Songs to Write to

Prompted by discussions and a suggestion over at Mark William Jackson’s blog, here’s my bit for the music that I use when writing.

Graham’s can be found here and Mark’s here, no doubt we’ll try and add others as they pop up!

Like Paul mentions over at Graham’s blog, I too find it difficult to write with music that has lyrics, unless I know them inside out or they are in another language (Lucio Battisti for one). So, it’s a lot of instrumentals for me too! But here they are, a mix of stuff I use often or pieces and albums that are relatively new to me:


First Light – Freddie Hubbard (1971)


Jazz is perfect for writing –  it has it’s own mad rhythms and I really find it useful when I want to try something different. This album has rarely left the player I got it a last month. Especially the title track, Freddie is, at times, amazingly understated here, and is supported by a stellar group of sidemen.


Howl’s Moving Castle – Joe Hisaishi (2005)

Studio Ghibli films almost always have beautiful scores, and Howl’s is my favourite of them all. Being a fantasty film too, there’s a range of expressive movements and pieces throughout – but what I love best about it is Hisaishi’s expressiveness. I find myself drawn back to Himitsu no Doukutsu (The Secret Cave) a lot.

Keith Jarrett – The Koln Concert (1975)


This album has astounded me every time I’ve played it. An entire solo piano concert improvised live. Awesome. It sounds like Keith is completely within the music here, you can hear him murmuring to himself as he plays, and just comes up with the sublime phrasing and melodic fragments , going from jazz/blues vamps into more classical moments of creativity. This again, especially the opening 10 minutes of Part 1 is something I find I can put on whenever I feel empty of words, and something happens!


Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess) – Ravel (1910, orchestral arrangement) &
Isle of the Dead – Rachmaninoff (1908

There’s something about The Isle of the Dead that is almost terrifying, as a piece of music it’s command of upheaval and calm is astounding and though I cannot always listen to the whole symphonic poem in one sitting, it never fails to stir me. Pavane… is a one of the more beautiful pieces out there, and I think giving the lead role to a horn was a brilliant piece of arranging, as somber as it is, this is another piece I keep coming back to.


20 thoughts on “Songs to Write to

  1. Did you know the Koln Concert was played on the wrong piano? 20 mins before he was due to go on, Keith realised they had set up the rehearsal piano instead of the good one. Amazing. One of the mind blowing works of art of the 20th Century, I think.

  2. the Koln Concert… truly magnificent. And the Howl’s Moving Castle CD is stunning. Great List Ash. I need to check out Freddie Hubbard. Hope a few more lists pop up around the place soon!

    • Me too – keen to see a whole chain of ’em!

      Also worth a look, a live version of Red Clay – got that amazing hard bob/funk vibe. The Hubbard CTI stuff is a little more orchestrated than earlier work.

      And his work with Herbie Hancock – particularly on Empyrean Isles – is gold

  3. Hi Ashley, what a nice blog you have here. Music is such a big part of my writing, and I have to say if music didn’t exist I probably wouldn’t be able to write. It’s great to see you discussing music as part of your writing. You may have inspired me to write a piece on music over at my blog. 🙂

  4. two cd’s to check out – great harvest.
    the Köln concert is amazing. i think i have read somewhere it is not the actual recording but a later recording of this improvisation.
    i would suggest to check him out with Jan Garbarek. which is any way recommended. i can not believe i missed on mentioning him in my list – i love the indian fusion works he made.. sax has never sounded better than with those indian scales..

  5. I’m always looking for different music–> that I can play a thousand times a day. You don’t want it to be distracting but still it needs to be able to inspire a creative mood. So, on my 5 disc office stereo at the moment: Wooden Shjips, The Avett Brothers (‘I and Love and You’ might be album of the year), The Temper Trap, Frightened Rabbit, CineMatic Orchestra’s Mate Night Tales.

    • Me too! I agree, Alec, it’s gotta have something, but it can’t control you while you write. I’ve heard bits and pieces of the Cinematic Orchestra and I was thrilled. Gotta get a few actual albums, and then research some of those others!

  6. Ha ha I’ve had my jazz favorites in my ears all night while reading your blog and Jarrett’s Part 1 just finished. It is a magnificent album. ‘My Foolish Heart’ at Montreux with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette is also very good. Though not technically jazz, I keep going back to Jobim’s and Gilberto’s music. ‘Desafinado’ is superb. I love your blog. Cheers again. Andrew

  7. Isn’t ‘Part 1’ a stunning piece of music. I can hardly believe it sometimes. And even though I thought his humming etc would bug me, it never has.

    Thanks for the new work to investigate, Andrew – sounds good, especially of DeJohnette is involved. And I’ve never heard of ‘Desafindo’ either, excellent, looking forward to checking that out too.

    Thanks for sticking around and checking the blog out in detail!

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