Andy Sugg Group – a jazz family affair

You may know Andy Sugg, jazz master; or Andy Sugg the saxophone legend; also Andy Sugg, the dedicated educator; possibly, even Andy Sugg, proud father of the marvellous vocalist-pianist-saxophonist-composer Kate Kelsey-Sugg. All these facets of his personality will come together, as Andy and Kate are about to share the stage, in a musical family reunion not to be missed. Joining the Suggs will be Brett Williams, a rising star of the US jazz scene, shining bright alongside modern master Marcus Miller. Add Phil Rex on bass and Kieran Rafferty on the drums and you get an extraordinary band that gives new meaning to the term ‘a family affair’.
Andy Sugg | Photo: Kevin Peterson

What are you going to present at Bird’s Basement?

New music from me, to be recorded in New York City in July. New music from Brett that’s been recorded already and is to be released shortly. And new music from Kate that she’s been releasing over the last few weeks.

What should the audience expect to hear?

Firstly, a couple of jazz classics – not standards, but classics! There’s a difference! Then our own music. What ties it all together is that the three of us write and play our own way, but it all comes out of jazz somehow. Jazz is the unifying language, but then there are a range of stylistic and even generational differences, which all play themselves out in interesting ways. So there’s plenty of variety in the selections.

How did this band come to be?

Kate and Brett have been hanging out in the same musical circles in NYC for some time now, so it was only a matter of time until they got to work together. When they did that there was a musical connection there that they wanted to explore further. Kate and I have been playing together for ever, and Brett has come into that through Kate.

If you could choose any musician to come sit in with this band, who would that be?

Oh, easy, Miles! I’d love to say “yeah, Miles just came and sat in with the band!” Actually, I’d want it for the selfie! Maybe in the next life!

What is it like working with your daughter?

It’s great fun working with Kate. But it’s not really much like “work” as such; it’s just so natural. We have so much music in common. She knows what I’m listening to, I know what she’s listening to, and there’s always so much in common. And it’s very flexible. In her tunes, she’s the band leader; in mine, I’m the leader. We have our own musical personalities; she’s as much a musical leader as I am. So we lead when we need to and we follow when we need to do that. I guess it’s actually like a cooperative thing. Many bands aspire to this condition but never really make it work… we do.

How have you influenced each other?

You’d have to ask Kate that for her side of the story. For me, Kate is always getting me to listen to new music, introducing me to new people, always giving me solid advice on how my music comes across … what works and what doesn’t. Invaluable, really!

Which tune reminds you of her?

There are a few. Kate’s music is more introspective than mine. Some of her tunes have moved me tremendously because I’ve known their “inside story”. Like most of us, she is on the move musically; her music doesn’t stand still. What reminds me of her this year will be replaced by new music from her next year. I guess a common thread is her voice. She has a unique vocal style and so all of Kate’s tunes scream out KATE to me as soon as she opens her mouth.

What are the differences and similarities between the respective jazz scenes of Melbourne and New York ?

It’s hard to nail this in simple descriptive language. But there are differences. We might think that superficially Australia and the US are very similar – I know I did when I was younger – but increasingly I don’t think that’s true. The spirits underlying USA and Australian cultures were formed in different centuries, and that changes everything, I reckon. And jazz is so young! 100 years is nothing!

What does success mean to you?

Everybody wants their life to touch someone else somehow… in our private life, in our work, our public life. When I pack my horn away for the last time, if my music had ever touched someone else in a good way, then I’d consider myself to have been lucky… to have done something good – and thereby, a little bit successful.

What is the biggest concession you have had to make as an artist?

The biggest concession artists make is choosing a lifestyle that most people don’t understand – and struggle to appreciate, certainly in this country. This can be really hard; you need solid people behind you. Luckily for me, I’ve had them.

What inspires you?

People. Lots of different people. How they live, how they make something valuable of their lives, how they try to contribute to the bigger picture. When these people are also musicians, and they make music that tries to do that, then that’s really inspiring. Party music is fun – we all need to party sometimes – but people, the arts, music that tries to dig in a little deeper… that’s what inspires me.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

I’ve been listening a lot to Trane’s ‘Dear Lord’ from the album Transition. It’s a fabulous late-period ballad. It’s so calm, sincere, heartfelt. It’s got mistakes in it – one real big one – but that just humanises it all the more. It’s the voice of a beautiful human being, speaking beautifully through his tenor sax. And his band is hearing it too; they’re totally in the zone with him.

The Andy Sugg Group featuringKate Kelsey-Sugg and Brett Williams will play at Bird’s Basement on Wednesday 10 April.