Kate Shortt – Cellist, Pianist & Composer

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“My mother was a piano teacher. We had a beautiful black grand Bluthner in our house when we grew up. We all played on it but I was obsessed with it from the age of around four. I was teaching myself and basically it was my recluse and my best friend. I started lessons when I was around six years old, I was already playing and then when I got to Grade V Piano I had an entirely different relationship with it, apart from exams and classical music.

I was already composing on it. It didn’t seem like a piano to me, it seemed like this other being that I was discovering that had all these teeth, and the teeth made sounds, and I couldn’t believe that one fitted with another one to make all these chords. So it was my life. I started the cello at seven and although I primarily am a cellist, the piano helped the cello and visa versa. The piano became like an orchestra because I could play so many of the parts at the same time.
I discovered jazz chords and started playing very much by ear which is why I stopped classical piano after Grade V, I found that the reading just slowed me down. I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional classical pianist but I would always use the piano. So I started memorising every single Beatles song I knew, and Elton John, Kate Bush – anything with the piano. I spent my teens at school entertaining people with it in the lunch hour. It got me friends, it didn’t necessarily get me boyfriends. It certainly brought musical attention to me. I wanted to share it. I was writing many piano pieces and then I began to write songs. When I was 14 I won Birmingham BBC radio young composers competition with a piano piece called ‘Day Time Blues and Early Morning Rag’.
When I went to music college I stopped writing as I wanted to focus on the cello but I went back to it after. In my second year at music college I formally started jazz piano lessons and then I realised that the chords I’d created when I was thirteen actually had a name to them, and that other things could happen to them; you could invert them and extend them – that was quite awesome. After college I started to teach and use a lot of piano for that; I still do. In 2006 I brought out an album. ‘Something To Tell You’ It’s a collection of songs that I had written over the years; I did all the arrangements for these songs for the accompanying instruments (string quartet etc) on the piano. I slightly take the piano for granted now; it’s become part of my body now so I don’t feel quite as obsessed as I used to feel. It’s been a background and a backdrop to the rest of my musical life. I started jazz piano lessons again last year, it’s been a lot of fun to rediscover this, it’s more than a hobby but not particularly in my professional life as a performer – it is integrated I would say. I will try to write more songs again soon.
In 1990 I began my solo show where I perform my own songs. I started out using piano and later on the cello came in. Now I use both piano and cello in this show. I integrate singing and comedy. The piano songs are a mixture of comedy and ballads. ‘That was spectacular, totally hilarious and genius!’ (audience member) ‘Wide ranging vocals and very funny’ (The Stage) ‘Emotionally rich songs, thoughtful harmonies, heartfelt reflections on life’ (Musicians Union magazine).

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