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 2014 runs from Friday 31 October to Monday 3 November. Find out more at wangarattajazz.com
This year the awards feature guitar players and the ten finalists are: Quentin Angus from New York (originally from Adelaide) | David Gooey from Melbourne | Ryan Griffith from Melbourne | Peter Koopman from Sydney | Paul Mason from Sydney | Carl Morgan from Sydney (originally from Canberra) | Michael Anderson from Sydney | Hugh Stuckey from Melbourne (originally from Adelaide) | Jeremy Thomson from Perth | Oliver Thorpe from Sydney
When did you start playing jazz and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?
Music has been a part of my life for pretty much as long as I can remember, I think it was probably fairly obvious from a young age to myself and those around me that it was something that I was going to take seriously. I don’t really remember but apparently I used to run around the house with a toy guitar making a racket while my parents looked at each other shaking their heads and wondering what they had got themselves into. Jazz didn’t enter my life until I was in high school and a couple of fellow musos started playing me things like Weather Report and Mahavishnu. It took a fair while for it to catch on but gradually I started to understand the strange sounds these people were making. My friends and I also used to get together and play a lot and we rarely had anything worked out, we just improvised, sometimes for hours. I guess it made sense to listen to musicians who were doing a similar thing so we began to check out jazz more and more.
Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
Tommy Emmanuel was my childhood hero and although I’ve moved on from that musical aesthetic I still think he can play the hell out a guitar with an incredible time feel and melodic sensibility. These are things I strive to do all the time and succeed occasionally. Pat Metheny was the first jazz guitarist I really listened to a lot, probably for the same reasons: he’s always playing melody and making it feel good time-wise. Now that I think about making a list of musicians who have influenced me it seems to be mostly made up of those who endeavour to tell a story and/or transcend their instrument to find a greater truth in whatever music they are playing. There are way too many to list but some include: Miles Davis, Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Baden Powell, Brad Mehldau, Charlie Haden, Egberto Gismonti, Glenn Gould, Jim Hall, Hendrix, Led Zepplin, Paul Motian, Wayne Shorter.
When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?
I don’t know! The mood strikes at odd times and often for no particular reason. I find a deadline can either be a wonderful way to unblock creativity or completely disabling.
What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
To practise: Anywhere quiet where I can live inside my own head for a while without concern for the outside world.
To play: Anywhere with friends old or new, like-minded musicians and an appreciative audience of any size.
What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?
Wangaratta is great because it draws a whole bunch of musicians and music lovers out of their day to day lives and makes them have a holiday together for a weekend. I’m looking forward to hanging out, listening to some killer bands play and being a total guitar nerd with the rest of the guys in the competition. And whatever else may happen, because something else always happens at wang…
What are you listening to now?
I’m (still) listening to Chris Thile playing Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas, it gets deeper every time I hear it. In a similar but different vein I’m going back to Shostakovich’s 24 preludes and fugues and discovering a bunch of things that I didn’t get when I first got into it. It took me a long time to get Ben Monder but now that I do (at least to some extent) I realise how much deep lyricism there is tangled up in all the complexity. I’ve been playing his new album Hydra a lot. That’s all that’s really on rotation at the moment but other records that have had a few spins recently are Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, all three of the Fly albums, a Mark Turner and Baptiste album called Dusk is a Quiet Place and a couple of Vinicius de Moraes albums.
Since duetting with Tommy Emmanuel at age eleven, Hugh Stuckey has gone on to be at the forefront of jazz guitar in Australia. Hugh spent his formative years at Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium and during this time he won the James Morrison Scholarship as well as taking out the Conservatorium’s award for most outstanding undergraduate. The James Morrison Scholarship allowed Hugh to travel to New York in early 2006 to study with John Abercrombie and Ben Monder. In 2007 Hugh participated in the National Jazz Awards, possibly Australia’s most prestigious competition for jazz instrumentalists, and was awarded third place. After completing an honours degree at the Victorian College of the Arts, Hugh has been part of James Morrison’s touring band, toured Europe and recorded in New York with Sarah McKenzie and played regularly with Australia’s finest. His current work includes co-leading the group Paper Plane as well as collaborations with James Gilligan, Danny Fischer, Alex Boneham and others.