Michael Pigneguy: ‘jazz is a global musical language’

Since he left Australia to embark on a journey around the UAE, where he was based for more than a decade, drummerMichael Pigneguy has been working with musicians from across the globe, touring in Europe, Africa, Asia and the US and infusing his straight jazz sound with latin, soul and oriental elements. Now he’s back, touring around Australia with his Awakenings Ensemble, featuring some notable international guests.


What are you going to present in your tour around Australia?

I’m really happy to be showcasing music from my first album back in the late ’90s through to new, unreleased songs that have been written in the last few months with vocalists Alemay Fernandez and Evelyn Feroza, as well as selections from all my albums in between!

What would you say to people to make them come to one of your gigs?

What I’m really excited about is the calibre of the artists featured in the shows playing music that has been written and recorded in different parts of the world. I know the interaction is going to be amazing and that will affect the way the stories in the music are told. I’m really looking forward to a musical ride that will be different on each and every show and I think that anyone that comes along will get to experience something unique with a huge amount energy!

Who are the international artists featured in your band?

Alemay Fernandez is an incredible jazz diva from Singapore who performs around the world regularly. She has an amazing energy on and off the stage! Evelyn Feroza from Malaysia is a very soulful artist with a powerhouse vocal style that audiences immediately connect with.

Q Sound – aka Marques Young – is an extremely dynamic US trombonist and vocalist who I met through a mutual musical friend in New York. He has one of the biggest sounds around on trombone and is always a pleasure to share the stage with.

How would you describe your music to someone not familiar with it?

Rhythm is always at the centre of my musical personality when I write, produce or perform and I draw inspiration from Latin, Funk, Jazz, Asian and Arabesk music to create the grooves for my music. I write melodies that have unexpected twists and turns that draw you in but keep you guessing for what’s coming next. Lush chords and harmony extracted from jazz and soul form the bed for the other elements to sit on. I hope the result is music that is exciting with plenty of surprises in it!

How did you develop your sound?

My training on drums, percussion and piano form the basis of musical outlook plus all the different experiences I’ve had with musicians from around the world.

If your music was the soundtrack to a movie, what kind of movie would that be?

Some of my grooved based music would definitely sit very well in heist movies in exotic locations whereas the more orchestral music I’ve written would support epic fantasy movies.

How has your experience in the Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Qatar been like?

I think the biggest thing you realise when you live or work in another country for a significant period of time is how diverse the world is yet how much we all have in common as human beings – particularly humour! I met so many people from all over the globe and I was forced to become more outgoing and open. I didn’t realise how connected many of the nationalities I met were to their traditional culture and music and how much I would enjoy Arab music, especially the grooves! That region of the world is changing so fast and it was incredible to see what can happen in a short space of time. I learned that there’s always so much to learn in all areas of your life and you should seek out experiences that keep challenging you.

Taking all this experience into consideration, what is your take on the various jazz communities around the world?

There are so many sub genres of each musical style and jazz is no exception. When you meet artists from different countries, they’re almost always keen to chat, play and experiment. I think the musical training and experiences that many jazz musicians have allows them to interact with musicians from lots of different cultural and musical backgrounds and get something fun happening. So I would say jazz is a global musical language.

How did you get into jazz?

My dad listened to a lot different music including jazz and he took me to my first jazz concert which was a fantastic Dave Brubeck show. When I was 11, I attended my first ‘jazz camp’ which was a really amazing and probably life changing experience. Jazz to me, combines mastery of your instrument with freedom of expression which I feel is the perfect mix!

Who are your heroes?

Composers such as Elliot Goldenthal and Igor Stravinsky. Pianists such as Bill Evans, Chick Corea, Michel Camilo. Drummers such Vinnie Colaiuta, Taylor Hawkins, Peter Erskine, Roy Haynes and Anika Nilles. Songwriters such as Sting and D’Angelo.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

I’ve been listening to a new Dirty Loops track called ‘Work Shit Out’ a fair bit lately.

I feel it’s referring to staying persistent, maintaining a sense of humour and keeping the big picture in mind when you’re facing challenges, big and small!

Michael Pigneguy on tour