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?
I think from the moment I started taking lessons at age 4, I already had some important elements of a ‘jazz’ approach to my playing – ie the desire to improvise and not play with a straight feel – without of course knowing what the heck I was doing. The first time I was able to consciously identify with jazz was at about age 10 when I was introduced to some notated jazz concepts in little pieces for kids written by the New Zealand composer Christopher Norton. I instantly decided that this was the style for me, and went in search of jazz piano lessons, where I subsequently was introduced to some real jazz music/players/tunes.
Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
There are obviously all the major players that influence every jazz pianist, which I need no re-list here. For me, the standout was Herbie, mostly for his harmony – both in the way he voices chords, and also the genius with which he is able to hear amazing, complex and fresh harmonies within the stated harmonic structures of a tune.
When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?
I often get my inspiration from a random chord or line or other sound that I might have played on a gig or just at home. I then try to develop that and use it as a launching pad. One little idea is so much more than starting with a blank page.
Other than that, I’d also say that there’s nothing quite as ‘inspiring’ as a deadline when it comes to getting a tune written!
What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
My favorite place to play is at a nice club, with a nice grand piano, and an audience that really listens to, and therefore engages with, the music.
As of two months ago, my favorite place to practise is at Yamaha Artist Services Europe in Paris.
It’s a tough job having to ask oneself: ‘shall I play on the Yamaha CFX or the Bosendorfer today?’ but somebody’s gotta do it.
What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?
Hanging out and having a beer with my friends. It’ll also be great to hear and meet the other finalists, and I’m also really looking forward to checking out the Gerald Clayton Trio.
What are you listening to now?
At the moment, it’s mostly music from Brazil (Milton Nascimento, Teresa Christina, Maria Rita) and France (Eric Legnini, Baptiste Trotignon, the Belmondo Brothers).