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?
The jazz thing started in high school for me. I remember one morning in roll call, a very close friend showed me a recording of Pat Metheny playing ‘Have You Heard’. I was about 13 and had really only been flirting with the guitar up until then. Magic! I was instantly addicted to it. I was so impressed by what he was doing and I knew if I could learn how he made that sound id be able to impress people too. Throughout the high school years I was playing in stage bands with a lot of great young players that really could play! I learnt a lot from them. It was a great outlet for a pretty anxious teenager.
Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
I’ve had healthy obsessions with many guitarists over the years. At the moment I’m really in love with how Jeff Beck plays a melody. For the jazz thing… George Benson, Wayne Krantz, James Muller, Pat Metheny and John Scofield are probably my main guys. They stand out for me because they wake you up when they play the guitar. They can surprise any keen listener. I also really love Nile Rodgers and Paul Jackson Jr. Those guys play some rockin’ rhythm parts!
When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?
A lot of my inspiration comes from great singers. When I write and play a melody I try to make it sound as if it’s being sung. I reckon you can get pretty close with the guitar. I still have a long way to go as a ‘composer’ of sorts. But I’ve written a few cool sounding guitar instrumentals. So far I’ve written one song with words in it. It sounds pretty good, so hello triple J ..
What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
I like playing around Sydney. I do a regular gig on a Monday in a club that’s a lot of fun. I’d also really like to play my own music on festival stages around the world one day. And do featured guitar solos… in stadiums. haha . But my dog Sunny comes and hangs out when I practise and write at home and that’s pretty nice.
What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?
The hangings out. The music. Hopefully seeing some highly reputable musicians doing funny things when drunk, as I will likely be. I’m trying not to think about competing; I just wanna have fun playing in front of all the cats man!
What are you listening to now?
All the guitarists I mentioned above for sure. The more recent Jeff Beck stuff in particular at the moment. Electronic music, Daft Punk, Peter Gabriel. I like the way Bruce Hornsby writes songs. I like hearing a great guitarist play a blues. I also like listening to my mates play around Sydney. I heckle them occasionally.
About Paul Mason
Paul Mason has quickly become one of the most sought after guitarists in Australia. His unique voice as a soloist has been captivating audiences around Sydney for the past 3 years. Earlier this year he was touring as lead guitarist for Australian pop music icon Jessica Mauboy. He has also played for many other notable Australian artists. These include James Morrison, Steve Clisby, Chad Wackerman (Frank Zappa) and Sean Wayland. He also gained an early first round offer into the Sydney Conservatorium jazz course but differed 2 years later. Well known for a musical sensibility towards jazz and popular music, he has an instantly identifiable sound.