Bob Ravenscroft plays free concert Thursday at Eagle River Presbyterian Church
If You Go ...
What: Jazz piano legend Bob Ravenscroft in concert
Where: Eagle River Presbyterian Church, 455 Nottingham Ranch Road, Avon.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday.
More information: For information about Ravencroft, go to musicservingtheword.org. For his piano building company, http://www.ravenscroftpianos.com. For Eagle River Presbyterian Church, go to http://www.erpc.org, or call 970-748-0040.
AVON — Jazz legend Bob Ravenscroft didn’t like piano lessons any more than you did.
In fact, he didn’t read music until he went to college.
But unlike the rest of us, Ravenscroft’s performance career has spanned more than five decades. He’s doing a free concert tonight at Eagle River Presbyterian Church.
But before we can tell you that story, we have to tell you this story.
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Ravenscroft started playing jazz in grade school, growing up on Chicago’s south side. He started getting paid for it during high school as part of a quintet, working clubs around the area.
In his younger years, his mother took piano lessons. She came home and played what she’d learned, reading music and getting each note perfect.
Ravenscroft sat down at the piano and played the same music by ear and added a few things that weren’t technically written on the page.
His mother and father knew talent when they saw it and decided their son should develop his. His musical roots reach back to 1621, when ancestor Thomas Ravenscroft composed “The Whole Book” of Psalms.
Here’s the thing, though.
“I was probably the worst piano student. I hated to read music. I threw darts at my music. I enjoyed the intuitive side of music,” Ravenscroft said.
Life ensued, and in 1958 his country called. A few years, he mustered out of the Army and went to college, first to the University of Michigan for a couple years to study electrical engineering. He’s been a ham radio operator for 58 years.
But the music wouldn’t wait, so off he went to Northwestern University in Chicago.
Here’s another thing.
He started music school at Northwestern and couldn’t read music. He learned though, and quickly.
“My first assignment was to learn an E minor Haydn sonata,” he said.
He had three months.
“I smoked a lot of cigarettes in those days and learned to internalize small passages, then longer passages,” he said.
He ended up playing classical piano concertos and has written several contemporary piano compositions.
He spent seven years earning two degrees from Northwestern, and after all these years he still says it was time well spent.
For decades Ravenscroft has worked with countless fine musicians, both in his own combos and with others. His Jazzbird Studio played a pivotal role in the Phoenix music community for almost two decades, offering jazz instruction, audio production and numerous concert series.
In between his performance schedule he teaches, sometimes up to 65 students per week, and started a piano building company, Ravenscroft Pianos, because if you want something done right …
A father and son team do most of the labor. It takes about 1,000 hours to build one, and they can do three a year.
Now he’s applying jazz principles and multimedia to church music through Music Serving the Word (musicservingtheword.org).
“That keeps me busy in the years I would be retired,” he said.
He designed a program called Love Song, and that’s what he’ll be doing Thursday.
“Thursday won’t be the usual jazz program,” he said.
Decades playing clubs taught him that music should react to the crowd. In most churches, the music is the music and the crowd isn’t always a consideration.
Along with the sermon and normal church service stuff, Music Serving the Word adds some electronics, video and other multimedia. Garrett Seminary is interested, as is the Claremont School of Theology.
“It was a long-accepted fact that playing Bach or Handel in church was church music,” he said. “There should be an improvisational aspect. Music should respond to the needs of the moment in worship.”
That led Ravenscroft to launch Music Serving the Word Ministries.
“It’s a fascinating ministry,” he said. “The message is about the theme of love, of course, including traditional American love songs. It touches on Christ’s love, too. I’m enjoying offering this to people.”
Ravenscroft and his wife live in Beaver Creek most of the time. They go back and forth between the Beav’ and Arizona, where most of their family resides .
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.