National Jazz Awards Finalists – Q&A with Hugh Barrett

Hugh Barrett was so busy getting ready for the National Jazz Awards finals at Wangaratta that he sent us his Q&A during the festival itself. Here are his answers to our annual interviews with 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

This year the awards feature keyboard players and the ten finalists are: Hugh Barrett | Matthew SheensMatthew Boden | Steve Barry | Tal Cohen | Andrew Butler | Dave Spicer | Daniel GassinJoseph O’Connor | James Bowers

Hugh Barrett

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 got interested in jazz in high school. I played trumpet in the school stage band and, since I used to enjoy mucking around on the piano at home, I started getting some jazz piano lessons towards the end of year ten. I’m not sure exactly why I got interested in jazz, but I think it was largely the harmony that grabbed me. It wasn’t until I found out that I’d been accepted into the Sydney Conservatorium of Music that I began seriously considering a career in music.

Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?

I’ve been greatly influenced by the teachers I’ve had over the years—Monique Lysiak, Paul MacNamara, Mike Nock, and Judy Bailey. I’ve also been influenced by my peers in Sydney—both by playing with them and watching them play. Bill Evans was my main influence when I first started playing jazz piano: his sense of harmony and his arrangements of standards really stood out for me. The bebop lines of Bud Powell and Wynton Kelly were also important. Add to this the rest of the usual suspects—Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Brad Mehldau, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, etc.

When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?

I haven’t done much composing or arranging for a while; when I do, it’s usually the result of some aimless doodling on the piano or an attempt to reharmonise an existing piece.

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

My favourite place to play or practise is anywhere quiet with a nice in-tune grand piano.

What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?

I’m looking forward to getting the competition over and done with so that I can relax and enjoy the festival. Gerald Clayton’s trio will be a highlight.

What are you listening to now?

On the drive down to Wangaratta, the albums that came on that I can remember are:

  • Gretchen Parlato, Gretchen Parlato
  • Robert Galsper, In My Element
  • Mike Nock, Ondas
  • John Coltrane, Giant Steps