Andrew Murray: ‘Singers are very brave’

You have to give credit to Andrew Murray, for fearlessly scheduling an ambitious concert of New Music during the busiest time of the season for the Melbourne Jazz scene, with the Melbourne International Jazz Festival in full bloom and international stars also playing at Bird’s Basement and Paris Cat. “I was foolish, totally, but at the same time unaware,” he laughs. Still, his upcoming concert with his fiery big band, ATM15, featuring Georgie Darvidis and Josh Kyle is definately something worth seeing – and talking about.

What are you going to present at the Hawthorn Arts Centre on Friday?

The Hawthorn Arts Centre approached me around October last year asking if I wanted to do a gig there, and if a nice venue offers your big band a gig, you jump at the chance. I proposed the idea of writing some new music for my big band, ATM15, to feature vocalists Georgie Darvidis and Josh Kyle, written with them and the venue in mind.

Around the time the venue contacted me, I had just finished up an ATM15 live recording which featured both Georgie and Josh, and I’d had an awesome time working with them. Their talents as singers pushed me to be more creative with my arranging and band directing, so I wanted to experience more of that.

For this Friday’s gig I wanted to have a go at two things; writing a bunch of songs with lyrics, and presenting all the music without a break for the 70 minute performance.

Unlike our past repertoire, these tunes aren’t contemporary large ensemble tunes, or swinging standards, or any of the typical big band styles. I’ve just composed 12 leadsheets to songs that link together, and expanded them out to a big band instrumentation, just to see what results come out of that process. I like songs, and I want to get stronger at writing tunes with lyrics. I have also put more thought into trying to write for and feature the particular playing styles of each instrumentalist in ATM15.

What makes Georgie Darvidis and Josh Kyle best suited for this project?

I work as a teacher with both these two, and in one of the classes we do I got to be a piano accompanist for each of their vocal ensemble classes, so basically observe the class. Listening to them talk about music from their perspective as a singer was such an eye opener for me, and I felt myself learning so much from them. It was like opening another level of music, kind of like when you clock a bad guy in a video game or something. I can’t believe I’ve had my eyes closed to the world of lyrics for so long, it’s a feeling that really fills you up. I kinda wanna be a singer now, and I have done a few trips to K-Box karaoke over the last year or two to work on my chops.

Both Georgie and Josh seemed very switched on to music and being creative, on a much deeper level than how I felt I was experiencing music. I guess this goes a lot with the territory of being a dedicated vocalist, there’s absolutely nowhere to hide when you are doing it, it’s all out there for everyone to see. I said to Josh once how when you are singing you’ re just as exposed as when you’re having sex, and his reply was: “actually you’re even more exposed, at least you can have sex with the lights off”. Singers are very brave, and I like that.

What would you say to someone unfamiliar with your music to persuade them to come?

You can come to the gig and probably make it home in time for the final of My Kitchen Rules or some other rubbish, because we finish by 9:15pm. Even better, go catch another gig around town, the Melbourne International Jazz Festival is on at the moment. I love early gigs, these days I’ve been going to a lot at the Melbourne Recital Centre where they finish up at 8pm. I’m turning into a nanna.

If that doesn’t persuade you, how about all the music is written just for this gig to be performed one night only? Our usual big band of 15 musicians has been augmented to a full 20-piece ensemble, there’s two great singers involved, and all the musicians in the band can really play. Or how about there’s beer, wine, and cheese platters available. Or maybe you’re a full-time student and it’s only $20. Or MKR.

You are very prolific; you recorded new material just months after releasing Human Music; what is your ‘normal’ creative process?

It might seem that way, but usually things have been in the development stage for a long time before it ends up becoming public, then if a few things all happen at once, it looks like you are pumping all this stuff out. The live recording I mentioned above with ATM15, Josh and Georgie is about to be mixed and mastered thanks to the generous financial support of many many legends through our pozible campaign. We will hopefully release that before the end of the year under the title Standards and Sudden Death. It’s a double album of mostly arrangements of standards I had done over the space of a year or two.

My creative process ideally begins with an idea that is exciting to me, and often that seed of inspiration is enough to drive the project through to completion, and overcome all the challenges along the way. Georgie and Josh have been my inspiration for the last month or two while writing this music.

What is the main idea that you want to communicate through your music?

At the moment, in particular with this latest ATM15 project, I’m just exploring some new territory without too many expectations.

What is the best part of managing a big band?

The best part hands down is always the gig. Without that, everything else would be pointless, except the creating part of composing. That’s nice too.

What is the biggest challenge?

Currently my biggest challenge is putting a stop to the arranging work because I want to practice my trombone a lot, and get much better at playing. I need to be stronger at saying no to composing opportunities that excite me and make the time for practice. After this gig, that is what I’m going to do.

How does ATM15 fit in the Melbourne jazz ecosystem?

Trying to keep afloat in a sea full of heavyweights! Melbourne music scene is just pumping, it’s so good. ATM15 are trucking along having fun, just doing what we do as best we can.

How was your experience at the Stonnington Jazzopening concert?

It turned out to be a lot of fun. For me it was a first, working with a lot of the guests (Sandy Evans, Kristin Berardi, Bob Sedergreen, Nat Grant, Olivia Chindamo, Thando, and Theo Carbo) and resulted in a really varied program. ATM15 accompanied them all, and it was all Australian repertoire I got to arrange so that was rewarding in itself. It was a couple of months of heavy arranging work, but the hard work always pays off at the gig. I am glad all that work is behind me now though! Where’s my trombone again?

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

Not necessarily my state of mind, but music I’m enjoying listening to and it probably played a part in inspiring the direction for this new project on Friday. It’s funny how you know nothing about something until you hear about it once, then it’s everywhere you look. I hadn’t heard of Sam Amidon until Georgie mentioned she’d just been to his concert with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and now I’m hearing his music all over the place. Totally kicking myself for not knowing of him sooner so I could have been at that ACO gig too. Bill Frisell is in town at the moment, and he’s on this track of Sam’s:

New Works: ATM15 big band ft. Georgie Darvidis & Josh Kyle will be playing at the Hawthorn Arts Centre on Friday 9 June

1 year later update: New Works is out on CD from 54records and is launched at the Sydney Con Jazz Fest .