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 2013 runs from Friday 1 to Monday 4 November. Find out more on their website wangarattajazz.com
This year the awards feature keyboard players and the ten finalists are: Hugh Barrett | Matthew Sheens | Matthew Boden | Steve Barry | Tal Cohen | Andrew Butler | Dave Spicer | Daniel Gassin | Joseph O’Connor | James Bowers
I started playing jazz during my last year of high school. I’d discovered improvisation about a year earlier and decided that I’d like to take it a little more seriously, so I began to take jazz piano lessons. I don’t recall a particular moment when I decided that I would pursue a career as a musician, but I was getting more and more into music during my last few years at school and before I started to take jazz lessons I’d decided that I wanted to forge some kind of music-based career.
Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
Early on I was really into Brad Mehldau and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Rosenwinkel for his tone and compositional sense and Mehldau for his standard playing, which I always found fresh, exploratory and exciting. I never checked either artist out on a technical level, but I did listen prolifically. I’m sure something crept in. When I got into bebop I checked out some Bud Powell. I don’t know what it was about Bud that drew me to his music… I just loved the records I suppose. My free playing bears a strong Morton Feldman influence. Whilst I don’t know Feldman’s body of work particularly well, I did spend a fair amount of time with a few of the piano pieces. I love the quiet, minimal nature of that music, and also the harmony. Over the last year I have listened to a lot of Thomas Adès. I have a pile of scores waiting to be looked at after the festival has wound up!
All the musicians who I’ve hung out and studied with in Berlin and Australia have been perhaps my most important influences. I’ll make special mention (in no particular order) to Matt Thompson, Steve Newcomb, Miroslav Bukovsky, Ben Foster, Andreas Schmidt, Christian Windfeld and Jon Heilbron. There are many others, but the list would be longer than this entire article if I included them all!
When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?
Nowhere specifically. Generally an idea just comes to me, or I sit down and play until I stumble across something I like, which I then form into a tune.
What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
I moved to Melbourne this month and have been getting a lot of good practice done in my new home, so I suppose that would be it. The room itself is nothing special, but that doesn’t seem to be affecting me at all. I’ve had tremendous difficulties with practice over the last year, dealing with noise complaints in apartments and practice studios whilst living in Berlin. It really felt as though my piano practice had become cursed, and that I’d never be able to get through an hour without being interrupted by an angry neighbour. So after that experience anywhere that allows me to practise in peace seems like a dream come true! I like performing anywhere with an attentive audience. For me, playing to a listening audience brings out far better music than anything I can achieve in the practice room.
What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?
I’m looking forward to hearing some great gigs (particularly some great Australian bands), to meeting other musicians, and to hanging out and listening to the other pianists in the jazz awards.
What are you listening to now?
Thomas Adès, Grimes, Geri Allen, Glenn Gould, Bill Evans, Benoit Delbecq, Jaki Byard, Christian Wallumrod, François Couperin harpsichord pieces and Lennie Tristano.