Who’s Tinkling in the Sandpit?

Hard Core on the fly at Bennetts Lane in August 2012

Improvisation is at the heart of what the Australian Art Orchestra is about. Club residencies, not so much. Normally, we expect to hear the AAO in large ensemble format, at venues such as the Melbourne Recital Centre, or on stage at a major festival.

But the Art Orchestra is heading back into jazz-club-land with a month-long residency coming up in August at Melbourne’s Bennetts Lane and another one in the works for March next year at 505 in Sydney. Jazz-planet.com spoke to AAO veteran Scott Tinkler and up-and-coming saxophonist Scott McConnachie about what to expect at the Bennetts Lane residency, to be held over the first four Thursdays in August.

Scott Tinkler – photo by Laki Sideris

‘It’s a chance to take the Art Orchestra back into the club environment,’ says Tinkler. The orchestra was developed as a large ensemble that normally plays in a larger concert  context, removed from the intimacy of a small venue performance. ‘The idea is to generate some intimacy and to introduce a large component of improvisation.’

He says that this intimacy is important because it’s part of the heritage of the music of improvisation. The idea of an improvising community, sharing not only with the improvisers on stage but also the improvisers in the broader musical community.

While these gigs aren’t large ensemble, each one will feature a ten to twelve piece band. As the residency’s curator his plan is to introduce some of the older members of the art orchestra to the energy and virtuosity of some of the younger players on the scene. ‘It’s a way for some of the older players to find out who they are and to play with them, develop a relationship with them.’

On any one of the first four Thursdays, expect to see three or four core AAO members and around six or seven new, upcoming players. ‘These are not students,’ says Tinkler. ‘They are young musicians of a high quality,’ He points to Scott McConnachie. ‘Many of them have been influenced by or mentored by members of the AAO and now it’s a case of potentially  ‘the student showing the master how it’s done’. He’s excited at the prospect.

He’s keeping the format fluid.  ‘I wanted to keep it open because with some people only performing on one or two nights, I didn’t want the pressure of anybody having to learn charts. It’s an opportunity for these younger musicians to be able to play the way they play and for them to experience members of the Art Orchestra playing their own way – sharing language. For that reason it needs to be strongly based on improvisation.’

Aside from the focus on improvisation Tinkler likes to think of it as an introduction of new to old. ‘Some of us already know each other fairly well,’ he says, ‘but there will be new introductions too.’

Each Art Orchestra member on any one evening will have their opportunity to guide what’s happening. ‘It could be anything from a John Zorn type of thing, to a bunch of notes, a narrative approach… loosely we can say that each AAO member will have half a set where they can pretty much set the scene.

‘The last 20 minutes of each gig will hopefully be everyone playing something together,’ says Tinkler, ‘but the main idea is to keep it fluid.’

There’s no expectation of outcome, except to explore and to try to be creative. The leading is in the curation.’You set it up, and see what happens. It’s what improvisation is to me,’ he says, acknowledging that it’s a little like playing in a sandpit. ‘You give people an opportunity to play and then you don’t stand there and tell them what to play and how to play. You give them the opportunity and hopefully share that moment with them.’

The AAO Residency – 25 August 2011 | Photo by Miriam Zolin

Scott McConnachie has played with AAO members before, and he was part of the lineup at the 2011 residency, led by Paul Grabowsky. He’s played with members of the AAO in other contexts too. ‘This approach is news to me,’ he says, as Tinkler talks about his curatorial plans. ‘I had no idea what was going to happen and now I do. It sounds really fun.’

He’s enthusiastic about Tinkler’s approach to set some parameters and then let it unfold. It’s what he’s interested in, as an improviser.

For McConnachie, the AAO provides an opportunity to connect with people who have dedicated their life to music. As one of the new wave of talented musicians making their way in the local scene he recognises the importance of an ensemble like the Art Orchestra. ‘It has managed to create a public profile, more than many other groups of musicians; so in that way it’s good to be recognised by them, too.’

Another theme of the August series is mentorship – something that the AAO consciously engages in. Tinkler knows it’s important – for the orchestra, for the broader improvising music scene and for all the musicians involved. ‘Mentorship involves sharing knowledge, sharing struggle, sharing ideas.’ He says his main mentor was saxophonist Mark Simmonds. Tinkler was with Simmonds’ band The Freeboppers for nearly five years and the experience was invaluable. ‘I like the idea that mentorship lives not only in universities but outside them as well. In jazz history, people would be mentored by joining a band. AAO takes it back to a model that allows that to happen.

