‘I like to write songs for people too – a little bit like a letter that you can surprise them with at a gig.’
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
Miriam: When did you start playing jazz and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?
Katie: My mum was/is a jazz/folk singer and she always wore sparkly tops… I love sparkly tops. Is that a good reason?! In all seriousness though I don’t think it was ever a conscious choice. I just sort of knew that’s what I loved to do. I think I love jazz specifically because it can be such an interactive musical medium. The coolest things can happen totally by accident and with the right combination of musicians it is heaps of fun!
Miriam: Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
Katie: For me my influences are constantly changing. When I studied jazz at uni I was well into Theo Bleckmann and John Hollenbeck – they are quite experimental (albeit in a fairly structured way) and I love the sound they create. When I finished uni I was listening to heaps of pop music and very straight ahead jazz singers – almost the antithesis of the sort of jazz I’d been listening to before! Now I’m really into bluegrass and old-timey stuff. The common thread is that it’s all music that makes me feel something; sadness, joy, frustration, anger. I just like to be affected by the music I listen to.
Miriam: When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?
Katie: I am not very good at telling stories from other peoples’ perspective so usually my inspiration for writing comes from experiences I’ve had in my own life. I like to write songs for people too – a little bit like a letter that you can surprise them with at a gig.
Miriam: What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
Katie: Oooh I don’t know! Anywhere with a grand piano is awesome. Or the bathroom because the acoustics are so awesome. Most important thing for me though is the outlook – I never feel inspired if I’m staring at a blank corrugated iron wall…
Miriam: What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?
Katie: I’ve never been to the festival so I am looking forward to hearing some music that is new to my ears. I’m also looking forward to playing with the band – it’s not every day you get to sing with musicians of that calibre. I’m really excited to sing for such a wide audience too.
Miriam: What are you listening to now?
Katie: Right now? The sound of the fridge humming in my Mum’s kitchen. Musically speaking though three of the songs in the recently played list on my itunes are Tennessee Waltz, My Blue Heaven (gotta love a bit of Bing) and Dagobert off Ben Hauptmann’s album. That is an incredible album!!
Audio: There’s a new moon (Over my shuolder) Warning! Includes banter
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.