Q&A with Sam Zerna – 2008 NJA Finalist

Sam Zerna, bass, Victoria

When did you start playing bass and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?

I started playing when I was eight so I could play with my older cousin who played guitar. He kind of pushed me into it, but I loved it. There’s no real moment I can think of. When I was about 12 I stopped my bass lessons and found that music was something I could do for myself; something personal that I could just enjoy. That’s when I really got into it.

Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?

To begin with was my cousin Tyson, and all the artists he listened to like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Dire Straits etc. I loved the bass playing of John Paul Jones from Zeppelin and Flea from the Chili Peppers. Also my dad was into Return to Forever, Weather Report, Steely Dan and Stanley Clarke’s solo albums. The bassists in these bands, like Chuck Rainey, Alphonso Johnson, and especially Stanley and Jaco, got me really excited in my teens. Since then I’ve listened to lots of Mingus, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Miles, Keith Jarrett, Joe Lovano with bassists like Dennis Irwin and George Mraz; Branford Marsalis with Bob Hurst, Reginald Veal and Eric Revis, Dave Holland, Paul Chambers, Ray Brown, Anders Jormin, but also been really inspired by the many great bassists in Australia like Cameron Undy, Sam Anning, Ben Robertson and Frank Di Sario.

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?

Composition exists in so many places—any form of organisation can give me an idea. I don’t usually write unless I’ve got spare time and I’m in a particular mood.

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

In my practise room.

What does the Wangaratta festival of jazz represent for you?

A chance to hear so much great music and hang out with other musicians. I usually go home feeling excited about the quality of musicians in Australia and inspired to work at my own thing.

What are you listening to now?

“Death and the Flower” by Keith Jarrett’s American quartet, one of my favourite bands.

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These annual Q&As with National Jazz Awards finalists are coordinated by Miriam Zolin.