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
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 hadn’t really experienced playing jazz until I began studying at WAAPA. I had always cherished the freedom of improvising, so it made sense to study jazz. As a 10 year old, when I was first starting out (and unfortunately for a few years after) I would rarely practice what my teachers would ask me to. Instead I would spend hours every day playing, exploring the instrument and my own ideas. It was pure enjoyment and discovery, and as I matured I continued to pursue that within jazz. I also started practising!
Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
For me, everything I hear is on the influence spectrum. At one end it’s, ‘Yeah, I want to get that into my playing.’ At the other it’s, ‘Ah, I should make sure I don’t sound like that.’ It either falls into a ‘what to do’ or ‘what not to do’ category for me. While I was studying I checked out all the usual suspects, and now I listen to all the modern guys, but I’ve never really had any one player I’ve tried to emulate. I just want to sound like me.
When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?
The source of the inspiration will differ, be it visual art, video games, people, my thoughts & imagination etc., but the inspiration itself is next to always my emotional experience attached to those interactions. Also I compose from the standpoint of how I want to express myself on the drums, and create music that acts as a vehicle for that. Rarely, if ever, have I composed something first and then decided how I would play over it.
What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
I practise at WAAPA in the room I teach in. I think I function much better practising outside of home. No video games.
What does the Wangaratta Jazz Festival represent for you?
I think any opportunity for the jazz community at large to get together is something to get excited about and I’m certainly excited this year. This will be only the second time I’ve been, so it’s still new for me. Last year I came over with The Johannes Luebbers Dectet and suffered the worst hay-fever of my life. I’m bringing medicine this time.
What are you listening to now?
A lot of hip hop and RnB, and modern piano trios like Avishai Cohen Trio and EST.
See other NJA finalists from this and previous years >>>>
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