Q&A with Hugh Barrett – 2006 NJA finalist

Welcome to Jazz Australia’s second series of Q&A interviews with finalists in the National Jazz Awards, which will be announced at the 2006 TAC Wangaratta Festival of Jazz. This year the National Jazz Awards feature piano, for the first time since 1999. At the finals, to be held in Wangaratta in the first weekend of November, the finalists will play with bassist Brendan Clarke (winner of the National Jazz Awards in 2001) and drummer James Hauptmann.

Hugh Barrett is from Sydney.

When did you start playing piano and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?
I took classical piano lessons for about a year when I was in year seven or eight at school and then quit because I didn’t like it, but I always messed around with the piano at home and started playing properly towards the end of year ten. I had played trumpet from the age of eight and in high school I was continually frustrated by the technical demands of the trumpet, so the piano was attractive to me because it did not seem so technically demanding in terms of simply being able to produce a sound. I was also attracted to the opportunity the piano offered to play chords and harmony. And since we had a piano at home, it seemed like a logical choice.

Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
I am not sure who my greatest influences have been. Bill Evans was certainly my main influence when I first got into jazz piano because of his amazing sense of harmony and voicings, and hearing him play the standards that I was trying to learn in such a beautiful way. I have always listened to Herbie Hancock too and have loved his playing in almost all different contexts so I guess he has been a big influence. I think I have probably also been directly influenced a lot by the teachers I have had, like Paul McNamara, Mike Nock and Judy Bailey, and the musicians I play with. The bebop pianists Bud Powell and Wynton Kelly were also influences in the lines they played. Also Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Coltrane, most of the Miles Davis bands, Brad Mehldau.

When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration? For example, do you ever find that other art forms (painting, writing etc.) feed into your own creative process?
When I compose I generally aim to entertain and connect with the audience in some way and figuring out ways to do that is usually my inspiration. I sort of subscribe to the view that art is a means of transmitting feeling to others, so I guess in that case my own feelings would be my inspiration. Having said that, I often just come across a hip chord progression or melody or something and write something based on that without much thought for the audience, so I guess sometimes I am just inspired by music itself. I have written a couple of pieces where the melodic content comes from transcribing a line of speech from a movie, TV show or audio recording, so I guess I have been influenced by other art forms in that way.

What does the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz represent for you?
The Wangaratta festival of jazz consists of a bunch of amazing jazz musicians all playing music in the same town on the same weekend, so it represents a great couple of days of entertainment for me.

What are you listening to now?
Chick Corea – Now he Sings, now he Sobs
Florian Ross – Big Fish and Small Pond

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