NJA Finalist Q&A – Briana Cowlishaw

‘I saw Gregory Porter perform at ‘Smoke’ Night Club in New York recently and I cried more than twice! That’s how blown away I was. He is amazing.’

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 in 2012 runs from Friday 2 to Monday 5 November.

This year’s ten finalists are: Cyrille Aimée, France (currently based in New York) | Kristin Berardi, Sydney |  Briana Cowlishaw, Sydney |  Luara Karlson-Carp, Brisbane | Kate Kelsey-Sugg, Melbourne | Joshua Kyle, Melbourne | Chantal Mitvalsky, Melbourne | Judith Perl, Melbourne | Liz Tobias, Adelaide (currently based in Boston) | Katie Wighton, 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 would definitely say my passion for Jazz has been more of a ‘growing love affair’ rather than a particular moment where I was converted! I loved Jazz throughout high school (Pymble Ladies College) and sang in the ‘Jazz Band’ and then the ‘Stage Band’ as the lead singer, but I really did not know much about jazz and what it was all about. When I began studying at Uni (The Australian Institute of Music) and delving into jazz harmony, melody, rhythm, the history behind it all, that is when I became fascinated by the depth of the jazz language and realised how much I LOVED IT! I was particularly amazed by how many colours, sounds and great things you could create, which is also what led to my interest in composition. Maybe you could say my ‘moment’ or calling came with my discovery of composition! Writing music is now what drives me the most as a musician!

Miriam: Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
I have a very diverse taste for all things musical; I love jazz, I love folk, I love pop (most of the time), I LOVE latin, cuban, brazillian music.. I love so many genres and sounds that I am constantly being influenced by everything I listen to. Some big jazz/latin influences have been Ellis Regina, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Shirley Horn, Ahmad Jamal (the simplicity of his arrangements and great swing feel), Pat Metheny, Miles Davis.. I could go on forever.

Carmen McRae and Nancy Wilson are big influences because of their tone and approach to singing and communication lyrics. They both have a speech like sound where sometimes it feels like they are just having a casual conversation with you in your living room. Its so earthy and straight up; I love it.

Joni Mitchell and James Taylor and two of my biggest influences when it comes to story telling and songwriting. I don’t know where to start. Both tell the most beautiful stories in their perfectly complete songs. A great example of powerful communication through simplicity.

Other great ones are Sting, Paul Simon, Abbey Lincoln, Alan Hampton (young NYC singer/songwriter), Becca Stevens (young NYC singer/songwriter), Bach… Monk… Gerry Mulligan…. on and on I could go.

Miriam: What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
Hmm.. good question. New York ? haha is that an adequate answer? 🙂

No, I would have to say I loved practising and writing music in my squichy little apartment on the lower east side of Manhattan.. but I LOVE playing here in Sydney with my band – Gavin Ahearn/MattMcMahon (p), Brendan Clarke (b), Nic Cecire (d), Richie Maegraith (horns) and Peter Koopman (g). Venue 505 in Sydney is definitely a favourite!

Miriam: What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?
Hanging out with many of my really great friends who are also singing in the competition, and learning from them 🙂 Oh… and seeing Gregory Porter perform of course. HE is DEFINITELY a favourite! I saw him perform at ‘Smoke’ Night Club in New York recently and I cried more than twice! That’s how blown away I was. He is amazing.

Miriam: What are you listening to now?
The Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley album. I am particularly stuck on ‘Never Will I Marry’.

Audio: listen to an album preview from SoundCloud

Visit Briana on the web >

Visit the Wangaratta Jazz Festival website >

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