2020 Freedman Jazz Fellowship finalists announced

[From the Media Release]

After a search for Australia’s most promising young jazz artist, The Music Trust‘s 2020 Freedman Jazz Fellowship finalists have been announced on Wednesday 10 September from a list of 18 nominees from across the nation. This year, the distinguished judges comprised Mike Nock, Chris Cody and Laurence Pike, who are all accomplished musicians, composers and educators. The judges made the decision to extend the number this year to include a fourth finalist.

  • Niran Dasika (trumpet)
  • Jacques Emery (double bass)
  • Rafael Jerjen (double bass)
  • Helen Svoboda (double bass)


A highlight of the Australian jazz calendar, Freedman Jazz at the Sydney Opera House typically brings together three of the nation’s most outstanding young musicians for an exciting finale to decide the Freedman Jazz Fellow. The prestigious award enables the winner to take the next step in their career with a $20,000 cash prize.

The Jazz Fellowship is funded by the Freedman Foundation, a philanthropic foundation chaired by Laurence Freedman, which assists young Australians in music and visual arts, as well as providing support to medical and scientific programs. Laurence and Kathy Freedman were made a Member of the Order of Australia for service to the community, to medical research, the arts, and to business and investment in Australia.

The Fellowships are managed by The Music Trust and administered by the Sydney Improvised Music Association.

Past winners of the Freedman Jazz Fellowships read like a ‘Who’s Who’ of Australian jazz. They include guitarists Ben Hauptmann and James Muller, saxophonists Julien Wilson, Andrew Robson and Matt Keegan, pianists Andrea Keller, Matt McMahon, Marc Hannaford, Aaron Choulai, Tal Cohen and Novak Manojlovic, trumpeters Nick Garbett and Phil Slater, bassist Christopher Hale, vocalist Kristin Berardi and drummer James McLean.


Niran Dasika (trumpet)

Niran Dasika is a trumpeter gaining increasing attention around Australia and abroad for his distinctive, ethereal trumpet sound and compositions. Niran’s virtuosic playing has placed him in high demand both in Australia and Japan, across which he maintains an expansive performing schedule.

After studying a Bachelor of Music at Monash University in Melbourne, Niran relocated to Tokyo for two years where he established himself as an in-demand improvisor and session musician. He received second place in the 2017 National Jazz Awards at Wangaratta Jazz Festival. Shortly after, in March 2018, Niran released his album Suzaku with his Tokyo-based quartet.

In 2019 Niran was awarded the APRA AMCOS Professional Development Award and the Jazz Bell Award for Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year, as well as being nominated for the Freedman Jazz Fellowship. Niran’s latest album Kiri was released in 2020 through ABC Jazz and captures Niran’s long-term duo collaboration with Japanese pianist Sumire Kuribayashi. Niran has also recently released Volume 1 and 2 of his latest project Assorted Drone Music.


Niran plans to use the Freedman Jazz Fellowship to produce an album of self-produced music, continuing and expanding on his current project, ‘Niran Dasika’s Assorted Drone Music‘. He is looking to collaborate over distance with musicians from Europe, Japan, South America, and to commission a series of four video pieces to accompany some of the resultant works, for a multi-medium release in several stages.

The process of creating volumes of Assorted Drone Music begins with a daily recording ritual in his home studio. Niran will record 3 – 5 minute tracks of improvisation, either on the trumpet or on a synthesiser. Some of these tracks will then be sent to collaborators around the world to record an accompanying improvisation. These will then be collated together, often with additional layers of sound, either acoustic or digital, for the final mix.

Jacques Emery (double bass)

Bassist Jacques Emery is a member of some of Sydney’s most dynamic jazz ensembles including the ARIA-nominated Zela Margossian Quintet, and HEKKA with Novak Manojlovic (winner of the 2019 Freedman Jazz award).

Since 2018, he has worked with the Australian Art Orchestra, which has led to appearances at prestigious jazz festivals in Berlin, London, Poland and Melbourne. As a freelance musician, he has performed with Australian jazz luminaries Vince Jones, Mike Nock and Paul Cutlan.

