Quentin Angus | NJA Finalist Q&A

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

Quentin Angus

Quentin AngusWhen did you start playing jazz and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?

It was my first jazz guitar teacher, Colin Elmer, from the University of Adelaide. He would lend me CDs of Pat Metheny, John Scofield, John Abercrombie and other guitarists he thought I should be checking out. When I first heard these guitar players, I didn’t like them. I guess it takes time for the ear to develop because to me they sounded lost. I didn’t understand their sound, compositional or improvisational ideas. Colin explained that ‘jazz’ was an extremely broad term and that eventually I would find an artist that I connected with. A few CDs later I was introduced to Wes Montgomery. This was the game changer. From that moment on, I was hooked on jazz.

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

From the top of my head; Dhafer Youseff, Tigran Hamasyan, Mos Def, Avishai Cohen, Chopin. I could go on forever, but here are some reasons for these particular choices:

Youseff (Oud/Voice/Composer/World Music) was in town for a performance, and my friend Steve coaxed me into going. I had never heard music like it before, at this stage of his artistic development he was exploring the addition of electronic music to his acoustic, ‘world’ music. After this I was a fan for many years and kept my eye on each new release, and I was particularly influenced by his use of modal odd meter and ostinati grooves.

Mos Def (Rap/Composer/Hiphop), to me, one of the most important aspects of a good musical performance is the time feel, delivery, and intent behind what is being projected to an audience. Mos Def’s beat placement, sense of pulse, syncopation and phrasing is extremely unique, and I try to mimic this aesthetic for time when I improvise on the guitar.

Tigran (Pianist/Jazz), I first saw Tigran in New York back in 2009 and it was the best live show I’ve ever seen, hands down. I saw him at Smalls with Ari Hoenig, Gilad Hekselman, and Matt Pennman. It was the first time I had seen interaction on such a deep level.

Cohen (Bassist/Composer/Jazz), he is a unique twist on modern or contemporary ‘jazz’. Mainly due to his compositional style, the overall sound of an Avishai Cohen recording is now instantly recognizable, firmly establishing himself as one of the leading innovators of the modern jazz sound and aesthetic.

Chopin (Pianist/Composer/Classical), Frédéric Chopin is obviously one of the most celebrated classical composers from the romantic era. Although I’ve never delved deeply into classical music, or actually played any of his works, his music is a regular ‘go to’ on my I-pod and has undoubtedly influenced my compositional approach, albeit quite subtly through osmosis alone.

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

For me the best compositions emerge from personal experiences. This often happens when I am traveling or have some kind opinion, emotion, or idea I want to communicate. Often the easiest way for me to do this is through the creation of music. The goal here is to express myself, and communicate my ideas and feelings to audiences through the music.

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

For me, I don’t have a favourite place. I do however have a favourite mindset. While some practise can be done on ‘auto pilot’ (Scales, technical exercises, chord voicings,etc), other more ambiguous aspects of music- such as composition- cannot be forced. This can’t be planned, although the moments when a new composition comes to fruition, from start to finish, and flows through you… those are my favourite states of mind to play or practise in.

What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?

Making music with Des White and Ben Vanderwal. These two musicians are really amazing, and I’ve written some brand new trio repertoire specifically for the competition. I also can’t wait to check out all the other fantastic guitarists in the competition, and of course the various artists on the bill to perform at the festival!

What are you listening to now?

Hilltop Hoods (Walking Under Stars/ Drinking from the Sun), Johnny Butler (Raise It Up), Eric Whitacre (Light & Gold), Hiroya Tsukamoto (Solo)

About Quentin Angus

Beginning his journey in Eden Valley, a small South Australian country town with a population of only 200, guitarist/composer Quentin Angus has been based in the world’s Mecca for jazz—New York City—since 2010.

Since his arrival he has received national and international recognition for both his guitar playing and composing. This includes an APRA Art Music Award for Excellence in Jazz (2012), subsequent nominations in 2013 (Excellence in Jazz) and 2014 (Work of the Year), winning two ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Awards (2012/2013), five Downbeat Magazine Awards in the Composition (2011/2012/2014) and Soloist (2012/2014) categories, and being named the Channel 9 Young Achiever of the Year (Arts Category/2013).

Described by critics as Lord of the strings– The Age (Michael Dwyer), The Future of Jazz Composition– Paul Williams (ASCAP), and Exuberant, richly melodic and smartly arranged– Richard Kamins (Culture Creature), Angus has been leaving audiences in awe around the world with performances in Holland, Belgium, Romania, Switzerland, Turkey, New Zealand, Australia and the United States. This includes appearances at the Montreux International Jazz Festival (Switzerland), HOOT International Jazz Festival (Australia), and Jazz Hoeilaart Festival (Belgium), along with the release of two critically acclaimed albums as a band leader, Retrieval Structure (2011), described as fresh, sophisticated, vibrant and formidable– All About Jazz (Edward Blanco), and Perception (2013), described as A truly special and essential recording – Jazz Inside Magazine (Eric Harabadian).

Quentin holds a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), awarded with a ‘Deans Commendation’, a Master of Music Degree (Jazz Performance) under the tutelage of jazz great John Abercrombie, awarded Summa Cum Laude, and a Bachelor of Music Degree (Jazz Performance), awarded with First Class Honours. Angus is the author of four original transcription books of Gilad Hekselman improvisations: Splitlife (2012), Words Unspoken (2012), Hearts Wide Open (2012) and This Just In (2013). He has also been published by MelBay, Jazz Heaven, and the NZMiC music journal along with conducting presentations of his academic research at music conferences across Australasia.

Angus has performed and recorded with jazz luminaries Ari Hoenig, Kevin Hays, Jon Gordon, Shai Maestro, Colin Stranahan, Linda Oh, Rogerio Boccatto, Jo Lawry, Elliot Mason, and Will Vinson. As part of his formal academic education, he has received instruction from Jason Moran, Nate Smith, John Riley, Todd Coolman, Hal Galper, Jonathan Kreisberg, Randy Johnston, Pat Martino, Adam Rodgers, and Carmen Lundy.