I didn't really know what to write in the subject of this post or even where to start with my story and with my questions.
Some background: I'm mid-forties, have been playing the piano since childhood, and worked my way up to and including Grade 8 as a teenager. I then played on-and-off throughout university and my twenties and then in my thirties I took up the organ and - again - worked my way up the ABRSM Grades finishing with Grade 8 distinction around 8 or 9 years ago.
Since then I'd say that I have lost direction a little with my music-making. I have kept both the piano and organ "ticking over" by "maintaining" old repertoire, learning a little bit of new repertoire and keeping sight-reading skills (mostly) up-to-speed, but I just don't feel I've really progressed anywhere with music in the last 8 or 9 years, really, since taking G8 organ.
I always have been envious of people who go to piano/music shops and sit down and "just play" as I have never been like that - I need my printed dots, even if only as a crutch. I'm also envious of people you see sitting at the "public" pianos in central London - e.g., in St Pancras and Tottenham Court Road tube station - hammering out 12-bar blues and boogie-woogie and sounding really impressive. I am not (currently) able to do those things. I'm also envious of people who have excellent "ears" for music - can hear chord progressions and can sing harmonies with ease, and can even play by ear on the piano including harmonization.
Two years ago I joined a Jazz Piano class at Morley College in central London. I joined it as an attempt to improve my general musicianship - playing by ear, improvising - etc - not due to any particular love of jazz - and while it certainly improved my improvisation skills from non-existent to musically passable I still felt that I was essentially just reading from sheet music and with the improvisation was just following set rules rather than "hearing" in my mind what I wanted to play and play it.
Last September I joined a "Rock and Pop" band class, also at Morley College. I am enjoying this much more than the Jazz Piano class but - again - I am just relying on printed out sheet music for the pieces we are doing, and sometimes even writing out my own where necessary - rather than just relying on lead sheets and trying to improvise accompaniments / parts on the fly from the chords.
So, my question really is this: how do people with a classical background (by which I mean ABRSM or other exam board grade exams) "move" into other styles - pop/rock, blues, boogie-woogie - etc? And in particular, things like playing/comping from lead sheets, and playing by ear?
I went to the music shop today to look for tutor books on blues / boogie-woogie / pop-rock and spent an hour there flicking through them all but they all seemed to have one thing in common - they were all (or almost all) geared towards the absolute beginner. I really don't need to be taught how to play diatonic scales, or what a major triad is! Are there books aimed at the (likely adult) who has a classical background but who wants to move into those styles and - if so - any recommendations?
I realise the above is a big ramble but my excuse is it's the first post I've made in about 6 or 7 years!
I would appreciate any thoughts / help.