Steve and Mal Sedergreen on the Return of Mistaken Identity

It has been five years since Steve and Mal Sedergreen performed together as Mistaken Identity, which makes their upcoming gig at the Kew Courthouse a really special event. Joined by bassist Kim May and drummer Tony Floyd, the two brothers are going to present a set of originals, standards – and the Stevie Wonder covers that their fans expect to hear – showcasing the artistry that has allowed them to escape the shadow of their father – Melbourne jazz legend Bob Sedergeen – and become leading figures of the city’s music scene themselves. As they get ready to hit the stage, they guide us through the band’s three-decade story and explain what it means to be jazz royalty.


What is the Mistaken Identity backstory?

Steve Sedergreen: This is a question I get asked a lot.

I went to the VCA jazz and improvisation course in the mid-eighties. I played with many ensembles. There was a strong emphasis on performing. I was keen to perform outside school. This still drives me today with all the students I teach; adult, tertiary and secondary students.

I have always relished learning through performance experience and therefore keen to organise performance opportunities.

I approached the Arts Centre for the best opportunity at that time, which was the Jazz After Dark series. To my delight, we were asked to perform, and of course they asked for the name of the band, which I didn’t have yet!

The Age‘s Friday Entertainment Guide always had a weekly Jazz column and that week there was a write- up about me, but in fact it was for a performance by my brother Malcolm!

So hence the name Mistaken Identity was born.

We have been a few formations from the eighties to the present day.

We have always been about playing music that can communicate to all.

People call it ‘accessible’ but that doesn’t mean we don’t play Jazz or respect the Jazz traditions. We might be influenced by other music we love as well, such as Stevie Wonder, Sting, The Beatles.

Mal joined Mistaken Identity in 1988, when the Saxophonist Gerry Ciavarella joined Kylie Minogue. We then recorded the album Bits and Pieces in 1989, then Just Perfect, Identify, Wondering (the music of Stevie Wonder) and Live.

I received an ARIA nomination (best Jazz composition) for the title track from Just Perfect.

It’s been five years since your last performance; what has happened in the meantime?

SS: Yes, indeed it has, and that was my intention.

My emphasis has been on my family and other musical adventures, including the Deep Listening Project with melodic drummer Michael Jordan and didgeridoo and indigenous story teller Ron Murray. This outfit has performed at many festivals over the past few years (Castlemaine State, White Night, Wangaratta and also at The Recital Centre).

I also recorded an album under my own name called Points in Time and have done many gigs using that same name for my band.

Mal has continued to perform regularly (often with our father Bob). He is also involved in music education and is currently the director for the stage band Program at Balwyn High School. He also teaches at Lauriston Girls School (Howqua Campus).

Together we co-direct the Jazz program for the annual MYO Summer Music program.

What are you going to present at the Kew Courthouse?

SS: A selection of the repertoire the band had developed over the last 30 years.

Here is a suggested set list:

  • Sign on Sign Off (Steve Sedergreen)
  • Smiles (Mal Sedergreen)
  • Musician and Chef (Steve Sedergreen)
  • Mr. Messer (Mal Sedergreen)
  • If She Breaks Your Heart (Stevie Wonder)
  • Tome Poem/ Song of Living Kindness (Charles Lloyd/Gary Bartz)
  • It’s Up to You (Mal Sedergreen)
  • Eleanor Rigby (Paul McCartney/John Lennon)
  • Pastime Paradise (Stevie Wonder)
  • Prayer for Lost Souls (Steve Sedergreen)
  • Chan’s Song/ Never Said (Stevie Wonder/Herbie Hancock)
  • Home Jones (Bob Sedergreen)
  • Wrapped Around Your Finger (Sting)
  • I Remember Bird (Leonard Feather)

We will always change our minds when we perform live – true to the spirit of Jazz!

What would you tell people to invite them to the concert?

SS: This will be a great night of music with a uniquely Australian ensemble approach.

Now older and wiser with the experience we all bring to the stage, we interact dynamically to deliver electric and fun performances, often feeding off the energy from the audience.

We always perform many original tunes penned by Mal and me, together with some classic jazz and contemporary artists standards as you can see in the suggested list.

The audience can expect to feel part of the moment where the band explores the possibilities of the music created right there on the stage.

How would you describe the dynamics between the two of you?

SS: We both share similar music philosophies when playing live music, in that as Jazz musicians, we have to listen to each other and dynamically create some music in the moment of performing and go off the chart. Its about taking risks – and that’s where the joy is.

What is it that you most admire about each other?

Mal Sedergreen: Steve is a wonderful piano player with a highly advanced harmonic palette.

SS: Mal is fiery with a passion that is infectious to all.

What is the thing that annoys you the most?

SS: We try not to bring any petty annoyances we might have as brothers to the stage!

What have you inherited from your father?

SS: We certainly respect our father and the career he has enjoyed and continues to enjoy.

We just love bringing great music to people.

We certainly were immersed in music growing up – not just Jazz, but all sorts of popular music. Dad played cassettes in the car on long drives – from Stevie Wonder to West Side Story.

What is it that you would want to pass on to the future generations?

That music is the universal language, it transcends all. And to play well comes from performing live – on the job.

How did you discover your own voice artists?

MS: We all have our own voice as an artist, to enhance it requires an understanding of what has come before, what is happening now, and what may develop in the future.

I believe that if you trust your musicality as the first step, then your voice grows from that with experience and from the musical journeys you encounter. If you’re not honest and soulful, not playing with feeling and a firm sense of self belief, then it is not authentic nor true and people will pick that up.

What does jazz mean to you?

SS: A sense of freedom for creating musical ideas in the moment rather than playing prepared or fixed ideas. To be in tune with your fellow musicians and the audience. It all gets back to the time/ feel musicality – being free to say what you need to say. Being in tune with the environment and sharing to all – regardless of gender or background. It is a beautiful thing for me to share with all types of music lovers and the students I teach and the musicians I love playing with.

Jazz is a reflective artform.

MS: I think back to my football days, the sister of my bestfriend stated, “I know what jazz is… Louis Armstrong and clarinets.” Well, everyone has a different interpretation of what Jazz is and it’s never been just one thing. If the audience comes to the gig and then, as they leave, say “if that was Jazz, we loved it,” then we have done our job.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

MS:‘Higher Ground’ by Stevie Wonder.

“Keep on trying till we reach the higher ground.” Now more than ever it is really important we take the Higher Ground.

Mistaken Identity perform at the Kew Courthouse on Saturday 29 June