Andrew Murray: “I just wanted to hear music that made me feel something and ATM15 delivered”

ATM15 - Andrew Murray copyAndrew Murray is a driven man, full of energy and bursting with ideas. It is natural, therefore, that his band, ATM15 is the same. A tight-knit orchestra comprising some of Melbourne’s finest jazz musicians, it incorporates a variety of styles in an electrifying, high-power blend that sets it among the best jazz orchestras around. On Saturday, he’s launching ATM15’s new album, “Human Music“, with a performance at the Stonnington Jazz Festival, featuring the always unpredictable Hue Blanes. “It will be a selection of my originals from the album, my arrangements of standards to feature Hue, and my arrangement of Hue’s original composition for big band”, he says, as he sets to share the story behind his latest venture. What is “Human Music”?

Andrew Murray: The band had just finished up two years of regular monthly gigs at The Royal Derby Hotel in Fitzroy, playing this music in preparation for hitting the studio to record. The notes were all there under the players’ fingers by now and we had spent a lot of time over those two years rehearsing the finer details of the music. What was important was that when we were in the recording studio, the musicians were not focusing on this aspect anymore of getting the technical details right, but to give as much musicality as they could; listening and reacting. I made sure this was really clear that I didn’t care anymore if there were wrong notes or whatever on the record, I just wanted to hear music that made me feel something. I think the band delivered. During the second part of the recording process, the mixing, again this was of primary importance, making sure this hard work of drawing out the music from the players was not lost through a poor or heavy handed mix. This whole process felt like I was just trying to get it to sound like humans had played the music without being touched by technology, and that is where the title came from.

AJN: How does “Human Music” pick up from where “Big Band Reborn” left off?

AM: Good question! A lot of stuff has happened in the meantime. There was a two year hiatus from the band, while I worked as a musical director for the Victoria Police Bands. This was a job that crushed my creative soul and resulted in me not producing any music during that time. I was a week away from quitting and fortunately for myself we all got the sack, so I could
finally get on with my music. “Big Band Reborn”, our first album was during a period where I really was trying to create a contemporary soul/ groove based rhythm section with a horn section added to create a pop/ contemporary type big band and hopefully target a different audience to what big bands had done in the past. After doing that for a while (probably three years) I was keen to let it go, and use the big band in a more traditional sense perhaps, and write some material based more in the jazz idiom. This has included arrangements of jazz standards, working with a variety of vocalists, but mostly my own original instrumental contemporary big band jazz compositions. We have even done some work with a hip-hop emcee which was a hoot.

AJN: There seems to be a boom of jazz orchestras lately, especially in Australia. Why do you think that is?

AM: I have felt that too over the last nine years I have been here in Melbourne. Good on them I say, if anyone is crazy enough to have a crack at running a big band or jazz orchestra AND write their own music for it, then that’s awesome. I don’t really know why it’s happening, but there are probably more younger people interested in doing it now for whatever reason – maybe they are more exposed  to it at uni, or it has to do with Maria Schneider winning five Grammys and continuing to be a huge presence with this type of music, or even due to Generations in Jazz? Melbourne loves its small combo line-up, so it’s nice to see an increase in large ensemble music too.

AJN: What are the qualities that make a jazz orchestra appealing to you, compared to smaller bands?

AM: Mainly the options available to you when orchestrating your ideas, and the variety at your disposal. Sometimes the power. Sometimes the feeling of playing as a large team, and the personalities. Never the money.

AJN: How did you fight the perception that Big Bands are nostalgic, conservative outfits, playing old music?

AM: By writing new music and playing gigs. When I was at uni this view was not really held by my peers as we were all trying to compose our own original stuff and given the opportunity to do so (at the WA Academy of Performing Arts with Graeme Lyall and the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra, who now have the great Mace Francis as MD). I was surrounded by music students older and younger than me, all in there giving it a crack and trying to make it happen, and that inspired me to keep going. It still does, so if you went to uni with me and are still composing music, thank you! There are too many examples out there that challenge the nostalgic perception, just go hunt
for it, and you’ll be stuck on YouTube for a few weeks.

AJN: Apart from ATM15, you’re also in charge of Bird’s Basement Big Band. In what way are the two bands different?
AM: With the Bird’s Basement Big Band, the focus is on my arrangements of the jazz standards repertoire, where as ATM15 is my vehicle for original material, experimentation and doing whatever the hell I want.

AJN: If you could pick any artist, no limitations whatsoever, to join the orchestra, who would that be?

AM: Bob Brookmeyer, Snooky Young, Clark Terry, Johnny Hodges, Gerry Mulligan or Mel Lewis could be all good options! Seeing as all these musicians have passed away, having Matt Jodrell in Bird’s Big Band is pretty close.

AJN: You’ve studied with Bob Brookmeyer; what is the most important thing that you learned from him?

AM: That anything is possible. He never shot down any of my ideas, only encouraged them. That and also handling momentum/ energy in composition, developing relationships with pitches, and being passionate.

AJN: Which song best describes your current state of mind?

AM: Sunday Drivin – Gil Evans

*ATM15 will launch “Human Music” with a performance at Stonnington Jazz, on Saturday 21 May.