MEET THE MUSICIANS: ROSA ULLMANN, KEYBOARDS
Professional keys player Rosa Ullmann recently helped us launch our new Keyboards 2018 syllabus, with a video showcasing some of the new songs. We caught up with Rosa, a London-based keyboard player and composer who’s supported a range of artists including Lady Gaga, Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers, The Offspring, and Gossip, to hear about her career highlights, as well as her advice for aspiring keys players.
In your career to date, who have you played with and where have you played?
During my career I have worked and performed with Soom T, Alpha Petulay, BBC Radio 4, Brinsley Forde, Barry Dread, City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, Celloman, Ebony Bones, Florence Rawlings, General Levy, Geri Halliwell, Levina, and Nitin Sawhney.
Festivals and venues include: Glastonbury, Shambala, Wireless, Womad, Pukkelpop, Lowlands, Cargo, O2 Arena, Ronnie Scott’s, The 100 Club, Wembley Stadium, and Kings Place.
What have been your career highlights as a keys player?
My favourite type of work is festivals, so my personal career highlights have been travelling around the world discovering new festivals as well as playing at the more well known ones such as Glastonbury.
One of my favourite gigs I did last year was Deferlantes Festival (with artist Soom T), which is in a huge vineyard between the mountains on the border of southern France and Spain. First myself and the artist did an acoustic piano and vocal session for the festival radio station, before we went on stage with the rest of the band for our full set. It was a great gig, we played to a brilliant crowd in the 35 degree heat just as the sun was going down and everyone was getting into the party spirit. Next onstage after us was The Offspring, followed by The Chemical Brothers. It was the last night of that particular leg of the tour so we stayed at the festival for a while and partied to some more great music.
I also loved playing at Glastonbury 2017 followed by Solidays festival in Paris the next day, as this was a great comeback to touring seven weeks after my little boy was born. At Solidays festival we played just before Cypress Hill, so it was great to watch them after having done a really fun gig.
I also play at and supply the musicians for the BBC Radio 4 Christmas appeal sessions every year through my collective Soul In The City. It’s great playing for the sessions and getting together the musicians who I think are best suited to it. It’s always a great atmosphere and I really enjoy working as part of such an awesome team!
What do you love most about what you do?
I love the variety of situations I find myself in and meeting new people. I enjoy all of my work and love that some days I'll be playing on a big venue/festival stage to thousands of people in a part of the world I've never been to, and the next day I might be teaching one of my lovely students, doing a session or playing a quiet jazz duo gig in a small restaurant in front of 10 people. Whatever the gig is, I treat all of them with the same respect and love making a living out of playing music.
What inspired you to learn to play keyboards?
As I come from a musical background, I have always played something. My first instrument was the violin, which I didn't dislike but I never vibed with it like I did with the piano. I loved all the 90s/2000s RnB and pop artists as well as the Soul, RnB, Motown, Jazz, Reggae and classical music that I grew up listening to. Music has always been a huge part of my life, and I have always enjoyed a really eclectic mix of genres. I used to learn pop songs by ear and play them for my friends to sing along to at school. I loved the feeling I got from playing, and as I wasn't very academic at school, I wanted to play to my strengths and keep doing what I was good at.
How did you learn to play keys?
I mainly taught myself until I was 16 and then I went and had classical lessons with Rhuna Martin, who was the most amazing and inspiring teacher in every possible way. She taught me how to think as well as how to play. I did my grades with her and then went on to study at Tech Music School (which is now BIMM).
Music is something you can never stop learning, which is why I still occasionally have lessons now with one of my teachers from Tech, Sam Crowe, who is such a brilliant Jazz teacher. I think it’s important to always be improving in what you do and learning new ideas from other people, which is one of the reasons why I love working with different people all the time. We should all keep an open mind and always be learning from each other!
What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
Work hard, play hard, rely only on yourself and be nice, there's no need to be any other way! Everyone is connected in this industry and word gets around quickly, so prepare well for every gig, as each gig you do is kind of like an audition. Every person you share a stage/studio/rehearsal room with will probably at some point have the opportunity to recommend someone who does what you do. If you do a good job and are nice to work with (no egos/drama), then you have more chance of being the one who is recommended when that time comes.
There will always be someone better then you, and there will always be someone worse than you. Just work at being the best YOU can be and don't worry about comparing yourself to other people. Just because someone is a better player than you, it doesn't necessarily mean they are better qualified for a certain gig than you are. Relax and enjoy doing what you do!
What do you think is the #1 skill needed by professional keyboardists?
That’s a tough one, there are so many! I would say having a great knowledge of key signatures and being able to think in numbers rather than in each specific key will really open up your playing and take away limitations. For example, if a song is in the key of G, instead of learning the chords by thinking “G, B minor, C, D”, think “one, minor three, four, five” and then you can apply it to all keys and won't be tripped up when someone inevitably asks to change to a different key!
What are you currently working on?
I am currently running my own female collective, playing at various events as well as supplying artists and projects with session musicians. We are currently working with Geri Halliwell from the Spice Girls, supplying her with musicians and I am also her private piano accompanist.
Watch Rosa introduce and put her spin on some of the songs in our new Keyboards syllabus in our Keyboards 2018 Showcase. You can also watch full-length versions of the songs in Rosa’s Keyboards 2018 Sessions.
Find out more about Rosa: rosaullmann.com