Angela Davis: ‘New York forces you to be completely honest with yourself’

ange6One of the freshest voices in the blossoming Australian Jazz scene, saxophonist Angela Davis has spent the last years in New York, where she recorded two albums. Her latest, Lady Luck, co-arranged by the brilliantSteve Newcomb, sees her interacting with a string section, in a fascinating exchange of emotions, that allows her to display her skills. Having recently relocated to Melbourne, much to the delight of the local scene, she answered some questions, a couple of days prior toher Paris Cat debutthis week. Why did you decide to come back to Australia?

Angela Davis: When I moved to the States, eight years ago, it was always my plan to eventually move back to Australia. I feel so lucky to be Australian – in a lot of ways we have it easier in terms of the working conditions and the health system. It’s also extremely beautiful here and I think I appreciate that more now that I’m back and I will never take it for granted again. Instead of living in a tiny-one bedroom apartment looking onto an air shaft, I’m now in a terrace house with a backyard!

AJN: How was your experience in New York?

AD: Living in NYC can be a real struggle at times; that being said, I wouldn’t change it for anything. I learnt so much while I was there – I was able to hear a lot of my idols play live and even get some lessons with a few of them. It’s an extremely creative and inspiring environment to live in and I plan to try to go back each year. There’s something about being surrounded by some of the most talented musicians and artists in the world that really pushes you to work hard every day. It also forces you to be completely honest with yourself about your own abilities and what you want your path to be.

AJN: On your latest album, Lady Luck, you are working with a string section. Why is that?

AD: It has always been a dream of mine to record with strings – some of my favourite albums are ventures in jazz with strings; Art Pepper’s Winter Moon, Lee Konitz’s Strings for Holidayand Paul Desmond’s Desmond Blue. To me there’s something profoundly beautiful about the timbre of the alto saxophone blending with a string section.

AJN: How has working with Steve Newcomb been like?

AD: I really loved collaborating with Steve Newcomb on the album. We’ve known each other for about twelve years – he was my teacher when I first attended the QLD Conservatorium back in 2003 and we’ve been great mates ever since. On ‘Lady Luck’ he created very unique arrangements that utilized the strings in more than just an accompaniment role – they’re very active throughout and go from creating lush backgrounds to playing counter melodies and even interacting with the drums.

AJN: How do the ‘Lady Luck’ songs ‘translate’ to a straight jazz quartet formation, like the one you’ll be playing with at the Paris Cat?

AD: A lot of the repertoire from Lady Luck translates well to the jazz quartet format as most charts can be stripped down to a lead-sheet chart. We will also be playing some of my favourite standards and a few arrangements from my first album – The Art of The Melody. I will be playing with Craig Fermanis on guitar, Ben Robertson on bass and Sam Bates on drums. The audience can expect a lot of interaction between us – we’re not going to go in with an exact plan of how things are going to go, everything will be organic and who knows what will evolve on the night!

AJN: How did you first get involved with jazz?

AD: For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a saxophone player and I initially started out playing the classical repertoire. I was however exposed to a lot of big band playing in high school and I was a member of the Jazz Ed Big Band. The legendary Don Burrows came and worked with us and the rest is history!

AJN: Who are your influences?

AD: I like to think that I am influenced by numerous saxophonists. Some of my favourites include Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano, Dick Oatts, Art Pepper and Paul Desmond.

AJN: What is your greatest ambition?

AD: To keep evolving, improving and creating.