The versatile and talented Jack Earle has been making a splash in the local scene, with regular gigs and a big band that’s developed a strong sound. He’s crowdfunding the big band’s first CD – featuring the big band and his own compositions – and is headed off to study at Berklee in Boston USA this year. AustralianJazz.net caught up with this enthusiastic young musician to find out more about where it all began.
AustralianJazz.net: Why jazz? And why big bands?
Jack Earle: When I was growing up, music was always playing; be it from the piano lessons in the ‘piano room’ (being taught by my mum), the clarinet and saxophone lessons in the lounge room (being taught by my father; often at the same time as the piano lessons!), or from the variety of CD’s and Records – classical or jazz – that filled the house at any given time. Being young and full of energy, I guess I connected more with the upbeat excitement of Jazz music. I started classical piano lessons at age 4, and trumpet lessons at age 7. It was on the trumpet that I learnt to improvise, which made me fall deeper in love with Jazz music. I then joined various community big bands where I received a very thorough education, playing classic Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and Count Basie tunes. I will never forget when I was 11 years old seeing Harry Connick Jr at the Palais and being completely gobsmacked by not only his talent, musicianship, and showmanship, but of the entire bands’. It was then and there that I decided to start practicing hard at jazz, otherwise I would never be able to do what they did!
AJN: You play trumpet and piano, as well as singing. What drew you to these instruments? How do they affect your, instrumentation, composition?
JE: I started piano lessons at age 4, because I was fed up with always dragged along to my older sister’s lesson, and not being allowed to play. So as any decent child would do, I threw the biggest possible tantrum until I was allowed five minutes of lesson at the end of my sister’s scheduled time. It grew from there!
I was always attracted to the trumpet’s powerful, exciting, sizzling sound, and when I saw one being played on The Wiggles, I decided that I must play one! My mum happened to play trumpet in college, and managed to find her old trumpet in the attic. She taught me a few notes, and I proceeded to sit on the couch, supporting the instrument with my feet (it was too heavy), trying to get a sound out of it. It was on the trumpet that I learnt to improvise; and I was then able to transfer this knowledge to the piano.
Singing has always been in my life; not so much as a thing I wanted to pursue, but as a tool to help my aural training, composition and musical direction. I was always in all the primary and secondary school choirs, and for many years I sang in a church choir. When I became old enough to sing Baritone/Tenor range musical theatre songs, I received lessons, which has vastly improved my technique and versatility, and has come in handy when there is a male vocal number in the big band, or I need to sing a line in order to demonstrate what I mean in rehearsal.
Having these instruments at my disposal and being able to dabble in others gives me the basic knowledge of the instruments I write for, and helps me realise what possibilities are available. I am very glad I started on piano as this has given me the versatility to adapt the knowledge to many other instruments, and even to my compositions; all of my pieces start as piano works, and then expand from there.
AJN: Tell us about your big band
JE: The big band is made up 18 of my friends and colleagues from Melbourne whom I have met through playing for numerous jazz ensembles and musical theatre productions. We started out getting together once a year for a festival called ‘The Big Band Sunsets Festival’ held in Mordialloc each February. As we grew and improved, so did our desire to play more! So I contacted a few venues around Melbourne and tried to find us a semi-regular, indoor gig. This has now grown into a substantial number of performances a year (close to once a month).
AJN: You’re taking up study at Berklee soon. It’s a journey that’s been made by many wonderful Australian players. How did this happen for you? And why is it important to study at a college like Berklee?
JE: In my gap year last year it was suggested I do a summer course at Berklee College of Music entitled ‘The Five-Week Performance Program’. In this program I had the opportunity to learn from Berklee teachers, play with Berklee students, and play in many ensembles, directed by industry gurus. It was here that there was the opportunity to audition for a scholarship to study at Berklee full-time. I thought, ‘why not?!’ and so booked in an audition and interview. To my complete amazement and astonishment it was announced (mid-performance) that I was one of the lucky few who received a full-tuition scholarship to attend their 4 year bachelor program. Berklee is and important place because the teachers there are all industry professionals. There is no such thing as ‘those who can’t do, teach’ at Berklee, all of the staff are working musicians, and industry professionals. One need only look at the list of Berklee alumni who have won Grammy awards to know that this is a seriously good school.
AJN: You’re currently crowdfunding a debut big band release featuring your own compositions. Why crowdfunding?
JE: Before I leave for Berklee I want to get my compositions from the past seven years down on an album. As this is a ‘one chance only’ situation I want it to have the best sound, and use the best equipment possible; quite an expensive venture, and one I can not afford on my own. Crowdfunding is a tried and tested process that has managed to come off successfully for many of my friends and colleagues. It not only raises money, but it also broadens our fan base and widens our recognition far beyond the jazz clubs of Melbourne. Crowdfunding is also a great way to test the potential of a product, particularly with our album as there is an option to pre-order your copy of the CD, as well as stacks of other great rewards (including live performances).
Visit the Indiegogo campaign to pre-order and snatch a reward!
AJN: Who have been your biggest influences to date?
JE: Harry Connick Jr is my idol; everything he does is superb. He is a master playing, arranging and composing in many genres of music, as well as crossing over into stage and film acting. He is the reason I began to really start practicing, and one of my main influences as a musician and big band leader. Other fantastic big bands and composers/arrangers I listen to include the Buddy Rich Big Band, Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, The Bob Mintzer Big Band, The GRP Allstar Big Band, Michel Camilo and Quincy Jones.
A major influence also comes from the Musical Theatre world, through composers such as Stephen Sondheim, Adam Guettel, Michael John LaChiusa and Jason Robert Brown.
My biggest influences on the piano are Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, and Robert Glasper. On trumpet; Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, as well as the LA session musos such as Jerry Hey, Gary Grant and Wayne Bergeron.
AJN: What are you listening to now?
Harry Connick Jr’s Smokey Mary
Keith Jarrett’s Rio
Dirty Loops’ Loopified
As well the rest of my continuously expanding collection.
Pre-order the CD
Support the release of the CD and pre-order your copy at the Indiegogo campaign
Stephen Byth/Paul Van Ross
Stuart Byrne/Stuart Brownley
Racheal Byrnes/Miles Izzo
Melanie Wilkinson/Chris Eury
Ash Richter/Chris Vizard
Jack Earle (Leader)
February 17 @ Dizzy’s Jazz Club; 8pm
March 8 @ The Spotted Mallard; 5pm
April 5 @ The Spotted Mallard; 5pm