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 started playing when I was four years old. There was a trend of parents getting their kids into music early and so my parents presented me at such an early age the options of what instrument I’d like to play. I think they were initially disappointed that I chose piano seeing we didn’t own one and they were more expensive than a recorder. My first teacher was a passionate jazz pianist and the only teacher in the phonebook willing to take on such a young pupil. He taught me the language of jazz from my very first lesson.
Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
I listen to a lot of music but when I find a new player who resonates with me I put their albums on loop for months until I’ve absorbed every last idea they expressed. Kym Purling was the first artist to go on loop – originally an Adelaide pianist who introduced me to jazz. Keith Jarrett introduced me to new treatments of the melody. Michel Camilo is always so rhythmic and fiery, Laurence Hobgood always seems to paint the lyrics on his piano, Brad Mehldau is so expressive. These are just some of the artists which have gone on loop for me.
When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?
I have many different methods when composing and arranging and depending on which method I go with dramatically changes the result. Sometimes I’ll sit at the piano and just play until a solid motive or idea presents itself. Other times I might be listening to another artist and hear a great rhythm, groove, motif, instrumentation, arrangement concept or anything else and ‘borrow’ that idea as a launch pad for my own arrangement or composition. Trying to write with certain guidelines can help too, for example, different time signatures or modes can significantly alter the direction of a piece.
What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
There have been times where I have found myself on the ‘perfect’ piano. Yes, there are a few around the place. When that happens it’s real hard to stop playing. The perfect piano is flawlessly tuned, has rich harmonics on every note and of course has immaculate action on each key. It is in a room with the ideal amount of reverb and when you play it ideas stream effortlessly and you discover you can play faster and more beautifully than you ever have before. Man… I’m going there now.
What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?
I am looking forward to hearing all the great music at the festival. It is a really exciting program this year. I am looking forward to playing with Sam and Raj, and hearing the other pianists. Mostly I am looking forward to all the inspiration that always comes with the Wangaratta Jazz Festival.
What are you listening to now?
Currently, while completing this questionnaire I am sitting in the Queensland Conservatorium listening to a flute in the next room play the same passage over and over again. I would be happy to take a break from that and perhaps listen to my current artist on loop – Aaron Goldberg. Ari Hoenig has been racking up some iTunes plays too, or maybe someone new.