When I first heard Oscar Peterson on radio I was immediately hooked on jazz. I rushed to my local record store (Glen's in Pretoria) and having bought what I consider to be one of his best albums (Oscar Peterson Plays Porgy and Bess) I soon became a regular visitor to what was at that time the best place to pick up jazz albums. Little by little I built up my collection, always searching for new sounds and other artists. One day I came across the Miles Davis album Four and More and having listened to the opening bars I realized that this was going to take me to some exciting places. Once I got home I started listening, and recall how, when the family had finally gone to bed, I would lie with my head underneath the old gramophone (ears almost touching the speakers) so that I could listen at low volume so as to not keep my parents awake! I played the album over and over.
While I continued my classical piano studies I was now determined to learn how to improvise. I started composing simple piano pieces, putting what I new about sentences and phrases into practice - little knowing that these were the origins of improvisation. I continued to listen and explore, and now, thanks to Miles, broadened my horizons away from the piano to encompass horn players including George Coleman, Sonny Stitt, Lou Donaldson, Eric Dolphy, Cannonball Adderley and Stan Getz. I was yet to truly discover Coltrane - when I first listened to his music I couldn't understand it, but this was to change a few years later.
By the time I left school I had already passed my Grade 8 (Pianoforte) and during my year of conscription into the army was able to survive being away from my piano by listening to the jazz programs broadcast on the African-language radio stations, and by reading my copies of Downbeat cover to cover. I recall reading an article by Bill Evans where he described his piece Very Early and commented that one could not possible play a piece properly without "knowing" it, and this required playing the piece many times over. How true these words were - especially, as I later learned, when trying to play a decent solo over one of your own compositions!