These days it’s much harder to become a specialist in more than one field, but there are some who manage it. There are others who excel professionally in either chess or music while choosing the other as a hobby, or who play chess in their youth before switching to music.
In this week’s article I look at some lesser known examples of chess playing musicians in a variety of genres.
A musical contemporary of Smyslov and Taimanov, and, like the former, a baritone, Derek Hammond-Stroud (1926-2012) was a keen amateur chess player who competed regularly in the London League. His musical specialities were German song and opera, and Gilbert and Sullivan: you can see him here as Jack Point in a 1975 production of The Yeomen of the Guard, along with the delightful Valerie Masterson, who, as far as I know, doesn’t play chess. I haven’t been able to find any of his games online, but there may well be someone out there who played him and kept the score of the game.
While I never played Derek Hammond-Stroud in the London League, I did play my next musician there (it was a draw, since you ask, but not sufficiently interesting to post here). I also once played in a bridge tournament against the great violinist Alfredo Campoli, but that’s another story.
Welsh chess international Francis Rayner was an award-winning child prodigy pianist who continues to be very active in both music and chess. Listen to him here playing La Cathédrale Engloutie (the submerged cathedral), a beautiful piece by Debussy.
In this game Francis outplays GM Daniel King, about whose musical prowess you’ll hear much more next week.
Chess is not only popular amongst classical musicians. Leon Rosselson (1934-) has been writing and singing satirical and political songs for more than half a century. In this clip (and if you’re a Tory or a Republican you should probably look away) he’s performing alongside Hounslow’s finest, Robb Johnson, another political songwriter.
As a teenager, though, he was a promising chess player. Here’s a brilliancy prize winning game from the 1952 British Junior Championships.
Another folkie, Nic Jones (1947-), has been a passionate chess player all his life. As far as I know he’s never played competitively, but he’s clearly knowledgeable about the game as one of his albums, which has shamefully never been legally available on CD (the owner of the rights refuses to release them) The Noah’s Ark Trap. Here’s a lovely track from that album. Sadly Nic’s recording career was terminated by a catastrophic car accident in 1982, although he’s made some live appearances in recent years.
Moving on to the field of pop music, Bono (Paul Hewson) was an active club and tournament player as a young boy and claims to have played internationally, although his dad seems to dispute this. In 2014 he met Kasparov when Garry paid a visit to Dublin.
Ray Charles was, and Bob Dylan, for all I know, still is a keen chess player, but again neither played competitively and there seem to be no games available.
New age composer, pianist and singer Jason Kouchak (1969-), however, is a serious competitive player, and is also involved in many other aspects of the game. He installed a giant chess set for children in London’s Holland Park and is also involved with Chess in Schools & Communities. I’m afraid Jason’s music doesn’t appeal to me but that’s my loss: you may well feel differently. Here’s a sample with a chessy title.
Jason’s current FIDE rating is 1729 so he’s a decent player. Here’s a game against an American chess author.
Next week I’ll consider how chess and music can continue to work together: until then I hope you enjoy the games and at least some of the music.