September inspiring moment: Jamie Cullum, a piano and a Swindon school.

Here’s a tale to warm the heart.

Just over a year ago Jamie Cullum decided to run a competition for the public to win a piano. Not just any piano. His piano which had been round the world with him. Find any live shot (except from from the last year) and chances are it’ll be the piano in question. A very fine, very big Yamaha Grand.

Swindon comprehensive school, The Commonweal submitted their entry ‘Come on Jamie (give is your old piano)’ which promptly went viral and won the public vote.

He may have played the Hollywood Bowl this summer, but on Monday night Jamie Cullum returned to his old manor to bid a final farewell to his ‘old joanna’. Swindon’s Old Town was the scene of some of the Cullum’s earliest gigs. He grew up and went to school not far away, his family are still in the area and most jazzers of a certain age in these parts have a story of playing with ‘that Jamie Cullum’. So it was a satisfying twist of fate when a Swindon school won the piano, not to mention a surreal journey for them.  The handover took place on the Andrew Marr show one Sunday last January on the same day David Cameron was on, giving Headteacher Keith Defter the opportunity to bend his ear about education policy.

The Swindon comprehensive, with a track record in boosting young musicians and organising a town wide piano competition, wasted no time in inviting Cullum to come and play and give them a few tips. Nine months later they found a gap in the diary and for two hours, to an audience of students and friends of the school, Cullum sang, whipped up his trade-mark percussive storms on the piano, answered questions, demonstrated what it means to “play around and make stuff up” (at one point inventing a song on the spot about the evening) and staged an impromptu group lesson in playing the blues for three students who’d just performed short pieces.

The questions came thick and fast, mainly from students and they learnt about his formal training (he failed grade three piano), inspirations (brother Ben, early mentor Ray), great gigs (Ray Charles memorial concert – too many names to drop at once were in attendance) and could feel the love of jazz, singing and exploration that drives him. One of the lessons those students could be taking away after an audience with Jamie Cullum is how to count your blessings and wear the fame and stardom lightly.  The reception was rapturous and who knows, may just spark the beginnings of another jazz revival in Swindon.   It was a very special evening.

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