Q&A with Craig Simon – 2011 NJA finalist

Each year since 2005, in the month leading up to the jazz festival in Wangaratta, Miriam Zolin interviews the finalists in the National Jazz Awards. The awards are decided at Wangaratta in a series of heats culminating in a finals performance on the Sunday of the festival. Wangaratta Jazz festival this year runs from Friday 28 to Monday 31 October.

The National Jazz Awards have been presented at the festival since it began in 1990 and were designed to contribute to the development and recognition of young jazz and blues musicians up to the age 35. The Awards have become a much anticipated highlight of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues.

This year’s top ten finalists are: Ben Falle, 25, Perth | Graham Hunt, 27, Sydney |  James Waples, 28, Sydney | Tim Firth, 29, Sydney | Hugh Harvey, 30, Melbourne | Evan Mannell, 32, Sydney | Sam Bates, 33, Melbourne | Craig Simon, 34, Melbourne | Dave Goodman, 34, Sydney | Cameron Reid, 34, Sydney

Craig Simon

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

My dad was a drummer and heavily into jazz so I have grown up listening to it. I started playing the drums aged 5 but the moment where I knew I was going to be a drummer for life was 1993 on tour with my school big band. We were invited to play at the Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey California and we did a two week tour through LA and San Francisco. There were some special concerts we got to watch. My favourite was Bobby Watson and Victor Lewis Horizon band with Ed Simon on piano and Terrell Stafford on trumpet. We played our set before one of my drum idols David Garibaldi‘s band and I had a chat with him afterwards. It was the first time I had met one of the people I listened to on record in the flesh. That was pretty overwhelming and inspiring, it made the music I had heard on record now more ‘real’. There was a real camaraderie of the band on the tour bus and it was a great experience that I have had the opportunity to repeat with many bands since. It is most definitely where music chose me.

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

My jazz history lecturer at the conservatorium of music, the late Gordon Brisker, saw a diamond in the rough in me and decided I needed to play more so together we went out and looked for a gig. We ended up getting a residency playing every week at the Manly Hotel for a couple of years. He had both the patience and wisdom of experience and imparted much sagely advice on how I could help the band sound its best from the drum chair.

My drum teacher Jim Piesse helped me completely retrain my technique after I had developed RSI in my right elbow and wrist. I spent about 2 years with Jim to develop a more fluid and effortless way to play the drums. I credit him completely with helping me develop my tone and control of the drums. He remains a great friend and we speak almost daily on the phone about life, music and drums and always try and catch up together with a pair of sticks and practice pad whenever we are in the same city.

Shortly after finishing at the Conservatorium I joined James Morrison‘s band, we shared lots of laughs on the road with the band but when we walked on stage it was expected that we put out 110% every show and gave the music our complete respect no matter what it was or how we felt. It was a great lesson on the commitment required to play music.

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

I don’t do much but most of my ideas come while driving, I will start humming a phrase or groove and it goes from there.

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

I practise wherever I can; I always take a practice pad with me wherever I go. One of my work colleagues saw me sitting outside practising one night after we had shut, they though it was quite strange, I just didn’t feel like being indoors anymore.

What does the Wangaratta Jazz Festival represent for you?

Wangaratta is one of the few times in the year where jazz musicians from around the country get together to share music. Having moved to Melbourne from Sydney seven years ago It is great to catch up with old friends and to watch some inspiring concerts.

What are you listening to now?

I have a few things on high rotation at the moment:

  • Seamus Blake Bellwether with some great tunes and smoking Bill Stewart
  • Aaron Goldberg Home with Eric Harland
  • Miguel Zenon Jibaro with Antonio Sanchez and Esta Plena with Henry Cole

See other NJA finalists from this and previous years >>>>