Q&A with James Annesley – 2009 NJA Finalist

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

When I was eight years old I heard a jazz band in a Christmas Pageant. The music hit me like an electric shock and I felt a real sense of urgency to take up an instrument and learn to play jazz. I think I chose saxophone because it was the instrument I most associated with jazz. Because I was too young to start sax straightaway, I had to do clarinet for a few years first, which I really took to and it nearly became my instrument of choice. I took up alto at age 12. When I picked up the tenor at age 15, I started to favour saxophone over clarinet, and after a while I knew it was my instrument

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

Early on I was listening to Benny Goodman, Paul Desmond, Andrew Firth and Don Burrows. Later on I got into Dale Barlow, so there’s always been a strong Australian influence. But my biggest inspirations are Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan and KRS-one. These artists all have their own original voices, and have never been afraid to break the so-called ‘rules’ and just follow their creative instincts, no matter how controversial the results may be. When I heard Miles’ ‘Bitches Brew’ album at age 15, it pretty much turned my world upside down.

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?

Listening to Nirvana has been a big influence on my writing, with their use of not-so-subtle dynamic contrast and their simple-but-strong harmonic structures. I’m influenced by cinema, theatre and literature quite a bit. I really like to get a sense of drama and into my music, which can always be found in these art forms. Paintings can also be an influence, in the sense that I like to visualize the shape of a musical phrase, and a painting can inspire you to see new shapes. For me its very important to create a mood, or moods with a piece of music, so that’s always been inspired by the way I feel at the time. Any human action or word, ‘artistic’ or otherwise, which is undertaken with love and conviction, can inspire me to keep on creating.

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

I only really practice at home, which is nice because I live on a quiet, leafy street in Coburg, and my room has mattresses on the wall which make for reasonably dry acoustics. I don’t particularly have a favourite place to play, but some of the most fun gigs I’ve done have been at 303 in Melbourne.

What does Wangaratta Jazz represent for you?

Its a beautiful thing to have so much good music in one concentrated area. Some of the most exciting acts I’ve seen at Wangaratta have been Australian, but I’ve also seen some amazing international stuff. There’s always a nice feeling of community amongst the musicians and audience. To me Wangaratta represents a good weekend.

What are you listening to now?

‘Star People’, ‘Decoy’ and ’58 Sessions’ – Miles Davis, ‘Adventures in Emceein’ – KRS – one, ‘Rising Down’ – The Roots, ‘Footprints Live’ – Wayne Shorter, ‘Reflections’ – Steve Lacey Plays Thelonius Monk.

Return to the main Q&A page…

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