Richard Pavlidis: ‘I aspire to reach a listener, even one single person, in the way that some of my favourite players have affected me’

Saxophonist Richard Pavlidis has been making his mark on the Melbourne jazz scene for a while now, particularly within the jazz/rock fusion spectrum, working with the likes of Joe Camilleri, Neon City Pilot and Kingswood. Having found his own voice as an artist and performer, he recently released his debut album,Without Within, a collection of accessible, yet intricate melodies that let him display his mastery of the saxophone and his signature robust sound – but let’s allow him to introduce himself and guide us through it all.

What’s the album’s backstory?

I played in a jazz fusion band for a few years, playing loud energetic music with synths and a lot of through-composed sections. With this album I wanted to play more acoustically and introspectively, exploring more subtle themes like loneliness and isolation, and using some musical elements I’d had on the back burner for a while.

What was the first tune that you wrote?

I think it was ‘Harbour City’, the duet that closes the album.

I was in Sydney on tour, and feeling pretty alone. Obviously everything was closed, because it was Sydney, so I went for a long walk one night and ended up in the Circular Quay area. I’d recently listened to a beautifully heart-wrenching ballad called ‘Face on the Barroom Floor’ that Wayne Shorter wrote for Weather Report, and tried to write something like that – lonely but also wistful and a little optimistic.

How did you choose the band?

Mina Yu is a great pianist whose playing has a lot of Bill Evans about it – a really nostalgic and sensitive sound. Ben Charnley is one of my favourite Melbourne drummers to play with, I think because he’s such a great listener. Everything he does complements the soloist and the direction of the music. I’d played with bassist Adam Spiegl a fair bit over the years, but decided I needed him on this album after hearing his own latest release, called Melancholiac, which is a great record that has a similar aesthetic to mine.

How would you describe your sound?

Quite clearly within the bebop/hard bop lineage, but incorporating some eclectic influences. I try to follow Charlie Parker’s advice; ‘Play clean and look for the pretty notes’.

If Without Within was a movie soundtrack, what kind of movie would that be?

A Woody Allen adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel. Definitely a noir – nostalgic and atmospheric but also angry and brooding and definitely set in a big city. Speaking of film connections, the album opener ‘Like Tears in Rain’ is named after the famous speech from Blade Runner – I went through a big cyberpunk phase.

What would you tell someone to make them come to your album launch, or buy your album?

It depends on what they’re after, but I think the music on this album should be very accessible to uninitiated jazz audiences, as well as hopefully having something there of deeper musical interest. I tried to use mood and emotion as a guide for the compositions, just like a pop song writer might. Live, I’m very excited by the interactions between the four of us in real time and the unexpected directions the tunes can take, and I think audiences can feel that energy.

Who are your heroes?

I can’t go past Aussies Jamie Oehlers and Tony Hicks – I can remember specific moments during my teens, watching them play at Bennetts Lane and deciding then and there that I wanted to become a jazz musician. Of course, most of the great sax players are up there – I have an almost reverential respect for Coltrane, Rollins, Brecker, Henderson and obviously Bird. I’ve also been really digging some amazing contemporary players lately like Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, Baptiste Herbin and Gabor Bolla. And Kenny G! Can I say that?

Richard Pavlidis

What is your greatest aspiration?

In material terms, I want to perform my original music at major jazz festivals around the world, and specifically I dream of playing a gig at Ronnie Scott’s in London. If I go a bit deeper though, what really got me into this style of music was the expression and vitality inherent in improvised music – so I suppose I aspire to reach a listener, even one single person, in the way that some of my favourite players have affected me.

How did you get into jazz?

My dad played me a compilation cassette tape of Charlie Parker when I was about 13, and it was like a portal to another world. I was hooked, even though the specifics of the music were a complete mystery to me. I think the thing I find really attractive about jazz is the scope it has for immediate and cathartic expression – no other style reflects so truthfully the current mood and thoughts of the artists. If you can accept the long hours of scales and long notes, the reward is almost spiritual in nature. I know I’m being a bit dramatic here but it really got me back then, and still does.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

Probably Lembongan Silver – I wrote that tune at a time when I was feeling excited about a lot of things, but anxious about them at the same time, and the result was a lot of overthinking and nervous energy.

With a launch coming up, a tour, some more recording and a few other things, that feeling is definitely still around.

Richard Pavlidis launches Within Without at the Jazz Lab, on Friday 13 September