Gemma Farrell is an Australian jazz saxophonist currently based in the Netherlands. From Perth, she studied at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), before transferring to the Queensland Conservatorium. In 2009 she graduated with a Bachelor of Music with Honours, and then moved to the Netherlands in 2010 to study her Masters of Music at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam. She will be graduating in June this year and moving back to Perth in July. Before she leaves, she plans to record her debut album, in part because she wants a record of the musicians she has had the opportunity to meet and work with regularly during her time in the Netherlands.
Gemma has an Indiegogo fundraising campaign active at the moment, to fund her debut recording Vicissitude. Check it out!
We asked Gemma some questions about her recording, her time in The Netherlands and her planned return to Australia.
Where do you get your inspiration?
The line up and the sound probably comes from the Charlie Hunter Quintet album Right Now Move. I listened to that a lot and the style is really my thing, somewhere in between jazz and funk. I also like the way he writes for the three horns on that album, although the horns are quite different. In terms of the titles (from the demo), they are not what the pieces are ‘about,’ but more of a reflection of what I was thinking at the time. 8778 is the number of miles between Amsterdam Schipol Airport and Perth Airport (and also happens to be a cool number), ‘Sagan’s Song’ is named after scientist Carl Sagan, I could imagine his voice narrating the ‘Cosmos’ series over parts of the tune, and ‘Laneway Culture’ is a reference to Melbourne.
How would you describe the music?
This is a hard question. I guess I don’t really fit a particular style, the demo tunes – three of which (the originals) will be re-recorded for the album along with five other tunes – are a ballad, a Latin and a swing, but ‘8778’ and ‘LWC’ have strong blues themes. I tried to be a little contemporary but this jazz/funk cross over seems to be my thing, something that I can’t really avoid even when I try to. Stanley Turrentine and his wife Shirley Scott have also been huge musical influences that also did this.
How did you come to meet the members of your band?
I met them all through the Conservatorium. I had a trio with Theo the bass player and Richie the drummer called Alpha Beta Gemma, and I have another quartet with Thomas the piano player called Say What?! I was in the school big band and Latin ensemble with Jan-Willem the trumpet player, and Filippo the Trombonist and Nico the Guitarist – I didn’t play with them before this project but I admired their playing for a long time.
What happens to the band when you leave?
I would like to tour the album in Australia, at least in Perth and Brisbane (the cities I have lived) with local musicians, but I don’t know if I will continue to have a 7 piece when I move back to Perth. The projects I do will depend on the musicians there. I already have some ideas for my next album which I think will be a quintet with a trumpet player there. I also have an idea for a John Scofield ‘Hand Jive’ type group and have approached a guitarist about that already. Another project I am doing here which was a part of my masters research is a sort of chamber ensemble with strings, woodwind and rhythm section using the C-Melody sax, and I would like to continue with this but it is a lot of organisation. In terms of the 7 piece Gemma Farrell Group, maybe there will be a reunion one day with the original line up. Thomas, the piano player and his girlfriend are close friends of my husband and I and we are already planning future tours of Australia/Europe, so I am sure we will keep in touch. I am certain that it won’t be the last performance for me with these musicians individually, but yes it could be a while before we all play together as a whole again.
What’s the thing you enjoyed most about making music in The Netherlands?
In general there is a bigger range of musicians to play with and choose from, people from all over the world specializing in different fields. You can find the right people for pretty much ANY project idea here, and people in general are very accepting as they come from all walks of life with all sorts of backgrounds. When I left Australia I was only 22, and I feel like I didn’t really know yet what it was to play in an ensemble where everyone really listens to each other. I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen in Australia, it certainly does, but now that I have had a bit more experience with it I am looking forward to playing more interactively at home. This is something that I really love the musicians in my group for, you can hear in the demo, especially in the comping from the rhythm section that often I will play something and it will be echoed by the piano or the drums. Also the musicians often quote the melodies in their solos. This says to me that they really know their parts and are really listening and trying to make it fresh every time.
What are you most looking forward to (in terms of music or the scene) on your return?
The Ellington wasn’t open when I left Perth for Brisbane in early 2008, I haven’t played there or been to see a gig and I’m looking forward to doing both. I am looking forward to catching up with my friends Marty and Kate Pervan. I was in their band the ‘P-Family’ before I left and I hope we can start it up again. As well as looking forward to playing with them, we both have new baby girls, so it will be great for them to meet. After I have graduated I also want to take time to practice the things I didn’t have time to focus on before, like bass clarinet and EWI, and yeah just writing more music and playing it with new and old faces with a new perspective, I hope I will be welcomed back!
Listen | ‘8778’ on SoundCloud
Gemma Farrell on the web: www.gemmafarrellmusic.com