Q&A with Simon Jeans – 2010 NJA finalist

Simon Jeans responds to the 2007 Jazz Australia Q&A, featuring finalists in the National Jazz Awards.

The National Jazz Awards are performed and announced at the TAC Wangaratta Festival of Jazz which will be held in 2007 from 2-5 November. This year the awards feature guitar.

Visit the website for program details.

When did you start playing guitar and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?
I started playing guitar when I was 13, because my best friend had one. I borrowed a right-handed guitar and tried that for a while before getting my own classical and flipping the strings around. I had been already been playing trombone at school for a couple of years, which I continued with through to uni whilst playing guitar at home. I think I knew I was going to be a musician from about age 9 or 10, it was just a matter of finding the right instrument; I wanted to be the keyboard player in Duran Duran when I was a teenybopper, but distorted power chords set me straight.

Playing trombone got me into WAYJO, which lead me to dig jazz and steered me from rock guitar to fusion, then more acoustic jazz and other genres.

Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
My first guitar heroes were Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, by about 16 I was into Weather Report, Pat Metheny, Miles Davis, Mike Stern and John Scofield. These days particularly my friends and band mates inspire me. The main characteristic in players I get charged up by would be a sense of imagination, although as I learn more about music I can focus in on things like time feel, note choice etc.

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?

I don’t write as much as I used to, but I enjoy practice and playing more – in contrast I was a lazy student when I was younger but wrote a fair bit. Usually a deadline will get me going, but I think I’m more self critical now as a writer so am less likely to churn them out; I am more cautious of my influences being too apparent in my own tunes. In terms of other art forms I have to say not really, but rather appreciate them on their own terms. My friend Des White likes to quote Oscar Wilde – “All art is useless”. Having said that I think musicians and other creative people think often in abstract planes but are not aware of their own perceptions so who knows what is going on up there.

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

Any stage as long as its not too cold and there is a balanced sound, and I don’t have anyone complaining about my amp being too loud. Some favourite venues include Mojo’s in Fremantle, which is not a jazz room but has a cool vibe both onstage and off. Always look forward to Thursdays at the Llama Bar because I get my butt kicked by some great musicians.

Practice happens if a student doesn’t show up and I’ve nothing else to do.

What does the Wangaratta festival of jazz represent for you?
“Music is not a competitive sport, but jazz is” – a friend who shall remain anonymous.

Seriously, I’m honoured to be part of the finals; particularly as Mags and Muller aren’t eligible to compete this year. If they were, there’d be no point showing up!

We get to see in person some names that have been floating around but would otherwise not have a chance to hear over in WA. Also get to catch up with some of the Perth mafia who have defected to the East, and hang out in Melbourne as well for a couple of days. This year’s programme is fantastic so I’m pretty excited.

What are you listening to now?

I waste plenty of time on Youtube, checking out people like Buckethead, getting back into raucous guitar players after a bit of a acoustic hiatus, particularly those who have cool tones like Robben Ford, Wayne Krantz, Mike Landau, Scott Henderson. The most recent album I bought was Scott Kinsey’s Kinaesthetics. I jump back and forth from genres and eras, listen to some contemporary guitar player then go to some Sonny Stitt or Wes, Herbie etc and have always relied on friends, students and now the Internet to hip me some stuff that I would otherwise never have heard.

Return to the main Q&A page… These annual Q&As with National Jazz Awards finalists are coordinated by Miriam Zolin.