Megan Burslem – my songlines

If you are an ABC Jazz listener – and if you’re reading this, you probably are – then you are familiar with Megan Burslem, who is hosting the new ‘Mornings’ show, bringing a breath of fresh air to the station’s program. Chances are, you are also familiar with her work on ABC Classic; and if you are a student at the Monash University School of Music, you may know her as a musicology lecturer. But did you know that she’s a Lady Sovereign fan? Now you do. Because Megan Burslem is keen to share some of the tunes that shaped her world. Read on. And turn the volume on.


What was the first album or single that you ever acquired?

My Dad took me down to the local Sunday Market when I was about 7 or 8 and I bought myself my very first cassette; Little Richard. Best 2 bucks I ever spent.

At the very opposite end of the spectrum though, was my first CD that I got when I was 11. It was Steps. You know… “5, 6, 7, 8!”. Good lord!

A few years ago I might not have told you that, but now I think our musical history is important, no matter how much auto-tune was used in the creation. I was pretty impressed then at the ‘rap’ bit. I put that in inverted commas for a reason!

My first LP was Mozart’s Requiem performed by the Berlin Philharmonic, that I found in an op-shop when I was 18 (75 cents, bargain!).

And my first every jazz album was Keith Jarrett’s Live at La Scala. Jarrett’s version of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ was the first time I’d really (really really) listened to jazz.

And I think that would have also been the moment I fell in love with harmony.

What was the most recent album or track that you purchased?

Track: ‘Crowned and Kissed’, Esperanza Spalding

Album: Soundtrack to the movie Sully, The Tierney Sutton Band.

Which album should be in everyone’s collection?

The Nigel Westlake and Lior Attar album called Compassion(Lior with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Nigel Westlake conducting). Seriously. This music changed my life.

Which tune will always remind you of your first day on the show?

Nat Bartsch’s ‘Forever and No Time At All’. Nat and her band were in the studio downstairs recording for ABC Jazz in my first few days, so I got to sit in while they recorded.

Nat’s music has always held a very special place in my heart, so it was just an absolute joy to see these four musicians creating, and it will always remind me of the new show. Nat’s album is called Forever More, and will be released in June through ABC Music.

If you could choose one tune to use as the ABC Jazz Mornings theme, which one would that be?

Oh I have to go to a classic for this one; something that peps me up and makes me feel gracious, connected and in control. So, Nina Simone singing ‘Feeling Good’.

We all want to start the day with Nina, right!

Which tune best encapsulates your idea of jazz?

For me, the idea of jazz as a musical and social tradition is encapsulated in the work being done by emerging women jazz musicians, women composers, women sound engineers and women managers and administrators; those individuals who endlessly advocate for a music that is theirs. Jazz is the perfect place for such music and musical tradition to be created, because of its incredibly rich history of activism.

So for me, my idea of jazz is that which is propelled forward by the next generation of previously underrepresented voices and never-before-heard musical stories. When you ask me which song best encapsulates my idea of jazz, I can’t answer, because that track doesn’t exist. It is being created as we speak; it’s a voice that is unique and a story we have not yet heard.

Which tune reminds you of the best concert you’ve ever attended?

It was not a concert per se, but a recording session, so I am cheating a bit here! The most incredible musical experience I have had so far in my life, was in a 9th century monestary in the mountains of Armenia. I studied the music of Armenian composers when I did my Masters of music performance, so instead of reading about it in books, I decided to get on a plane and just go. When I was there I met up with the remarkable composer Tigran Mansurian, who took me along to the recording of his latest work; a Requiem, dedicated to the victims of the Armenian Genocide.

This tiny monestary, perched right on top of a windy hill, was ancient in every regard. A remarkable setting. We were there with the national choir of Armenia, and I can’t tell you what happened to me the moment they started to sing. I cried with happiness that such a feeling that I felt in the moment, actually existed.

Which tune reminds you of your most important career highlight?

There was a moment when I was studying my Masters (Music Performance). I was having a lesson with the great Caroline Henbest, preparing Rebecca Clarke’s ‘Sonata for Viola and Piano’. It was the first time I had ever played a solo viola work by a woman composer, and I felt so connected with her composition.

Everything about this work spoke to me. And I don’t know what happened, but in that lesson, “So it’s gotta be that.

Which tune reminds you of your favourite journey?

My favourite journey was usually on my bike to visit the beach in Lakes Entrance. I got my first Walkman (a beautiful moment) at roughly the same time I discovered Katie Noonan (circa George years). The track ‘Special Ones’ is an instant port-key to that time and place.

Which tune reminds you of your most important rite of passage?

Lady Sovereign, ‘Love Me Or Hate Me’. This was my anthem track in 2019 when I was fighting for something I stood for.

I think I lost that particular battle, but I’m winning the war. Thanks Lady.

Which tune best describes your relationship to your loved ones?

I am incredibly drawn to people who are friendly, genuine and accepting, which is great, because those closest to me my friends and family are the most optimistic bunch; full of that ‘can-do’ spirit and overflowing with good vibes. For me, that seems to be best expressed with Benny Goodman’s ‘Sing Sing Sing’. It gets me dancing – every. single. time.

If your life was to become a movie, which tune would be heard…

Okay, this is the hardest. I am a HUGE movie fan, I can’t even tell you. I guess I am going to go with what fancies me today. I can image this movie being pretty funny-dorky with a chunk of romance in there, and a whole heaps of action on gender equity.

on the opening credits:

‘Sing Sing Sing’, sung by Johnny O’ Keefe (1962).

…on the end credits:

My Way, sung by Shirley Bassey.

…on the action scenes:

Anything from the Rocky movies. It’s gotta be a montage!

…on the love scene:

‘I Will Go To War’, by Tessa Thompson.

Which tune do you wish you had written yourself?

The second movement of Maurice Ravel’s ‘Piano Concerto’.

That, or Beyonce’s ‘Run The World’.

That song is just aaaaawesome.

Which tune do you wish had been written about you?

The Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony Number 5.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

Aretha Franklin, ‘Respect’.

Megan Burslem presents Mornings on ABC Jazz