Sandy Brown Jazz

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Full Focus

John Pearce

Just Friends
From the album Just Friends


'Full Focus' is a series where musicians and others discuss a jazz track or tracks in detail. The idea is that you are able to listen to the track that is discussed as you read about it. If you have a track on an album that you have released you might like to share the ideas behind it and talk about how it developed - if so please contact us.


John Pearce



Born in Bristol, John Pearce developed his career as a classical violinist. He began learning the violin at the age of seven and was awarded a bursary at the Royal Academy of Music where he studied with Gyorgy Pauk, later continuing his studies privately with Bela Katona. He took part in the ‘Live Music Now’ scheme that was developed by Yehudi Menuhin as a musical outreach organisation and he has performed across Europe and Japan as well as playing at prestigious UK venues such as the Royal Albert Hall and St Martin In the Fields. He has performed live on BBC radio and television and he continues to give masterclasses and music workshops throughout the country.

In recent years, John has become increasingly interested in playing jazz and this year released his debut jazz album, Just Friends, with pianist David Newton, bass player Will Harris and drummer Ian Matthews. The album is full of variety with well-known tunes such as You Don’t Know What Love Is and Moonlight In Vermont tracking alongside Stompin’ At The Savoy and Lester Leaps In.  

I heard John play music from the album at the Wine Vaults in Bath where he was in the company of the resident trio led by bassist Wade Edwards. The place was full and he received an enthusiastic welcome and response from an audience that had clearly heard him play before and had come to hear him again.

As you might expect, John's classical training underlies his playing but that in no way detracts from his ability to improvise and perhaps adds to the emotion he is able to  convey through his music – his moving performance on My Foolish Heart was a case in point – you can hear it here where you will also find details of the album and samples of the tracks.


This month in our Full Focus feature, John talks about the title track from the album, Just Friends.


Play the track and read on down.




My first experience of hearing the tune Just Friends was after my 14th birthday. Birthday money in hand, I ventured into the old HMV in The Galleries, Bristol, eager to explore the jazz and classical CD section to see what I could find. I bought a complete CD set of Beethoven's string quartets (recorded by the Medici String Quartet) and Charlie Parker with Strings. The battered black ghetto blaster in my bedroom was already well acquainted with Charlie Parker's music, listening to Parker's Ko-Ko had been a revelatory experience for me and had been played relentlessly on it. His recording of 'Just Friends' with strings would prove to be another addition to my all time favourites playlist.

The warmth and beauty of his sound and the extraordinary fluency and inventiveness in his playing were perfectly encapsulated on that recording. I would often go out on to the patio with an extension lead, the unbreakable boombox and a skipping rope and train whilst hearing it, repeating it over and over. It became a kind of call-to-action and I would be motivated to work harder and practice more after each listening.

As a violinist, my principal concern at the time was in practicing and performing the music of Bach, Mozart and Bruch. It was, and still is, music that is dear to my heart but I had yet to explore jazz in depth. That would come later, jolted into attempts at realising my own vision for jazz on the violin after hearing Mark O'Connor's Limehouse Blues on a flight from New York.

Fifteen years afterwards, I find myself on hallowed ground at Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire recording my debut album. It is a cold January afternoon and there is a lingering tightness in my arms and stomach. My shoulders feel encumbered by a weight that I cannot shake, it is the second day of recording and after a few false starts and discussions about hits and tritone substitutions, the recording of Just Friends is underway.


John Pearce band


"What do you think guys? Should I play the hits with you on the shout chorus or not?" Will Harris asks. Gifted with great instincts for the right note at the right time, he is a bass player with an awareness and musicality well suited to the role.

"I mean, if you are walking through it and we're hinting at it, that's enough isn't it," suggests David Newton. "Maybe it is too much like a brick in the face if you do the full Monty!"

After a little more discussion and with a warrior's readiness, Ian Matthews counts in the tune for the next take. His infectious and propulsive energy is there before his stick hits the skin.

We all survive the introduction and I adequately navigate my four-bar break. It is now my opportunity to solo but I falter. There is palpable frustration in the studio.

"This tune is going to be called 'Barely Talking' by the end," jokes Dave from behind the piano. He has a nasty cold and a bit of a cough but his inventiveness, humour and sense of swing die hard. I feel the tension give a little as we all laugh and enter into another take.



It is the one that appears on the album as the first track and making the album, from start to finish, was a real labour of love. 

Expectation and pressure can build until self-doubt and endless analysis become all consuming and listening to one's own recording is like looking into a mirror; the truth is laid bare and there are no places to hide. I am delighted though to now be able to share the album, a snapshot in time and a culmination of numerous lessons and experiences, it is the result of a great deal of thought and care.  

I hope that you enjoy it!


Click here for John's website. Click here for a video of John playing Skylark with the band (not on the album). Click here for details of the album.

John has been touring to promote the album and his last gig will be at Jazz Knights in Swindon on 10th December - click here.


John Pearce




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Visit some of our other Full Focus pages:

Matthew Read Trio - Burke and Hare
Sam Braysher - Braysher On Bird
Zac Gvi - Waltzin' In
Alex Hitchcock Quintet - Hamburg 2010

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