Q&A with Des White – 2008 NJA Finalist

Des White
Des White, 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 picked up the bass when I was 19, pretty late really. The big band I was playing saxophone in needed a bass player, so I just switched. I think something about the support role of the bass resonated with me more strongly than playing lots of notes on the sax.

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

I love the musicians who are as much about their band as themselves. Miles, Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Charles Mingus, Wayne Krantz. All these guys afford/afforded their musicians room to breathe creatively, which resulted in a real “band” sound, as oppose to soloist-with-backing-band type jazz. Not to say that I don’t admire a great soloist, but I love to hear, and play with, musicians who are interested in dialogue and interaction. There are some great musicians in Melbourne who have influenced me a lot in this regard, Julian Wilson, Steve Magnusson, Sam Keevers, Geoff Hughes and many more. These guys all know how to listen, and their warmth and humanity as people comes out in their music.

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?

It sounds corny, but most of my inspiration comes from life’s little events, and the subsequent ebb and flow of emotions that we all experience. Perhaps musicians are more attuned to this, or at least know how to use it to feed the composition process. But I agree with Dave Holland, who states that most of the work when writing a tune is in the trenches. You get a tiny spark of inspiration, then you have to work for hours at the goddamn thing to make a tune out of it, only to find that you don’t like the end result! Sometimes a tune comes out all at once, but not often enough for any of us.

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

I like to play anywhere where there is an audience that wants to listen. Mostly jazz clubs and indie music venues I guess. Practicing at home always seems to be most fruitful, it’s your sanctuary and you feel most at peace there, and you have all your resources around you.

What does the Wangaratta festival of jazz represent for you?

A chance to hear the best musicians from all around Australia, supplemented by a few international ringers. You get to hang out with basically the entire Australian jazz community. There is drinking involved sometimes.

What are you listening to now?

Lalah Hathaway, Miguel Zenon, Interpol, Ryuichi Sakamoto. A lot of bass players, too.

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