For Mike Nock, the ARIA for Best Jazz CD is welcome recognition for the CD Duologue he recorded with Dave Liebman live at Wangaratta in 2004. The gig took a number of years to become a CD. Originally recorded by Mal Stanley (of ABC Classic FM’s Jazztrack program) the music was never released by the ABC and was instead taken up by Keiran Stafford’s Birdland label, based in Sydney.
Asked if the ARIA was unexpected, Nock’s response is a heartfelt “Hell, yes!” He expected a couple of the other nominated CDs to win, and felt a real buzz when Duologue was announced. Yet, he says “Some of the biggest wins I’ve had have been unexpected. Like the fellowship [In 1999 he received a two year Australian Arts Council Fellowship]. The letter saying I’d received the fellowship was in the unopened envelope at the bottom of the pile. I expected to open it and find a note that read ‘Thank you for your interest but at this time…’”
Nock was there on the night to receive the award, although he generally avoids going to events like the ARIAs. They can be ‘psychologically difficult’ he says. Not least because in a group of nominees, there will be only one winner. “This is not a competitive endeavour that we’re involved in,” he says of jazz. “The biggest competition is with ourselves.” Competitions and awards, he says, are often about the business side of things and not the creative. Useful, but separate from the process of making music.
Asked if it felt like ARIA-winning music when he and Liebman were playing it back in 2004, Nock focuses instead—characteristically—on what it felt like to connect with a fellow musician.
“The act of playing with Dave is really special for me. He is incredibly supportive, he listens, and he’s such a challenge… and that’s the focus when we’re playing. Even though it had been more than twenty years since we’d played together, we were able to click back into being Dave and Mike. That’s the way we’ve both lived our lives, and once you’ve made a connection like that, it doesn’t go away.”
Jazz is a spiritual thing, a deeper thing; that’s what the whole thing is about—the music is an emotional language.”
Dave Liebman remembers the experience in a similarly positive light.
“Mike is one of the all time greats with an encyclopedic knowledge of the tradition and an ability to transform all this information into a unique and soulful style of playing. As Mike notes, we just got on the stage and hit the music like it was yesterday since we played. The music flowed and for an hour plus, the world was perfect!! I am thrilled that it has been recognized by the industry in Australia-Mike is a national treasure.”
The tracks on the CD were chosen from the recording by Nock and Liebman with a focus on making it as listenable as possible. “We probably had about an hour and a half of concert recorded, but the CD runs to about 57 minutes. Less is more,” says Nock “—this is something I learned from Miles Davis. We chose everything so that it hung together. You have to leave them wanting, a little bit.”
Apparently it worked. Nock says the ARIA has led to the biggest response he’s had to anything he’s done.
As a judge each year of the National Jazz Awards which are performed and announced at the TAC Wangaratta Festival of Jazz, Nock knows that “Awards such as this are important. You’ve got to be able to really support whoever wins.
“Sure,” he says, “they can also make people uncomfortable—not everybody takes it well but the benefits outweigh the negatives – it gives people something to aim for and that has to help, whatever you do.”
Photo: Taken at the TAC Wangaratta Festival of Jazz in 2004, when the music on Duologue was recorded. Courtesy of Dave Liebman.
Go to the ARIA website.