Q&A with Nadje Noohuis – 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 was involved in my primary and high school bands from 3rd to 10th grade. During 4th grade, I participated in jazz camp in as a bass clarinet player. I attended Forest High School in Sydney, where I played 4th trumpet in the stage band for 3 years, and performed for the Sydney Kings basketball team at every home game. Our band also toured California in 1991. I didn’t consider jazz as a vocation until many years later. After leaving school, I studied sound engineering at university, and worked in that field for a couple of years. I played in a funk band and on student recitals while I was studying, but had my sights set on a career as an engineer or producer. It was when I got fired from my sound job (the head of the company didn’t think that a female could run the studio!), I realised that there was no job security in any industry, and so I decided to take up the trumpet again.

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

When I auditioned for the Victorian College of the Arts in 1998, I had only listened to three jazz CDs – Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and Doo Bop, and the soundtrack to the movie Bird, with Charlie Parker overdubbed over a modern rhythm section. That’s quite an unusual introduction into the jazz world, I think! My sister bought me Kind of Blue, and I borrowed the other two CDs from a flatmate. I hadn’t heard that much jazz before age 22. My family always had classical music on the radio playing all day, or records of Spanish guitar music. I really love melody, and I think that comes from the piano music I learned growing up, and what I heard around the house every day. I am a big fan of the German record label ECM. Many of their artists including Keith Jarrett, Kenny Wheeler and Jan Garbarek, have influenced the way I use sound and melody in my music.

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

I mainly compose at the piano. I try to come up with a memorable melody, and then work on harmonising it in a way that is interesting and a little unusual. My compositions have been described as very simple, but with a twist. I like to add an extra bar here and there, in order to follow the contour of the phrase. One method I like to use is to pretend that I am Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny or Ennio Morricone, and write a tune in their style in 5 minutes or less. Usually my best tunes are completed very quickly.

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

I’m a big fan of grand pianos and acoustic reverb, so playing in a large room with a fantastic piano is my ideal venue. However, I spend most of my time practicing in a dark, musty basement in Brooklyn. I love to play trumpet in a room with great natural acoustics, and find that my best music is created when I don’t have to worry about my sound.

What does Wangaratta Jazz represent for you?

Playing at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival has always been a goal for me. It is one of the pinnacle achievements in Australian jazz – a showcase of the best musicians in the country, as well as an opportunity to hear international guests. In the past, I have driven to the festival from Melbourne to hear fantastic music and hang out with my musician friends. I have never played at the festival before, and am very excited to finally have the chance.

What are you listening to now?

In my CD player is Keith Jarrett’s Personal Mountains – I like to listen to the opening track on repeat. I have the worst CD and iTunes collection of anyone I know. I have 10 tunes in my iPod, and most of them are Play-a-longs. My boyfriend has thousands of CDs though, so it’s like living in a jazz library. I much prefer to hear live music, so I often go out to hear my friends play. I perform in several big bands, ranging from traditional 40?s and 50?s swing to very modern and complex arrangements. I always have charts to learn for gigs, so my listening time mainly consists of material for upcoming performances.

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