Each year since 2005, in the month leading up to the jazz festival in Wangaratta, Miriam Zolin interviews the finalists in the National Jazz Awards. The awards are decided at Wangaratta in a series of heats culminating in a finals performance on the Sunday of the festival. Wangaratta Jazz festival this year runs from Friday 28 to Monday 31 October.
The National Jazz Awards have been presented at the festival since it began in 1990 and were designed to contribute to the development and recognition of young jazz and blues musicians up to the age 35. The Awards have become a much anticipated highlight of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues.
This year’s top ten finalists are: Ben Falle, 25, Perth | Graham Hunt, 27, Sydney | James Waples, 28, Sydney | Tim Firth, 29, Sydney | Hugh Harvey, 30, Melbourne | Evan Mannell, 32, Sydney | Sam Bates, 33, Melbourne | Craig Simon, 34, Melbourne | Dave Goodman, 34, Sydney | Cameron Reid, 34, Sydney
When did you start playing jazz and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?
Well, I’ve always had an interest in music, and I am also lucky to be a part of an incredibly musical family, with most of us learning/playing a musical instrument or two. So music has always been around me. In terms of jazz though, I remember when I was young, my mum and dad taking me along to a few of my uncle Kevin’s gigs. Every time I saw him, I was fascinated, as it was a new style of music I had never heard before. From then on, I just knew I wanted to be a jazz musician.
Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
The biggest influence in my career would have to be my uncle Kevin. I just think he is amazing at what he does and how he musically approaches playing the piano. He has passed on an incredible amount of knowledge to me over the years, and still does! I loved watching Kev play with drummers like Gordon Rytmeister, Jim Piesse, Warren Trout, Lawrie Thompson and Andrew Dickeson. I was very fortunate to learn from Dicko throughout my time at the Con. He was an incredible teacher and I thank him for the knowledge he passed on to me. Dicko was the one that got me to really focus on my groove, “if something is feeling and sounding really good, and its relaxed, then why change it?”
Other than these guys, great influential drummers important to me would have to be Art Blakey, Max Roach, Steve Jordan and ?uest Love. The thing that stands out to me with all these drummers is the great ‘feel’ and ‘groove’ that they possess.
When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?
It’s kind of a hard question, I actually don’t feel like I’ve been inspired to write or arrange something. I feel that certain ideas will just pop into my head and i’ll feel this need to write them down. The funny thing is that it can happen anywhere. But it wont happen all the time, and it’s definitely something that cannot be forced.
Something that does seem to help me with generating ideas, is listening. I try to keep an open ear to many different styles of music. This then broadens the spectrum of ideas that can be created. So, in a way, keeping that open ear, is my inspiration.
What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
Well any location is great for practice. But if I had to choose, I would have to prefer the comfort of my own home. I am more relaxed when at home which definitely helps when it comes to working on technique, ‘feel’ and groove.
In terms of playing, I think it’s more up to who you’re playing with. If you are with musicians who you are comfortable and enjoy playing with, then it doesn’t matter where the gig is, it will always be great.
What does the Wangaratta Jazz Festival represent for you?
For the past two years I have really taken the time to work on my drumming, focussing on my technique and groove. Getting into these Wangaratta finals has meant that this hard work has really payed off. I am so humbled to be a part of this prestigious competition, as for years I have watched many young talents of the Australian jazz scene pave their careers from these finals.
What are you listening to now?
As I said before, I try to listen to many different types of music. At the moment, I am listening to a mixture of Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra, Herbie Hancock’s The New Standard, Quincy Jones’ The Dude, and the soundtrack of Cirque Du Soleil’s Quidam.
The National Jazz Awards semi-finals and final rounds will be held at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, October 28-31. Festival Passes are available for blues only venues or all venue access. Purchase your early bird tickets now from www.wangarattajazz.com