NJA Finalist Q&A – Liz Tobias

‘My Dexter Gordon records have been getting a workout, and I always like to throw a little bubble gum pop into my week to lighten things up.’

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 in 2012 runs from Friday 2 to Monday 5 November.

This year’s ten finalists are: Cyrille Aimée, France (currently based in New York) | Kristin Berardi, Sydney |  Briana Cowlishaw, Sydney |  Luara Karlson-Carp, Brisbane | Kate Kelsey-Sugg, Melbourne | Joshua Kyle, Melbourne | Chantal Mitvalsky, Melbourne | Judith Perl, Melbourne | Liz Tobias, Adelaide (currently based in Boston) | Katie Wighton, Sydney

Picture of Liz Tobias - face and shouldersWhen did you start playing jazz and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?

In high school I was taught singing by Sally Cameron (soprano in The Idea of North) and she sent me home with a cassette tape of Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie live in concert. She instructed me to learn one tune, transcribing it note for note. I came back to her one week later having completely worn out the ribbon on the cassette tape, and in the process I unintentionally learnt the entire album by memory. That was the beginning of my passionate love of jazz.

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

Liz: I absolutely LOVE Carmen McCrae. She shows us that singing jazz doesn’t always have to be ‘pretty’. Jazz can be raw and gutsy sometimes too. Her conversational style and word painting is so clever and I absolutely love her Carmen Sings Monk album. I have also been very blessed to have incredible teachers along the way who have helped to shape and mould my sound. Anita Wardell (AUS/UK), Jo Lawry (AUS/USA) and most recently Dominique Eade (USA) and John McNeil (USA).

Miriam: When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?

Liz: My inspiration for composing comes from my family and friends and life in general. I recently wrote a piece in tribute to my grandmother, an incredible woman who lived an inspiring life. The work featured three contrasting movements which sounded like a fusion of jazz and Arabic music. You might hear some of it at the festival.

Miriam: What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

Liz: Every Wednesday I sing in a Choral Chamber Singers group of 28 NEC students. I float between Alto 2 and Soprano 1 based on what the conductor needs. The music of Britten and Chesnokov brings tears to my eyes every time we sing it. It’s just so beautiful! That is my favourite rehearsal time at the moment.

Miriam: What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?

Liz: I CANNOT wait to be immersed in the Aussie accent, eat Aussie food and soak up some quality Aussie Jazz! I’ve been studying my Masters degree on Jazz voice at New England Conservatory in Boston, Massacheusetts since August this year and I’m just starting to miss a few things from home.

Miriam: What are you listening to now?

Liz: Some quite random stuff actually. I’ve got choral chamber music of Tchaikovsky and Chesnokov in my playlist at the moment. My Dexter Gordon records have been getting a workout, and I always like to throw a little bubble gum pop into my week to lighten things up.


Visit Liz on the web > (including music for listening!)

Visit the Wangaratta Jazz Festival website >

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