Q&A with Nick Pietsch – 2010 NJA Finalist

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

I always liked jazz, but never actually played it very much until I started studying it at university. There wasn’t really any one moment when it hit me. Instead I have found that the more I learn about how to play jazz, the more I appreciate it. It’s not always the most accessible music, so I think that an understanding of it really changes the way you listen to it. Having said that, there were more than a few times when I’d listen to something and think, ‘this is where it’s at. I want to be able to play like that’.

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

As a trombone player, I started by studying JJ Johnson like everyone else. Listening to Carl Fontana was a bit of a revelation for me – finding out that it was possible to get around the trombone so fluidly. But I listened to and loved players like Lee Morgan, Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, Tom Harrell, Clifford Brown, Pat Metheny, the Brecker brothers to name a few. I never really spent a great deal of time studying one particular player, instead I tried to take bits and pieces from different guys. There’s a youngish guy in New York called Elliot Mason who I believe is at the forefront of Jazz trombone playing, and he’s currently my biggest inspiration. The players I love, no matter if they’re playing ballads or bebop or fusion or ‘contemporary’ jazz or whatever, they all play beautiful melodies. I guess that’s what I strive to take away from them the most – playing with musicality.

When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?

I find that I’m at my most creative when I’m lying in bed at night after going out to a gig, and I have all this music flowing through my head – some of it inspired from the gig and some of it completely different. Ideas seem to come really naturally then. I try and write down or remember them so I can work on them the next day, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I guess my inspiration just comes from listening to other music, especially being there and hearing it live.

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

It’s always nice to be playing to people that are at the gig just to hear you play, and I know that jazz guys often struggle with finding an audience, but I still like doing pub/cafe gigs, playing with a trio or quartet in the corner. It’s great because the music is still important – if only to you and the rest of the band –  but as it’s often unrehearsed, and the audience maybe not as discerning, I feel that you have much more room for creativity. You can pretty much try anything. I hate the seriousness involved with performing sometimes, so it’s nice to be able to relax and just play. It’s also great when you’re playing a latin/funk gig and the audience is really into it, but I think that’s just a bonus.

What does Wangaratta Jazz represent for you?

I’ve never made it down to the festival before, but just looking at the kinds of musicians that have gone through the competition, let alone those that have won it, is a bit humbling. I’m pretty excited just to be a finalist, and to get to see some big name guys play.

What are you listening to now?

Bits and pieces of everything, really.  Some of the trombonists I’m listening to are Mark Nightingale, Marshall Gilkes and Elliot Mason. Also some Keith Jarrett, Brad Mehldau, Joshua Redman, and Janek Gwizdala.

Return to the main Q&A page… These annual Q&As with National Jazz Awards finalists are coordinated by Miriam Zolin.