Vince Jones: ‘The ‘freest’ music came from the most oppressed people on Earth’

If God existed – or if the Australian jazz community represented a bigger part of the overall population (I’m not sure which idea is more preposterous) – then Vince Jones would probably be Minister for Culture. Not only has he been one of the most creative forces around, making the lives of his audience better, just by the power of his voice, but he knows that there’s so much more to singing and music than an aesthetic value. He knows that music – and art, in general – is one of the most powerful means of communication, it is something that connects us, that forms a community and allows for ideas to flow back and forth. He can make a love song sound political – and he can sing a love song like nobody else. As he is getting ready to perform a tribute to the great Van Morrison for the 2016 Melbourne International Jazz Festival, he shares some of his views. What motivated you to do a tribute to Van Morrison?

Vince Jones: One of the first five records that I purchased was Astral Weeks. It was the rhythm section that appealed to me the most. I’d seen Connie Kay play with the Modern Jazz Quartet and heard Richard Davis play with the great Jazz musicians of the era, John Coltrane, Lee Morgan and so on.

The songs Van wrote for that album were so open that with the right rhythm section those songs could take off and I believe he got it right with that rhythm section.

AJN: What has been the greatest challenge, in setting up this project?

VJ: To be true to the songs and still add our own thing is the biggest challenge. I always ask myself, what can I add to this song without overworking it. Can I add anything to this song without losing its essence?

AJN: What is your favourite Van Morrison song?

VJ: I like the title track to Astral Weeks, the song speaks to me on many levels. The lyrics touch me in a way that I can’t understand fully, the images it conjures in my psyche are deeper than I can explain, I feel when this happens to me I’m listening to art.

AJN: You were also involved in a tribute to Gil Scott-Heron, recently, for Stonnington Jazz. What are the similarities and the differences between the two projects?

VJ: They are both great lyricists. Gil comes from the protest school of music. I saw him live in Central park in the early eighties, he was pouring his heart out. He was singing about the oppression of his people and the terrible conditions forced upon them. It was the first time I had heard him and again knew I was listening to Art. I have always recognised that the ‘freest’ music came from the Black people and yet they are the most oppressed people on earth.

AJN: Some think that a tribute to Vince Jones is long overdue and that the jazz community should gather and honour your contribution. What are your thoughts on that?

VJ: Give me a few more years to write some more songs before any tributes.

AJN: Looking back at your career, what has been the one thing you take most pride in?

VJ: I have been very fortunate to have played with the great musicians of this land: Paul Grabowsky, Doug DeVries, Dale Barlow, Mike Nock, Matt McMahon, Simon Barker. I only wish I had taken the band to Europe and America when I was younger. By the time I worked in Europe, I had gotten tired of travelling internationally.

AJN: How has the trumpet affected the way you sing – and vice versa?

VJ: I use the trumpet to teach myself harmony. Harmonic security is what I aim for in music. I need to know the shape of chords, so that I can go beyond the arpeggios and find melodic ideas within them. The trumpet has enhanced my musical knowledge and is still doing so. The trumpet has always been my second instrument, voice is my first instrument.

AJN: What inspires you?

VJ: Sustainability.

AJN: Who are your heroes?

VJ: Ralph Nader, Petra Kelly, Chomsky, Miles, Coltrane, Tolstoy, Ghandi, my kids. There are too many to mention. Most of them are on the ASIO and CIA blacklists, I’d say.

MIJF 2016 Vince Jones 3AJN: You are famous for addressing political issues at your live performances, seamlessly blending politics with (seemingly) non-political songs. Do you feel that the songs take new meaning, when put in a different context?

VJ: There is much to be said about Government and Big Business’ corruption and unsustainable practices. We live in the time of “Murdocracy” where a lie has become a truth and a truth has become a lie. If we persist down this road, we as a species will spiral down so far we may never come back. We will be living in a time of perpetual war. It’s important to me to not come across as a preacher, so I preface the songs with a thought provoking idea, which puts the song in a different light.

AJN: You have dedicated songs to the refugees; now that the refugee crisis – in Australia, as well as in Europe – seems to become all the more pressing, what is your take on the issue?

VJ: The biggest economy in the world (The U$ economy) is underpinned by the sale of weapons. The US has become trigger happy. They are corrupted by their motives to boost their economy by selling weapons. There was no need to bomb Iraq, Libya, Syria “into the dark ages”, as they put it. The people of these lands are now homeless and we have a moral responsibility, as allies of the U$ to take these people in; after all, we blew up their homes. Terrorists are recruited from refugee camps. ‘How to make a terrorist’: surround a child in military action, guns tanks etc.; blow up their homes and towns or cities; deprive them of food; kill or mame some of their family and friends. Congratulations, Hillary, you just made 20 million terrorists.

AJN: What does jazz mean to you?

VJ: Freedom to express yourself.

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

AJN: Winter in America, Gil Scott-Heron

*Vince Jones and the Astral Orchestra will perform Van Morrison’s masterpieces at the Melbourne Recital Centre, on Friday 10 and Tuesday 14 June.