Kathleen Halloran: ‘Whatever we do, we do it with a smile!’

Everyone is talking about Kathleen Halloran lately. The young guitarist has been making a significant mark on Melbourne’s jazz scene, either as part of a number of bands – SPIRE ensemble not least among them – or, mostly, with her own trio with seasoned musiciansDarryn Farrugia and Kim May, on the drums and bass. Now the trio gets another chance to claim the spotlight, with a performance at the Stonnington Jazz Festival, featuring a true national jazz legend as a special guest: Andrea Keller. So yes, to say that Kathleen Halloran is excited about it would be an understatement.

What are you going to present at Stonnington Jazz?

The big difference with this show is that it’s a collaboration with the amazing Andrea Keller and we’ll be playing some of her tunes, as well as enjoying her contribution to our tunes. We all write differently, which will make for quite a varied set of ballads, up tempo rhythmic numbers, folkier tunes, and even some rock riffs! We hope that our audience members will go home feeling full! As a trio, we often collaborate with front line instruments but this will be the first time we will be playing with piano – which organically will make the music take different turns. I’ll be playing a mix of electric and acoustic guitar.

Why Andrea Keller?

I reached out to Andrea about this gig because I’m really inspired by her playing, compositions and general philosophy on improvised music. I’ve been lucky enough to play more and more with Andrea over the past 12 months with my involvement in her ‘Girls do Jazz‘ short course, as well as having the chance to be a part of her ‘Masters and Apprentices‘ gigs (as part of her ongoing Jazzlab residency), both of which were moving musical experiences. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for a potential collaboration with my trio, so I was rapt when she said yes!

(L-R) Kim May, Kathleen Halloran and Darryn Farrugia.

How would you describe your music to someone not familiar with it?

For the most part, our music is fairly accessible. I love pop/acoustic folk music and simple melodies/grooves. There’s definitely a tinge of this in my compositions. I have been inspired by Pat Metheny and his ability to make complicated music sound simple and melodic. We can also can get pretty out and bent! I like the phrase that Kim came up with for our bio which was “a fun and fierce approach to improvised music.” Whatever we do, we do it with a smile!

What is your greatest aspiration?

My aspirations in music are cliche, but true for me. I want to be the best musician I can be for whoever and whatever musical situation I find myself in. One that is always supportive, always honest, versatile and open minded. In jazz, I don’t want to feel limitations in expressing myself and creating in the moment. I look at improvisers like Andrea Keller and see someone who is completely limitless, constantly innovative, and constantly freely moving in and out of structure and ideas. I would love to be able to achieve that… one day! Then, I want to play rock/pop gigs and have the skill set to sound like a supportive rock guitarist. I would like to play across as many styles and settings as possible, and as long as I feel that I am consistently improving across the board, I’ll be really happy and engaged!

When did you realise that you are a musician?

When it became a source of income rather than something I just did for fun at home. When I was fifteen, my guitar teacher Steve Hobbs gave me a regular gig in his cover band at a local pub. This allowed me to experience for the first time what it’s like to be a gigging musician and I have considered myself a musician ever since.

There’s an ongoing discussion lately (particularly in light of the #metoo movement) about women in the music industry; how has your experience as a young woman in jazz been? Have you faced any gender-specific challenges?

I have been extremely fortunate to have amazingly supportive mentors, both men and women, going out of their way to support, encourage and protect me. I recognise that sadly this isn’t the case for everyone. Looking back to gender-related challenges, particularly in my late teens, when I was still trying to come out of my shell, I can very easily see without the same support, how quickly you could lose all self-belief, become crippled with self-doubt, and as a result turned away from pursuing a career in music. I think role models are extremely important and beyond having someone to look up to, having another senior figure truly believe in you I think is the most empowering and uplifting thing I’ve ever felt as a young woman in jazz and music in general. It’s really positive to see so many great programs running at a high school level including YOWO, Sweethearts and Girls Do Jazz as well as groups like All In which provide this same experience to other young females. I have to say my experience so far in jazz has been really positive. I’m extremely grateful to venues such as Paris Cat and Jazzlab for providing me with a place to regularly present original jazz and musicians who continue to book me.

Who are your heroes?

I have many, all for different reasons. Darryn Farrugia, Kim May, Andrea Keller, Steve Hobbs, Xani Kolac and Kate Ceberano to name a few. I love sitting in the middle of Darryn and Kim when they talk about musical experiences theyve shared from times before I was born, soaking everything up like a sponge, to the point that it feels like I was there too!

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

‘Secret of Life’ by James Taylor

Kathleen Halloran and her trio featuring Andrea Keller are playing at the Stonnington Jazz Festival on Thursday 16 May

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