The Freedman Fellowship is a prestigious award—entrants are nominated from within the Australian Jazz scene and invited to participate. Julien Wilson, performing with his Julien Wilson Trio, was awarded the 2006 fellowship recently.
With prize money of $20,000 ($15,000 in cash, $5,000 for promotion) and a range of support from the MCA, the Fellowship can offer some very practical career assistance.
The activity surrounding the Freedman combined with the launch of the Trio’s CD While you were sleeping have meant that Wilson’s schedule over the past few weeks has been particularly demanding. In a break between activities, Jazz Australia had a coffee with him in Melbourne and talked to him about what the Fellowship means to him and how he hopes to employ the support and financial assistance it provides.
Miriam Zolin: Tell us about the proposal you submitted to the Freedman…
Julien Wilson: The proposal was to go to Europe with the Julien Wilson Trio (with Steve Magnusson, guitar and Steve Grant, piano accordion) and then for Steve Magnusson and I to go to New York as part of the same trip and get Barney McCall to produce it and maybe play on some of it as well. There are other musicians in New York who would like to be involved and we’d love to work with them. We still have to do some talking about that. Steve has actually put in a grant application with the Australia Council as well, and that funding will certainly help. The budget for the proposal comes to over forty thousand dollars so if that comes through, along with additional fund raising as well as work, CD sales and income from other areas, we should be able to make it happen.
MZ: So it’s a two-stage project…
JW: Yes, and during the process of submitting the proposal for the Freedman, the European tour changed to a tour to Scandinavia—I sent out about fifty different demo packages to England, Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, France, Italy, Germany, Holland and Denmark—and the Danish one seemed like the best bet; with someone there saying he would try and arrange a few weeks of work. There are still some other European options; in Switzerland where Steve [Magnusson] lived for seven years and I spent a lot of time. Berlin is also a tentative option. The idea was to go in November. In April, that seemed like a long way away but it’s coming up pretty quickly!
The second phase to the proposal is to travel to New York in December and do a recording with Jim Black, the drummer and composer who visited Australia as part of the Jazz Now festival in Sydney last year. He’s a very exciting musician—one solo set I remember he did was incredible, with laptop and drums; so musical. He’s one of my favourite composers at the moment. I first heard Alas No Axis [Black’s group] about six years ago now, and I’ve heard him play with quite a few different bands. There seemed to be parallels between Alas No Axis and the way SNAG was going towards the end. It’s basically the same line up, guitar, electric bass, drums and tenor sax. SNAG started off with these ethereal pretty melodies and the spaces between the songs got bigger and bigger. I think that’s something that happens naturally when a band plays together a lot and you start to improvise between the songs—those spaces end up being more exciting than the tunes. Then maybe you go just for the spaces, which is what happened with Assumptions actually. We ended up trying not to do tunes, just to get those spaces.
MZ: How long have you been working with this Julien Wilson Trio that we heard at the Freedman concert?
JW: Only about two years, with this line-up. I’ve been working with Steve Magnusson for fifteen years, with a number of groups: SNAG—we did two tours out here and about five summers in Europe; Festa, with Tim Neil on organ and Andy Swan—Will Guthrie was in that band later on; Assumptions, with Will Guthrie and Steve Magnusson. I’ve known Steve Grant for twenty years and have played with him mostly in trad jazz lineups with Chris Tanner’s Virus and with Allan Browne sometimes. When I joined the Australian Art Orchestra, Steve was in it. He was one of the founding members. He played cornet and accordion, and I think he played guitar.
MZ: He plays anything, doesn’t he…?
JW: Yeah, he did something on tuba recently… and he got a phone call for a recording a couple of weeks ago and was asked if he could find a hammered dulcimer and hire one and play it the next day…which he did.
MZ: This trio has a particular sound; a particular sensibility. What made you choose this line-up for your Freedman performances?
JW: It’s quite different from a lot of the groups I’ve had in the past. I’ve done a lot of contemporary, or avant garde, music—more aggressive, noisier. This was a nice opportunity to play more relaxed music. When I started improvising I was learning a lot of Joabim songs; Stan Getz and Astrid Gilberto tunes. I learned melody on the street from a lot of guitarists when I was in high school and I didn’t know a lot about chords for a long time. That music has been a big influence for me and I’m kind of going back to that, I guess. It feels a little bit like going back to my roots in a way… back to where I started improvising. The band itself came together by mistake really. We had a gig with Will Guthrie and Steve Magnusson and me; Will was overseas so we used Steve Grant on the accordion instead. We’d done a couple of throw-togethers at the Cape Lounge where I used to work.
The Trio with Steve Magnusson Steve Grant felt really natural straight away. We did a few of the songs from the Assumptions Trio and then we did about three gigs in the same week—one at the Cape Lounge, one at the Opera House for the Jazz Now festival and one at the Half Bent Festival at Trades Hall. I started writing more music and re-arranging some music that I hadn’t played with anyone… writing for that sound. And it’s got some sort of… there’s some definite connection with audiences when we play. It’s really nice to do a CD launch at Bennetts Lane or up at the Sound Lounge in Sydney or at the Opera House, where you have a quiet audience and you can hear people breathing. We’ve done a few gigs with that band where you have to force the sound down the room and it’s do-able but when you get a really quiet room, the band really comes alive, I think.
And I also felt that band would work well in Europe too. For one thing touring a trio is a lot more viable than touring a big band or even a quartet or a quintet.
And the sensibility may be something too. The agent I’ve been talking to in Denmark has been very excited about the response he’s expecting to get to our music because he feels that the Danish venues and audiences will respond very well to it. And I guess it does have something akin to that kind of ECM sensibility of the quiet music and the interplay between the band.
MZ: That all sounds really positive and exciting. What sort of feedback and communication does the MCA expect or provide during the period of the fellowship?
JW: Well right from the start, the he MCA encourages you to engage them in a consultative way when you’re drafting the proposal that makes up a significant part of the Fellowship application.
You do have to keep in touch as the process goes along and just let them know how you are going. As part of the proposal you do need to provide a budget.
And part of it too is just ongoing assistance with practical help in how to bring about the project. When I was in Sydney recently, I had a meeting with the MCA and they were talking about ways of getting the band over to Europe. We talked about different ways of doing that – not just putting the band on a plane and going over there. For example the MCA has links with agencies like Austrade and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and the fellowship provides assistance in tapping into that network.
Talking to previous Fellows has been great as well—just to see what their experience was like, not just with what their project description was but also that ongoing support with the music council of Australia as well.
Julien Wilson on the web: www.julienwilson.com
Read more about the MCA Freedman Fellowship at “www.mca.org.au”: http://126.96.36.199/index.php?id=78
Jim Black on the web: “www.jimblack.com”:http://www.jimblack.com
Miriam Zolin is a novelist and jazz enthusiast who lives in Melbourne. Find out more about her at www.miriamzolin.com