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
I played in jazz ensembles throughout most of high school, but didn’t really get into jazz seriously until year 12 when a friend of mine started introducing me to some great recordings. I remember going on a school band trip to Malaysia and Singapore and buying my first jazz records at a massive Tower Music store. An Art Blakey compilation, and two other incredible records that are still inspiring me today, Miles Smiles andSomethin’ Else by Cannonball Adderley. I think the inspiration and excitement I got from listening to those records encouraged me to study jazz at Adelaide Uni after high school and I’ve never looked back.
Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
The first music that really grabbed me was the 60s and early 70s rock I found in my parents’ vinyl collection: Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Hendrix, Beatles etc. I felt a connection to the music, and began to understand the way that music can enthral and stimulate the listener and performer alike. I liked the idea of being able to create that.
In terms of jazz musicians, I’ve always liked musicians that don’t sound like other people. Of course we all have influences, but the idea of fashioning your own sound and style is important to me. Consequently my favourite and most influential players are fiercely individual people like Miles, Monk, Mingus, Ornette, Coltrane etc. Other than all the usual suspects from the 50s and 60s, the drummers that I admire include Nasheet Waits, Brian Blade, Matt Wilson, Gerald Cleaver, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Han Bennink and the great Simon Barker. And Jim White – he plays rock and pop like a free jazz drummer, he makes weird stuff work…
When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?
I don’t have a project that I write for, so I do very little of these. If I do, it’s because an idea comes to me, or I feel I can bring something new to a tune. Or I have to do a blues, a ballad and a Monk tune for a competition…
What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
I like to play many places, but I think all music is best performed in small, intimate spaces, with as little amplification as possible. This makes the bond between musicians and audience as real and close as it can be.
What does the Wangaratta Jazz Festival represent for you?
I’ve been coming to Wangaratta for about 10 years as both a performer and a punter. It’s an important social event for the Australian jazz community. I’ve seen so much incredible music and had many great times. Highlights that spring to mind include seeing Han Bennink for the first time, and Showa 44 in that little theatre they used to have – one of the most amazing gigs I have ever seen. And the good old days of the jam sessions. Loose.
What are you listening to now?
I’m one of those people that have music on all the time, different music for different moods and occasions. I’m mostly listening to stuff that I have bought recently. Coltrane Transition, a great band called Tarbaby with Orrin Evans, Eric Revis and Nasheet Waits, Omer Avital quintet Live at Smalls, a beautiful duo record of Nina Nastasia with Jim White on drums, and some Steely Dan in preparation for seeing them the night before Wang starts this year..!
The National Jazz Awards semi-finals and final rounds will be held at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, October 28-31. Festival Passes are available for blues only venues or all venue access. Purchase your early bird tickets now from www.wangarattajazz.com