I used to regularly request Wave and he said “you do realise the audience will hate it because it’s jazz?” but he played it anyway, for me! He had a Jobim book and I worked through all the classics, Desafinado, Samba do Aviao, Insensatez etc. and loved the rhythmic nature of the music. Fast forward to meeting and working with my husband Pat – when we first met as musicians in 2006 we quickly established both of us were really into Brazilian music but he was, as a guitarist, more leaning towards Toninho Horta, Joyce, Nelson Faria etc so he introduced me to many other styles of Brazilian music. I’ve always enjoyed learning languages and I think Portuguese is one of the most beautiful languages to sing in, and I try, but I always apologise to any native speakers in the audience first! On the occasion there have been Portuguese or Brazilian people in the audience, I’ve always had a very positive response from them. The Latin Lockdowns we broadcast on Facebook from March to August 2020, 86 in total, were listened to by people worldwide. We had some of our most positive comments from places like Sao Paulo in Brazil, Mexico and Costa Rica – of course we included some other South American music in our set, it wasn’t exclusively Brazilian…but I suppose that’s what we knew best at the time, so most of it was.

When you released your first album, the critically acclaimed Piano Divas, you said that ‘my own path to this point has not been conventional – through engineering and teaching and being the product of an incredibly musical family, I’ve created music in just about every genre there is, but I’ve always returned to my real love – jazz and the beauty of improvisation‘. With now three critically acclaimed albums – Piano Divas, The Music’s On Me and Latin Lockdown Live – how do you feel that your unconventional path and love of jazz and improv has shaped your work?

That’s a tough one! I suppose it’s the corniest answer out there, that is – just the love of the music that keeps me going. I know it’s the same for a lot of other people, we tell each other that regularly, because there are so many other challenges in this business that makes it not for the faint hearted. I will say I think having a previous background in industry is a benefit rather than a detriment – understanding funding, the way things work in businesses such as venues and other providers of work for musicians, can help with expectations and exploring other ways of working than relying on the same sources as everyone else.

As well, as your own gigs, you also run the hugely successful Chesterfield Jazz Club. Can you tell me a little bit about this and some upcoming artists?

Pat and I started the club in 2012, partly as a means to do more concerts, partly to provide our town with something it didn’t really have – that is a regular jazz night where music fans could see top UK, and occasionally US and other international artists. We figured working with the best people would also up our musical game and get the word out that Chesterfield was a new venue which provided top quality live music. It’s been a great experience and we continue into our 12th year now, with plans to further develop. Watch this space! We have a great line up.

Click here to buy tickets for Wendy Kirkland and Charu Suri at the Steinway 2-Piano Festival

Click here for the full line up and ticket links

Last modified: February 23, 2024