Q&A with James Waples – NJA Finalist 2011

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 started playing jazz in the high school jazz band and also in a band with my brothers and school friends. Some of my first professional experiences came from my father along with the school music teachers, although I must admit that I really had no idea what jazz was and I think they just booked me cause I could keep in time. I got a bit lost at the end of high school but the move up to Sydney and a summer holiday of practising, playing, listening and meeting all these musicians in the scene was the point where I realised that I had made the right choice, and this was what I wanted to be.

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

In the early stages it was definitely my parents and siblings. Also my grandfather who was a drummer although I only ever saw him play once.

I think early on in high school I really wanted to play like Mike Clark and Steve Gadd and was more interested in playing funk but that changed when I moved to Sydney from Bowral. Once I finished high school and moved to Sydney I got into the music and musicians of bands such as that of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett (especially the early trio), Paul Bley and Andrew Hill. As for drummers I think Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Paul Motian, Jack Dejohnette, Bob Moses, Jon Christensen, Ed Blackwell, Pete La Roca, Paul Lovens, Steve Gadd etc…  All these drummers have a conviction in what they do with an amazing groove and all of them taught me something different about playing the drums in musical situations.

I have also been greatly influenced by the musicians I have gone through the Con [Sydney Conservatorium of Music] with, establishing playing relationships and friendships with people that have shaped the way in which I play and think about music. And lastly the generations of local musicians above me, whether it be those that I play or those that I have heard play again and again over the past 10 years.

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

Composing and arranging is not something I have done a lot of in the traditional sense although I like to think that I do this when I play, some situations more than others. It is something that has been on the back burner for a while but something that I hope to do more of in the future.

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

My favourite place to practise is anywhere but my house, I get easily distracted. I like playing in any space that has an audience with some kind of vibe, preferably a good one.

What does the Wangaratta Jazz Festival represent for you?

A weekend of great music and hanging out.

What are you listening to now?

Tony Williams – Spring
Terry Reid – Seed of Memory
Roil – Frost Frost

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