Interview: Beardsy and Gemma Turvey of the NPCO

On 31 July as part of the Melbourne Recital Centre’s Mood Indigo series, New Palm Court Orchestra will team up with vibraphonist Craig Beard (‘Beardsy’). The collaboration began in 2011.

Gemma Turvey | image by ISKA photography
Gemma Turvey | image by ISKA photography

Turvey is the Artistic Director of the New Palm Court Orchestra, a chamber ensemble she formed in 2011, as an extension of her jazz piano trio. The NPCO is a core of nine musicians, with Turvey on piano. The Orchestra also includes double bass, percussion, string quartet, woodwinds and French Horn.

‘I now mostly focus on writing for and directing the NPCO. Having such a wonderful array of instrumentation and colours has really expanded my writing and also enabled me to experiment with different arranging techniques. It’s an incredible blessing in that way.’

Turvey approached Beardsy originally to work on a song for the NCPO recording Landscapes for a Mind’s Eye. The song, called ‘Turquoise’, ‘cried out for vibraphone’. She says it became one of the most popular tracks on the recording.

‘And we had such a great time playing with him at the CD Launch performances that I’ve been wanting to showcase him again at the first opportunity.’

For Beardsy, the experience was a stand-out. ‘I remember the day very well. I loved what I heard and it fitted with my aesthetic musically so of course I said yes. Gem had booked a few days in at Sing Sing studios in Richmond. I came in on the 21st of December 2011 and did a few takes; it was a pleasure to do.’

For her part, Turvey’s interest in having Beardsy join the orchestra for that original track and for these later concerts goes beyond a simple need for a vibraphone.

‘I’m always drawn to lyrical players and improvisers, but also keep in mind what instrumentation is going to give the audience an exciting or special experience.

NPCO | image by Karina May
NPCO | image by Karina May

Describing the music that arises from this collaboration to date, Turvey says, ‘Our music is often described as being very cinematic. Adding Beardsy’s vibrancy (mind the pun!) is going to make this collaboration incredibly sunny and joyful, with scope for the entire ensemble to explore some new soundscapes’

The affinity between their styles of music-making is something that Beardsy felt immediately: ‘The music that Gemma writes fits into my aesthetic perfectly. We both write from a non traditional jazz perspective, meaning that our music isn’t full of II, V, I’s and the like and is almost semi-classical based. I guess the closest comparison would be the music of the European label ECM.

He approaches writing without thinking much about structure. ‘I write the basic idea on piano, and then give the players a piano notated score to work from and assign parts from that or just let the players develop their own parts, if I trust them enough. The forms don’t usually fit into the standard 12, 16 or 32 bar structure so soloing can be challenging at times. This is something that Gemma and I do without thinking about; it’s an organic process.’

He also thinks that sharing food is an important part of what makes a musical project succeed.

‘There are a few things that make me want to work on a particular project: the music and the originality of it, the players I’ll be working with, the possibility of the project having legs and taking me on a journey and last, but not least, the promise of there being some good food to be eaten at some point throughout the project. I don’t say this lightly as the thing of sitting down and eating with players that you are working with and being social is to me a big part of playing music and making it connect.’

Beardsy | image supplied
Beardsy | image supplied

On 31 July, says Beardsy, ‘The one hour set will just fly by.’ However he doesn’t go so far as to promise food…

The set will include a few tracks from the NPCO’s CD Landscapes for Mind’s Eye as well as some of Beardsy’s original works, and the premiere of two new works by Turvey that emerged from her time at the Bundanon Artist Residency earlier this year. There’s also talk of a beautiful piece by bassist Frank Disario called ‘For Charlie’ dedicated to the great bassist Charlie Haden.

The 31 July performance is the second in a three concert series for the NPCO at the MRC Salon for 2014, as part of the MRC’s Mood Indigo Series.

Turvey says, ‘The Salon is our favourite space to play; it is an intimate and immediate experience for both audience and performer, with some of the best acoustics in the world.’

Beardsy’s main project is Frock, a band he describes as ‘a cooperative band’ that has been playing together for over 18 years in Melbourne and overseas. Frock recently released their 8th recording One Room One Day. Their next project is recording a composition by Elena Kats-Chernin commissioned with Arts Vic funding. They hope to record the piece, called Two-Part Sleep, in October this year along with a few other of their own compositions.


Book tickets for the concert on the Melbourne Recital Centre website

NCPO on the web

One Room One Day by Frock on Bandcamp

Gemma Turvey on the web