Q&A with Darrin Archer – 2006 NJA finalist

Welcome to Jazz Australia’s second series of interviews with finalists in the National Jazz Awards, which will be announced at the 2006 TAC Wangaratta Festival of Jazz. This year the National Jazz Awards feature piano, for the first time since 1999. At the finals, to be held in Wangaratta in the first weekend of November, the finalists will play with bassist Brendan Clarke (winner of the National Jazz Awards in 2001) and drummer James Hauptmann.

Darrin Archer is from Melbourne.

When did you start playing piano and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?
I was a late starter in jazz. I taught myself piano, and played by ear, and improvised and composed when I was young, but didn’t really discover Jazz until I was 14 or 15. When I heard it I knew straight away that it was for me! My first taste of Jazz came from Vince Jones. The first jazz pianist I heard live was Jex Saarelaht, and that totally blew me away. I never had heard the piano played like that, and from then on wanted to be able to do it myself. One of the first serious Jazz cds I bought was ‘A Love Supreme’. “I’ve heard of this guy: Coltrane, somewhere, so I’ll check it out” I said to myself. That was quite an initiation! Musically I didn’t know what was going on, but it hit me emotionally and spiritually. From then on jazz was an interest, but I didn’t consider it as a vocation until I was 24, when I started studying jazz at Sydney Con. Up until that point I was studying composition.

Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
Jazz: Coltrane and McCoy Tyner were huge for me at the beginning: they transported me! Then when I started studying jazz piano I went through stages of being obsessed with certain people: the obvious ones really: Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock and Miles’ 60’s Quintet, Bill Evans, then Mulgrew Miller and Brad Mehldau. Wayne Shorter influenced me a lot in Jazz composition and also Maria Schneider.

Other: I love Ravel, Debussy and Alban Berg. I’m also into Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, and other soul funk

When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration? For example, do you ever find that other art forms (painting, writing etc.) feed into your own creative process?
My inspiration, when composing, rarely comes directly from external sources (other than some other universe I don’t know about). I hardly ever see a painting or sculpture, read a book, or have a certain experience and think ‘wow, I’m going to write a piece of music’ about that. I get inspiration from many things (including Nature), but don’t often transform it directly into a musical composition. Maybe these other sources just plant a seed, and then it grows into something musical later on, from the unconscious. Composition is rarely an intellectual process for me: it’s mostly emotional and organic, and flows most naturally when I’m not really thinking, only hearing.

So, Music itself is the biggest inspirer! Notes combining to make lush harmony… a good groove… the overtones on a good grand piano!

What does the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz represent for you?

I always get booked up with gigs on the weekend of Wang (maybe cause everyone else is there…), so, I’m ashamed to admit, this is the first I’ve been to! It is no doubt the best jazz festival in Australia because the programming is so broad: it covers so much musical territory. For me, it will be great to spend a weekend immersing myself in music, hearing Geri Allen live, seeing some great Oz bands I haven’t checked out yet, and catching up with some interstate friends.

What are you listening to now?

Lately its been Stevie Wonder, Joe Lovano, Joey Caldarazzo, Piazzola, Gil Evans, and whatever’s on the radio (RRR, 3PBS, or ABC).

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