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 2013 runs from Friday 1 to Monday 4 November. Find out more on their website wangarattajazz.com
This year the awards feature keyboard players and the ten finalists are: Hugh Barrett | Matthew Sheens | Matthew Boden | Steve Barry | Tal Cohen | Andrew Butler | Dave Spicer | Daniel Gassin | Joseph O’Connor | James Bowers
When did you start playing jazz and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?
In year 11 I moved schools to the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School. Being surrounded by lots of musicians taking what they did really seriously was a pretty good incentive to start doing so myself. I also had a family friend who introduced me to heaps of incredible music – every year he would give me a new jazz record or two for my birthday. A lot of those I still listen to regularly!
Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
In the interests of brevity, I’ll just stick with one artist who I think was most influential on me within the ‘Jazz’ world and that would probably be Paul Bley. There is a lot to love in his playing, but for me it is really his melodies – he is a beautiful melodist in ways that are often really unusual. Outside of Jazz I’m in to composers such as Messiaen, Bartok and Prokofiev. Those three in particular never fail to astound me in their use of harmony in particular. I really love Hip Hop, too…
When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?
99% it will be from something I’ve listened to. It’s usually just a case of hearing a certain sound or concept and then trying to exploit that in some way for my own uses.
What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
I actually really like playing at my house. I’m obviously really used to the piano, and the people I’ve played with here are usually close friends so I have lots of fond memories.
What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?
To be honest, I’m really looking forward to playing. I’ve never played with Sam or Raj [Sam Anning and Raj Jayaweera, the rhythm section playing at the award concersts] before, but have heard them play lots of great gigs, so that’s really exciting. Also really looking forward to hearing all the great pianists (including the finalists!) that are on the program this year.
What are you listening to now?
BBC, Chris Thile & Michael Daves, Hampton Hawes, Hank Mobley, Hiatus Kaiyote, James Blake, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Pomrad…. Yeah, I just scrolled down my ipod list and picked some that I remember hearing in the past few days. I’m pretty bad at answering that question without the aid of technology!
A little known fact…
In April this year, James funded a pint and a parma using the Australian crowdfunding platform Pozible. Yes, you read that correctly… A pint and a parma. It’s fully funded now but we found his story so inspiring that we’ve embedded the image here.