Q&A with Jon Crompton – 2009 NJA Finalist

Jon Crompton, saxophone, from Melbourne

When did you start playing saxophone and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?

I started playing the saxophone in Year 7 at high school. It was my second choice as an instrument, my first being drums. Drums were thought to be too loud and expensive by my parents, so sax it was. Despite the fact that it wasn’t my first choice, I felt an affinity with the sax really quickly. There wasn’t really a moment when it came as a calling. I just grew more and more fond of playing and practising, and spent an increasing amount of time on the instrument, until one day the penny dropped and I realised that if I was willing to work hard enough, I could probably do it “for a living”.

Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?

As a young saxophonist, my influences were what I’d assume to be typical. I did my best to emulate saxophonists like Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, whom I admired for their virtuosity. At the same time, I found it was relatively easy to play along to the melodic ideas of Paul Desmond and so did that for many hours as well. I was also exposed to Bernie McGann early on and have always really dug his playing. As I progressed, my interest widened from saxophone to other instruments and musicians, and eventually to other genres, but always with the unfortunate opinion that jazz, as the most complex and demanding form of music, was the superior genre. While completing my undergraduate, I began listening to music based on emotional content, rather than complexity or degree of difficulty. Bands like Radiohead, The Bad Plus and E.S.T. really inspired me to try and tap into that other “something” when playing.

I grew out of my jazz-naziness and really began to enjoy other styles from minimalists like Philip Glass through to stuff my parents would listen to, like Fleetwood Mac. During this time I did a lot of free improvising and also played a lot of classical music (my undergraduate being in repertoire). At the moment, I’m having another jazz resurgence, listening to a lot of quintessential stuff like 50?s and 60?s Miles.

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 try and force composition in any way. If I do, I always feel that the piece is contrived and perhaps a little false. I find I come up with my best melodies and compositions while driving, but I haven’t quite figured out an ideal way to write or record my tunes whilst in the car. There are a few hummed melodies in the memory card of my phone, which jogs my memory enough when I get to some manuscript and that system seems to work OK.

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

I’ve set up my room into a pretty sweet place to practise. It’s pretty bare, but it’s got a stand, stool, piano and a computer (for iTunes etc). I find that the more boring the practise room, the less distracted I am, but it does need to be comfortable.

What does Wangaratta Jazz represent for you?

An opportunity to listen to as much incredible music as I can; catching up with some interstate mates; sleep deprivation; and inspiration.

What are you listening to now?

At the moment I’m having another resurgence of enthusiam towards jazz, after my necessary departure over the last couple of years. I’m meeting a lot of new musicians every week, and they’re always recommending new things to check out. I usually take my time when listening to new music, preferring to listen to one track or record that I really dig a great many times, rather than churn through the tracks. I get over-whelmed by those horrible mp3 dvds people sometimes make me. Anyway, at the moment I’m mostly listening to guys I’ve never checked out before this year: Kurt Rosenwinkle, Chris Potter, Bill Frisell, Mark Turner, Barney McCall, Thom Yorke’s solo album “Eraser”… that’s enough.

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These annual Q&As with National Jazz Awards finalists are coordinated by Miriam Zolin.