‘It’s always important for younger musicians to play with older musicians. They learn so much and they end up creating great music,’ says Tinkler. ‘That model is definitely part of the reason for doing the residency in this way.

Talking to Tinkler, it’s obvious that the idea of improvisation – what it is, how improvisers do it – is right at the front of his thinking as he approaches the curation of this residency. He acknowledges this and explains that this is mainly because improvisation is such a difficult concept, for ‘pretty much everyone except an improvising musician’.

‘Whether you’re applying for funding or writing a commission,’ he says, ‘there are metrics and structures in place around payment, and the ‘value’ of a line of music or the number of voices. By its very nature, improvisation is a difficult art to quantify. Without an understanding of what improvisation really is, it can appear to have less value than music composed on paper.

‘It’s frustrating but the fact is that if you are applying for funding to create a piece of music, the amount of money you can apply for is effectively reduced as the musicians – the ‘voices’ – start improvising.’

He believes that this results in a misguided perception that the composer is more important – adding more value – than an improviser. ‘Yet,’ he reminds us, ‘improvisation is composition! It’s using the same language, the same harmonic language, rhythmic language form… an improviser is a highly skilled musician using all those compositional techniques.’

Hence the emphasis on keeping it fluid for this residency. He acknowledges there are risks in improvisation: ‘we might fall on our arses once or twice’, but he’s also clear that in the hands of musicians such as these, it’s often when you’re searching that the best things happen.

Read more about the Australian Art Orchestra on their website >

See the Bennetts Lane website >

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Format and lineup in 2012

Go to the Bennetts Lane website for this year’s details

The four evenings have been curated by Scott Tinkler; he will select, and organise the personnel and material for the show. He’s the one who decides and brings to life the overall format.

Paul Grabowsky and Tinkler are sharing the ‘management’ of the four nights (making sure musicians are in attendance, making sure the gear is ready, calling the time to go on and making sure everyone has had a toilet stop) with Grabowsky overseeing the first two and Tinkler the second two.

Each AAO member will lead a segment or event, there is no ‘one’ leader, but each night will be led by AAO members who are playing on the night.

Thursday 2 August | AAO members Paul  Grabowsky, piano; Tony Hicks, reeds; Lachlan Davidson, reeds; and Adrian Sherriff, trombone will be joined by Callum G’Froerer, trumpet; James Macaulay, trombone; Brett Thompson, guitar; Ida Duelund Hansen, double bass; Matthias Schack-Arnott, percussion; Harry Shaw-Reynolds, drums

Thursday 9 August | AAO members Paul Grabowsky, piano; Philip Rex, double bass; and Niko Schäuble, drums will be joined by Scott McConnachie, saxophone; Callum G’Froerer, trumpet; Pat Thiele, trumpet; James Macaulay, trombone; Brett Thompson, guitar; Ida Duelund Hansen, double bass; Matthias Schack-Arnott, percussion

Thursday 16 August | AAO members Scott Tinkler, trumpet; Eugene Ball, trumpet; Stephen Magnusson, guitar will be joined by Scott McConnachie, saxophone; Callum G’Froerer, trumpet; Brett Thompson, guitar; Sam Pankhurst, double bass; Harry Shaw-Reynolds, drums; Matthias Schack-Arnott, percussion

Thursday 23 August | AAO members Scott Tinkler, trumpet; Paul Grabowsky, piano; Simon Barker, drums will be joined by Scott McConnachie, saxophone; Pat Thiele, trumpet; James Macaulay, trombone; James Rushford, viola; Judith Hamann, cello; Marc Hannaford, piano; Sam Pankhurst, double bass

Hear Hard Core on the fly at
8:30pm on 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd August 2012
25 Bennetts Lane, Melbourne
$20 Full / $15 Concession

Here’s what Noam the blogger wrote about Miriam Zolin’s experience of last year’s residency>

About Scott Tinkler and other AAO members

Read more about individual AAO members on the website >

About Scott McConnachie
Originally from Brisbane, Melbourne based saxophonist/improviser Scott McConnachie is currently studying at the University of Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. In 2011 he was the winner of the Australian Clarinet and Saxophone competition as well as receiving the E and D Rogowski Scholarship and Lady Turner prize for outstanding musical ability.  Scott has performed with many of Australia’s leading improvisers including Scott Tinkler, John Rodgers, Ken Edie, Marc Hannaford, Simon Barker, Phillip Rex, Paul Grabowsky and The Australian Art Orchestra. As well as performing and recording regularly around Australia Scott toured Japan in 2008 with legendary Japanese drummer Shoji Hano. Scott is currently pursuing his interest in complex written music as well as continuing to be an active improviser, performer and teacher.

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