Paul McIntyre And All That Jazz

The renowned jazz pianist prepares to tinkle the ivories at the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival this Saturday

Many musicians, when asked to speak about their childhoods, recall growing up with a love of music, digging through their parents' extensive record collections, being put through lessons at an early age and being given plenty of encouragement.

For jazz pianist, Paul McIntyre – one of the recipients of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Major Individual Artist awards in 2013 – the story is similar. Growing up, he was surrounded by music, subsumed by it. Indeed, his development into a renowned jazz pianist may have been inevitable.

McIntyre comes from a family of musicians. His father, Gay McIntyre – who is still travelling and gigging at an enviable pace – performed on UTV’s The White Line at teatime when Paul was a boy, playing clarinet in a jazz quartet. His great uncle is the famed Irish tenor Josef Locke, one of Derry~Londonderry's most famous musical sons, about whom the 1991 film Hear My Song is based.

And, aside these two most accomplised musicians, there were a myriad of other relatives – uncles, grandfathers, cousins – who were all bona fide players in their own right.

It was into this milieu that Paul was born and reared, surrounded by musicians at an early age and encouraged by his family and their friends to play. 'If there were musicians about having a bit of a get together in our home, then I would be sat on somebody's lap and asked to be play something,' he remembers fondly. 'That was the way it was. That was the environment.'

The first instrument he picked up was the clarinet, an homage to his father. There is no doubt that McIntyre could have been as successful on the clarinet as he has been on the piano – at the age of five, he accompanied his father and great uncle on UTV – but, eventually, he was nudged toward the piano.

'My dad realized that there was much more potential for me as an accompanist to him,' says McIntyre. 'He probably said to himself, "I can get some mileage out of this son of mine if I put him on piano". I started playing with him when I was about 12.'

There was never any desire on his part to do anything but play music as a vocation – 'I would have never said, "I want to be an accountant" or something' – and eventually he pursued it to the highest levels, being awarded a PhD in Jazz Piano Performance from the University of Ulster in 2010.

And while McIntyre acknowledges that there is a certain level of fear in musical circles that too-close study can negatively affect playing, the academic route has been nothing but a boon to him.

'I was worried about it for a time. I thought, "Oh dear, if I get into this too much..." But I found it useful to my development. I've been able to develop and consider what I do, and move it a stage further through the close interrogation of what is involved in my performance.'

The Major Individual Artist Award will allow McIntyre to continue to interrogate, to improve it and bring the knowledge he gains to the musicians he works with across Northern Ireland and further afield.

McIntyre also plans to use the award to facilitate study with jazz masters in the United States – not everything is finalized yet, so he’s reticent to say who he’ll be working with over the coming year – and to bring that knowledge back to the place he was born.

'Living in Ireland, I don't have access to the great pianists who are held in high regard,' he explains. 'Through this award I'm able to travel to America and study with who I choose to study with, and bring that back to Ireland and work on my development. That's how it's going to reciprocate: I'll bring this information back with me in my development and my performance style.'

Although acknowledged as one of Ireland's most accomplished jazz pianists, McIntyre is adamant that no player is a master. He argues that jazz is the perfect medium through which to explore new sounds, new techniques, new frontiers. Fans of jazz can experience McIntyre perform regularly at Bert's Jazz Bar at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast, and also at the 2013 City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival.

'Particularly in jazz, you never stop learning,' he concludes. 'You're always practicing, always trying to better yourself. That's what it's all about. If you lose that, well, you just shouldn't be a musician.”

The Paul McIntyre Trio perform at the Playhouse, Derry~Londonderry on Saturday, May 4 as part of the 2013 City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival.