Gemma Farrell: “I took up the saxophone and it kinda went from there”

gemmaplayingPerth born and based Gemma Farrell is one of the most promising figures of the Australian Jazz Scene; as a sax player and band leader, she has found her own voice, creating a sort of post-bop that merges the american and european tradition with lyricism and audacity. Tonight she is playing at the Perth International Jazz Festival. Just before going onstage, she shared some thoughts with AustralianJazz.Net.

AustralianJazz.Net: What are you going to be presenting tonight?

Gemma Farrell: I want to showcase the three CDs I’ve released so far, which is essentially work that all came out of my European studies (“Live at the Brisbane Jazz Club” by MFG, “Vicissitude” by Gemma Farrell Group, “Get it Together” by Say What?!), as well as show my new compositions for a new group. Though I am still working on MFG and Say What?!, now that I’m based in Perth, the Gemma Farrell Quintet will be my “home base” and regular group. It will be different to those other groups and I hope the debut performance will show off the kind of player/composer I am and the new direction of my new group. GFQ is with trombone and guitar as opposed to guitar and piano as I wanted it to sound different to MFG. It is what I will be playing with and writing for most frequently and what I to have my next release with. I want us to have some regular gigs so that we grow together as an ensemble and the guys in that group have said they are into that so I’m really lucky.

AJN: What is the main difference among these projects?

GF: Well what I write based on what is happening in my life and the world. Since releasing Vicissitude and Get it Together I became a mother for the second time, and since Live at the Brisbane, which was on my part mostly a reflection of Australia’s political climate, I’ve had some health problems which I don’t want to go into, but my writing now is a lot more thoughtful of the instrumentation and a lot more reflective and hopeful. Instrumentation and players are probably what distinguishes each project, Say What?! is a hard bop hammond quartet that is really reflective of what Shirley Scott and Stanley Turrentine did in the 60s.

AJN: It’s interesting that you chose your european group to comment on the australian politics…

GF: Well as I said, that’s what was happening at the time, I was writing a lot of that music in September 2013 and was obviously not so happy with the election result (as reflected in “Right Way Wrong”). MFG is a travelling group (Maas, Farrell and Goralski); each of us writes for the group, and gets together on tour with a double bassist and drummer. We hope to meet up every 2 years, our first meeting was last year in Australia, our next hopefully next year in Germany. The guys in MFG and I have similar political beliefs despite being from different countries.

AJN: What did you gain from your time studying in Amsterdam?

GF: The best part of going to Europe was the other musicians I met. In Amsterdam, no matter what kind of style you’re into, there will be people there who want to play that style too. So many expacts coming together to play jazz, and now I have collegues in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and many other places. Also at the conservatorium there you could have a class in almost anything. My favourite class was an EWI master class with Israeli saxophonist Itai Weismann, I got a lot from that and hope I can explore EWI a lot more one day.

AJN: Your sound is a great combination of the european and the american jazz traditions…

GM:  I’m very influenced by American musicians as were my teachers. My favourite player is probably Stanley Turrentine and my teacher Graeme Norris really got me into Joe Henderson and Jackie McClean. I’ve also listened to a lot of trumpet players, especially Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan.

AJNHow did you get into jazz?

GF: Well I took up the saxophone and it kinda went from there. I went busking one day and an old man came up to me and asked me if I was going to see Branford Marsalis when he came to town. I’d never heard of him, but I got tickets to his concert, got a few of his CDs, and then would go to CD shops and buy CDs of jazz compilations and other sax players, I loved the saxophone and started on alto, then quickly took up the other three. When I took up the baritone, Gerry Mulligan was an early favourite. “Walking Shoes” was the first solo I ever transcribed.

AJN: Which song best describes your current state of mind?

GF: Right now if you could think of a song that describes having a cold and hoping you’ll make it through a big gig without falling over, that would be the song! But in seriousness, I am quite excited about tonight, and we are opening with a new tune I’ve written called “I wanna clap for you.” It’s funky, exciting and sets the mood, that’s probably my current state of mind, a nervous excitedness.

AJN: When did you first feel that you have found your own voice?

GF: I think I’m still searching and always will be. I am quite content with where I am and what I have done but there is a lot more practice and transcription to do and a lot more ideas in my brain. I think every jazz musician is always striving to be better and I’m sure I always will be too.