David Austin Grey is a pianist, composer and educator working across multiple musical disciplines in UK and internationally, including residencies in Brazil and South Asia. As a graduate of the University of Birmingham and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, David has worked with such well-respected artists, and institutions, as Courtney Pine, Eliza Shaddad, Soweto Kinch, Michael League, Black Voices and Snarky Puppy, and the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and the British Council. He has also supported GRAMMY–winning artists Marcus Miller, Terri-Lyne Carrington and Snarky Puppy, and has appeared at numerous venues and festivals across the UK. In 2018 was awarded a place on Sound and Music’s national ‘New Voices’ programme. When he is not making music, David concentrates his energies on photography and martial arts. He has practised various martial disciplines for over fifteen years and teaches Taekwondo in his home city of Birmingham.

Picture: David leading a Taekwondo session at Birmingham University.

“I also do some sports coaching as well, so I coach Taekwondo club at the University [of] Birmingham, I’ve been doing that for a long while actually, about 13–14 years. I’m always trying to balance the two… the teaching was a way for me to support myself by doing something that I enjoy as well, while still allowing me time to dedicate to the development of the music. But at the same time it is a part of my identity as well, a part of my life. The martial arts feeds in to the music and they are definitely interlinked… Currently music is something that I am and martial arts is more something that I do.”

BH: This shot of David leading a Taekwondo class at the University of Birmingham was another one I knew had to get to go with the interview. So it was shot during a class but I tried to just let the images happen and to get a relaxed feel of not being set up. Reasonable electric light allowed use of the 24-70 f4 lens for the ability to quickly change focal length to suit as the action was fast moving. It was almost wide open at f4.5, ISO 3200 allowing 1/200th second with lens at the traditional standard setting of 50mm. Although I was concentrating on David’s body shape and interaction with the student I was also aware of and attracted to the shape of the student in the background stretching and her reflections and with the way the white walls, dark window and floor split the composition into distinct areas with the main student bridging linking the areas.

Picture: David teaching on a Saturday class at the SoundLab in Coventry.

“I consider myself as a musician who plays jazz amongst other things…so within music, aside from the playing, I would say primarily now I see myself as a composer first and then a performer second. But I also do a lot of education work. So I do a lot of workshop teaching for THSH* and for the Conservatoire, I work on a programme called SoundLab which is based in Coventry – like an outreach programme of musical education. Which is not specifically jazz-related at all.”
*Town Hall Symphony Hall, Birmingham

BH: David with young participants at the SoundLab project in Coventry on a Saturday morning. The large windows in the classroom allowed ISO800 with the 85mm lens set to f5.0 (to ensure all the faces were in reasonable focus) at 1/125th second. I used the 85mm lens because although large the classroom was actually packed with students and tutors so to avoid being a distraction in the middle of the room I had to position myself across the other side of the room. David was playing back a demonstration track and I wanted to get some interaction but also a feel of him leading and students listening. The almost painterly composition is to my eyes pleasing – it can be hard to get groups of this size composed successfully – it was made easier by their natural arrangement and the fact that I was across the room out of their eyeline so they didn’t notice me.

Picture: David at the Valley Pool in Bournville, Birmingham. His latest music project is based on the migration of birds.

“For composers and musicians, for myself anyway, I want to do things which are gonna push me forwards, I want to do things that are more challenging and stretch my approach to writing music, my approach to presenting and playing music. So, I am doing something that is challenging and therefore more interesting to me…but there aren’t necessarily venues and promoters who are willing to take that same risk.”

BH: David is working on a new piece based on the migration of birds so we shot this at a pool that he often drives by. Although there were plenty of birds at the location it was really challenging to get an opportunity to put then in an appropriate and interesting relationship with David. Being outside meant ISO400 was possible as was the use of the 24-70 f4 zoom – which by coincidence was set to 28mm f6.3 and a fast shutter speed to freeze any action of 1/400th second. We tried a number of things but this shot seemed to reflect both the subject of David’s composition, his thoughtful approach and with some interaction with the birds.

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