Improvising… is writing… is Oropa
Named after a remote sanctuary in the Italian Alps, “Oropa” was formed when pianist Joe Thompson and harpist Seána Davey were brought together by a mutual friend and yoga teacher, Anna Ferla to accompany her yoga class. The brief was to create music which could compliment the ebb and flow within her sessions.
The piano and harp formed an effortless partnership. As they worked together these versatile musicians from two very different backgrounds discovered they shared the same approach to writing and improvising. They wasted no time in getting into the recording studio and Oropa was born.
The result is the super chill-out, meditative and contemplative “Into the Oasis”, an album which reaches in, rather than out, in order to relax and reassure. This first album features the remarkable flute playing of guest artist Eliza Marshall, the first of many future Oropa collaborations. Further planned partnerships include the tabla and the violin, but the road ahead is wide open and the choices are many.
This album is ideal for meditation and relaxation, but the duo also hope to explore the wider underscoring potential of their unique piano/harp blend of musical ideas in the TV and film world.
Written and recorded in London, 2018 at Porcupine Studios.
In July 2017 Joe received a call from the production team of Sky Atlantic’s “Patrick Melrose” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Hugo Weaving. The show, also produced by Cumberbatch, is based on the Edward St Aubyn novels concerning a playboy character from the 1960s. Weaving plays the father to Cumberbatch’s Patrick. Weaving (Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy (1999–2003), Elrond in The Lord of the Rings (2001–2003)) needed to learn the piano from scratch – and fast!
“Of all the film actors I’ve worked with,” said Joe, “Hugo knew the least and improved the quickest in just one week. And what a great guy! He was also the most complimentary. I was sad the day he left to go back to Sydney!
Following the success of Dermot O’Leary’s collaboration with Joe on ITV’s “The Nightly Show”, Joe returns to the show for the final week on Monday April 17th 2017.
The show, a kind of current affairs/news satire, has featured a whole raft of great comedian/hosts including David Walliams, Jason Manford, Davina McCall and Gordon Ramsay. Joe’s been on-hand to provide live musical accompaniment for Dermot O’Leary’s week at the helm and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.
In the words of Dermot O’Leary, Joe provided “brilliant piano playing… from the best and only pianist I know!”
Watch Joe introduce Megan Mullaly from ‘Will & Grace’ (YouTube).
With audiences (and award panels) going ga-ga for Hollywood musical La La Land, BBC’s flagship news show Today got in touch with Joe to find out how actors prepare for roles that involve playing piano on-screen. Actor Ryan Gosling has spoken of how he had to learn to play for hours, five days a week, to prepare for his role as a jazz pianist in the film. Joe was called in to help journalist Nicola Stanbridge see if she could too could get to grips with a piano co-star.
“When The Today programme’s producer writes to you saying ‘Can you help us?’, you know you must be doing something right,” says Joe.
Listen to the feature:
You can find out more about Joe’s work preparing actors to play convincing musicians in films, here. And to contact Joe about your own coaching, drop him a line here.
“Historic occasions” are often a bit of an exaggeration. However, it was a perfectly apt description of the 21st April 2016 for this piano player…
On 21st April 2016, Joe was invited to Windsor Castle to play for the Royal Family and a few close friends for the Queen’s 90th private birthday party. It was an intimate and confidential affair but it is giving no secret away to say Joe was made to feel completely at home by the Royal Family, and was given the opportunity to wish Her Majesty a very happy birthday and to chat with Prince Charles and Prince Harry. “The Royal Family were the best hosts ever! And I got to shake the hand of the country’s longest reigning monarch.”
Joe had just played “Close to you”, “Raindrops…” and a frantic version of “Say a little prayer”…
Whether at the Ivy or elsewhere in London’s top venues Joe often finds himself playing for his favourite musical legends, who inevitably come over to the piano for a chat. In July 2016 Joe played for Burt Bacharach (right) and had the opportunity to thank him for his music. “Thanks for playing it”, came the quick response. Joe also played for Monty Norman’s 80th birthday party in April 2016. The composer of the original Bond theme (pictured) sang it with Joe at a Variety event. On other occasions Sir Paul McCartney sang some impromptu Cole Porter with Joe, Sting said he’d enjoyed the version of his song so much he had almost got up and sang – “Next time, pleeese do!” replied Joe. Barry Manilow thanked Joe for playing the right chords to Copacabana and Neil Sedaka gave Joe the thumbs up for “Laughter in the Rain”. A lovely surprise was Sade’s reaction early in 2016 to Joe’s “Smooth Operator”. “She grinned, waved, then danced right across the room. What a legend!”
From the world of theatre, Joe recently played for Dame Judi Dench’s 80th birthday party and less than a month later, by a strange coincidence for Dame Maggie Smith’s 80th birthday party.
The one that got away is Adele – she was very complimentary … “I love your piano playing. Will you play for my party? Do you have a card? I’d love you to play at my party..” but she didn’t phone, she didn’t write, maybe next year?…
Over the years, Joe has worked in many primary and secondary schools. He is passionate about getting young people playing, practising and improvising. Joe concentrates on the basic principles of contrast (light and shade, loud and soft), rhythm and basic performance skills in order to encourage young musicians to get the most out of their music and to enable them share it more effectively with other people. These Blackheath Conservatoire dates offer youngsters and their parents a chance to hear top London jazz musicians up close and learn how they got where they are today.
27 November 2016 – Mark Armstrong on trumpet, Robert Rickenberg on bass
For more details visit www.conservatoire.org.uk
“Joe Thompson, who is a former pupil of King Edwards School, has worked with us in a variety of ways in recent times. On two occasions he has run workshops with some of our musicians during the day and then put on a concert in the evening. These occasions have been spectacular successes. He has shown the players things about their playing that they did not know and, in a very short space of time, taken them somewhere new. The concerts have been a joy not least because of the energy and enthusiasm that Joe shows and his deep rapport with the boys. Joe has brought delight and knowledge in equal measure to this school and he works brilliantly with children of a range of ages. He is a star and a gem.”
John Claughton, Chief Master
King Edward’s School, Birmingham
On 26th April 2016 Joe performed Rhapsody in Blue for an audience of two thousand in one of the best concert halls in the UK. It is 29 years since Joe last performed his favourite concert piano piece.
“If you want to hear me do it again, you’ll have to wait another 29 years” says Joe, “it was an amazing feeling, and the audience were fantastic, but I don’t know how these concert pianists do that night after night. So much respect!”
This informal Blackheath Conservatoire session is all about the music. Come see if you have ‘big ears’, as Joe and his fellow musicians play you the best in jazz and show you how it’s done – just like they’ve done at The Ivy Club the night before!
Perfect for aspiring young musicians, or families who want some quality musical time together. This really is some of the best jazz in town, and when you pair it with an espresso from our café, makes for the hippest family scene around.
This session will see us joined by Lizzie Deane – a soul, funk and blues songstress with a deeply soulful voice that emulates the sweet melodic and raw belting lines associated with the classic divas. With her warm persona and infectious performance style Lizzie contemporises her musical influences, that include Aretha Franklin, James Brown, The Jacksons, Etta James, Stevie Wonder & Otis Reading. Along with Joe Thompson on piano and Robert Rickenberg on bass, Lizzie will be demonstrating some different styles and techniques and sharing with our local young singers some of the tricks of the trade.
February 2016 saw Joe once again entertaining the Royal Family. The venue this time was St James’s Palace, playing through dinner and also accompanying the fabulous opera singer, and member of the Royal Opera House’s young artist programme, Lauren Fagan singing Puccini, Catalani and Gershwin.