Jeremy Rose: “The founding of Australia was an improvisation”

It would be an understatement to say that Jeremy Rose is one of the most creative and restless musicians in the Australian jazz scene. His work with the Vampires, as well as his solo projects should be enough to support this statement, but in the past few years he has been also working on a really ambitious work,Iron in the blood. Released to great acclaim in 2016, the work explores the story of Australia’s settlement, the music evoking the experience of both settlers and the indigenous people. Now Iron in the Blood is presented live in concert, which is a great opportunity for the composer and saxophonist to guide us through it.

“It took two years to put together the project and record the music, it’s been quite a long process.

I was doing some research into the origins of Australian culture and a friend suggested I should read this book, The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes. I had heard about it, but I didn’t have the time or energy to read it before.It is quite a big book and it really changed my perspective on Australia’s origins.

When I was taught Australian history in high school, it was a watered-down version of what the early settlers really went through.They went through quite a lot of hardships. The actual experience is really well portrayed in the book which explores just how hard life was for the early settlers, through their own words through letters and accounts.It is a particularly fascinating book to look at and explore in a musical way.

Robert Hughes passed away in 2012 and I feel that this was not only a great way to celebrate this monumental work on Australia’s history, but it was also important to promote further discussion surrounding the politics of Australia’s founding.Robert Hughes goes to great lengths to demistify some of the reasons why Australia was settled -Georgian England was trying to supress and get rid of the what they called “the criminal class”.

Australia’s fortune was built on the backs of the convicts, as well as the near destruction of the indigenous population including the vast amount of massacres that went on.

I think it’s important for us to remember that we shouldn’t repeat the mistakes of our past. I think that the way Australia treats its refugees and asylum seekers has a lot of parallels with the way we treated our convicts in our past – Norfolk island was a symbol of brutality and a nadir of the penal system,it was trying to set an example for would-be criminals back in England and I think we are unfortunately doing a similar thing, trying to stop refugees; the policy of deterrence leaves the people at the centre of the system incredibly helpless and utterly victimised.

I was inspired by listening to Wynton Marsalis’ Blood on the Field, which was ironically inspired after Wynton read the Fatal Shore. I felt I had a responsibility to create a musical work that was a response from a Australian convict experience rather than an African-American experience.

I think jazz is the perfect vehicle to explore this historical narrative of the convicts’ journey from slavery to freedom – the founding of Australia was an improvisation in itself, the way that England transplanted itself to the farest corners of the known world, in a land that was foreign to the European surroundings.

Coupling music with the words from both Hughes’ writing and the original words from these soldiers, convicts, doctors and judges is a very powerful form of expression; the music can really highten this experience in an almost cinematic way; the music itself almost tells the story of that parallel to the narrative of the words.

I had to deal with the subject matter, which was an incredibly powerful and moving experience – the near destruction of the Tasmanian Aborigines, the brutal punishment of the convicts,what was it like for the first Indigenous people to see the fleets coming through. I had to create a sound world that would convey these images.I’m fortunate to be working with a projectionist Mic Gruchy, who has been sourcing historical and archived photos and illustrations to accompany the performance of this work.

I was also fortunate to be able to assemble an orchestra that features some of the most exciting musicians of the new generation of jazz;while I was composing the work, I was thinking of ways to feature particular musicians in various ways and I attempted to exploit the full tonal palette of the ensemble.

This project is unique because the opportunity for all the perfromers to be together is often very challenging and I have to thank the support the Riverside theatre in providing us with this opportunity. This will actually be the world premiere of the work. The timeline of this project is particularly long,however the music feels incredible fresh to me.”

Jeremy Rose presents Iron in the Blood at the Riverside Theatre Parramatta, on Sunday 24 September at 4pm