“A rising star of the piano” – BBC Radio 3, Jazz Line-Up
“There is no jazz code he hasn’t deciphered and mastered” – Manchester Evening News
“A real find” – Jazz UK
“Fairhall’s piano is a questing, quixotic voice with a comprehensive ‘inside and out’ vocabulary” – Jazzwise
“A homegrown autodidact and musical genius” – dyversemusic.com
“Astonishing” – Bebop Spoken Here
“A hugely accomplished instrumentalist” – The Wire
“Adam Fairhall is a total star” – Independent on Sunday
Over the past decade, Adam Fairhall has forged an international reputation as a jazz pianist and improviser of exceptional versatility. Based near Manchester, England and highly active on that city’s burgeoning creative music scene, he is perhaps best known as the pianist in Nat Birchall’s Coltrane-inspired band, and as a free improviser with such acclaimed groups as The Spirit Farm. His previous release under his own name, The Imaginary Delta (SLAM 2012), was named Album of the Year by influential US blog Bird Is The Worm, and revealed a deep understanding of early jazz and the ways in which it can connect to free jazz and contemporary idioms. He has continued this synthesis in his recent solo piano album, Friendly Ghosts (Efpi 2017); in Adam’s playing, idioms drawn from any period of jazz history may be blended, collided, subverted, hinted at or played completely ‘straight’. His aim is to place his deep knowledge of jazz piano techniques, from ragtime to free jazz, at the service of playful, spontaneous invention, within a freewheeling and sometimes rough-edged improvisational style that creates its own momentum and energy. Friendly Ghosts garnered excellent reviews from the Wire, Jazzwise and various websites, and received airplay on BBC Radio 3 (Late Junction), Daniel Spicer’s radio show The Mystery Lesson and multiple plays on Jazz FM. Adam is due to perform solo sets at Brighton Alternative Jazz Festival 2018 (on the bill with Matthew Shipp, Ivo Perelman and Peter Brotzmann) and the London Jazz Festival 2018 (as part of Ethan Iverson’s residency at King’s Place).
Adam began, like many pianists, by practising boogie and blues with friends during school lunchtimes. He received piano lessons covering jazz harmony and repertoire in his teens, before moving north to study Contemporary Arts at MMU Cheshire, where he received a first class honours degree and an MA with distinction. Having decided towards the end of his undergraduate studies to devote his time to the study of jazz, Adam followed his studies at MMU with Master’s study at Leeds College of Music, receiving a MMus in Jazz Studies (Performance) in 2005. While at Leeds he studied with pianist Mark Donlon and also took lessons with pianist Matthew Bourne. In 2005 he received the college’s Sam Hood Rosebowl for Outstanding Jazz Performance. Returning to MMU to teach and continue his practice and research, Adam received a PhD in 2008 and continues to hold a part-time post as Senior Lecturer in Popular Music in the Cheshire faculty’s Department of Contemporary Arts.
Adam’s most ambitious ensemble project as a leader is The Imaginary Delta, which involves a seven-piece band. The Imaginary Delta was commissioned by Manchester Jazz Festival, and premiered at Band on the Wall, Manchester, in July 2011 to considerable acclaim; the premiere was named the no. 1 gig of 2011 by journalist Chris Ackerley. The project includes a 3-horn front line and also features Paul J Rogers on laptop, turntable and diddley-bow. The music revisits early jazz forms in a surprising, passionate and at times highly deconstructive way. A live recording was released on SLAM in spring 2012 to consistently 4 and 5 star reviews in magazines, newspapers and blogs, and the band appeared as part of the Vortex’s programme for the London Jazz Festival 2012, and at the Forge, Camden in February 2013. In addition to being named Album of the Year by Bird is the Worm, the album placed on eMusic’s Best Albums of 2012 and received an Honorable Mention on eminent American critic Ted Gioia’s Best of 2012 list. In 2014 Adam was commissioned by Manchester Jazz Festival and Manchester Literature Festival to re-work The Imaginary Delta in collaboration with acclaimed poet Jackie Kay, using her poems about Bessie Smith in addition to new poetry. The resulting work was performed at the Royal Northern College of Music and as part of the Manchester Literature Festival in 2014. Adam and Jackie performed new material from the collaboration on Radio 3’s Women’s Hour in July 2014.
In addition to The Imaginary Delta and his solo playing, Adam leads the six-piece improvising ensemble The Spirit Farm, who are fast becoming known as an unusually inventive and powerful group of improvisers. Described as an ‘improv supergroup’ and ‘devastatingly creative‘ by Jazzwise in their 4-star review of the group’s 2015 eponymous debut album, the band consists of some of the most accomplished and noted members of Britain’s new generation of improvisers, and all the members are based north of London. The group has been praised in The Wire and Jazz Journal, and received a lengthy, highly positive write-up in the New York City Jazz Record. The band recently played to capacity crowds in an Arts Council-funded tour of English venues.
Adam also leads or co-leads projects in a variety of other formats, from an organ trio (The Revival Room, due to support Uri Caine at the Howard Assembly Rooms in November 2017) to piano trios (Fragments trio and The Markov Chain). His work frequently involves him playing keyboard instruments other than the piano, including prepared electric piano, Indian harmonium, toy piano and drawbar organ, and he is becoming increasingly active as an accordionist in several projects. On all these instruments Adam enjoys exploiting and subverting conventional techniques while investigating the idiosyncratic, individual qualities of the instrument and its potential for free playing. In developing a free vocabulary for instruments relatively rare in that field, Adam is becoming increasingly sought after as a free player, both in the northern scene and the London scene. In 2015 he took his collection of prepared toy pianos to New York for a solo set at ABC No-Rio in the Lower East Side, where he performed after renowned saxophone player Daniel Carter.
In addition to five albums as leader or co-leader, Adam has recorded ten albums and numerous BBC sessions as a sideman, most notably with acclaimed sax player Nat Birchall.
Adam has been interviewed for Jazzwise (August 2012) and the Wire (May 2016), and was selected for the Northern Line scheme as a solo artist in 2014. In November 2014 Dutch public radio service Concertzender devoted an edition of the programme ‘Art of the Improvisers’ to Adam’s work. In 2009 Adam was selected for Take Five Five Edition VI, a prestigious professional development scheme designed to ”give some of the UK’s most talented young jazz musicians the unique opportunity to take time out to develop their craft”. Take Five is a Jerwood charitable Foundation/PRS Foundation initiative with additional support from Arts Council England and Musicians Benevolent Fund.