During his studies at the Sydney Conservatorium (2016-2019), Jacques received many accolades and awards, including the Dean’s award for Academic Excellence, SIMA’s ‘Sonic Futures’ recipient (2018), the BBM Youth Support Award, and the Henderson Traveller’s Scholarship, which allowed him to study with renowned improvisers in Oslo, Berlin and New York.


Jacques proposes to compose asuite of music for a 10-piece ensemble and record and release an album, which will premiere at a venue in Sydney, such as the Sydney Opera House’s Studio.

His proposed project would draw on his experiences with the Australian Art Orchestra, as well as the many collaborative improvisational ensembles of which he was a part throughout his University degree, in all aspects of the project’s execution the composition, the organisation of rehearsals, and the production of the album and the concert.

Rafael Jerjen (double bass)

Born in Basel, Switzerland, Rafael Jerjen moved to Australia at the age of six. There he later completed a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Performance (Honours) at the Australian National University under bassist Eric Ajaye. In 2013, he returned to Europe, where he worked within the music scene in Berlin for a year before moving back to Switzerland to complete a Master of Arts in Jazz Performance at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Lucerne (HSLU) with bassist Heiri Knzig and renowned composer Ed Partyka.

Rafael has toured throughout South America, Australia and Europe with his numerous projects including The Rafael Jerjen Concept and MaxMantis. He is also an accomplished composer writing new material for his own projects, as well as commissioned work including the winning work in theWestern Australian Jazz Youth Orchestra’s Australian Young Composers Award. Along with his compositions, he has had the privilege of recording and sharing the stage with musicians such as Sandy Evans, James Greening, Ben Hauptmann, Katie Noonan, Kristin Berardi, and Andy Sheppard.


Rafael sees the double bass as an instrument of extreme beauty, with great potential for a vast musical vocabulary and extensive soundscapes. By undertaking a project focusing specifically on the language of the bass and its musical voice in a duo setting, his project will explore these somewhat less obvious, technically and musically challenging aspects of the instrument.

Specific project objectives include expanding duo-specific repertoire for the double bass in jazz, exploring and stretching the boundaries of the improvisational and sonic avenues of the bass, and investigating the way in which the role of the bass changes, depending on the second instrument – e.g. a bassist will have different musical aspects to address in duo with a drummer, compared to a saxophonist, due to the nature and limitations of other instruments.

To fulfil the specific project objectives, he intends to create eight duets for double bass and one other instrument. This will be undertaken collaboratively and will concentrate on the role of the bass in relation to each ‘other’ instrument and instrumentalist, the style of each partnership and his desire to showcase the virtuosic capabilities of the bass, and his own playing, in each situation.

Helen Svoboda (double bass)

Helen Svoboda is a double bassist, vocalist, composer, improviser and nature enthusiast. “With a deep awareness of extra musical concepts that shape inventive improvisation, and great art” (Steve Newcomb, AUS), Helen draws influence mainly from vegetables, flowers and the genres of minimalist neo-classical music to folk and experimental jazz.

Born of Finnish/Australian heritage, Helen recently graduated from a Masters of Music in the Netherlands, specializing in soloistic double bass composition. She has released over ten albums across her own projects, including Vegetable Bass (debut solo release), Afar (MEATSHELL; 2020 Maastricht Jazz Award Winners) and Vol II (The Biology of Plants; 2019 QLD Jazz Award Winners).

As a composer her work has been commissioned for projects including Trading Fours (QLD Conservatorium) and Blanche Dael (NL). Most recently she was invited as special guest on Sebastian Gramss’ ‘Hard Boiled Wonderland’ (2020 Cologne) in which she composed and performed a spoken word piece about the Australian bushfire crisis.


Helen’s project stems from her passionate interest in sustainable food production which she sees as vital in ensuring the nourishment of future generations across the globe.

Helen intends to translate a story of mass food production (i.e. fruit and vegetables) into a thirty minute musical suite with accompanying video, performed across a nine piece band, the final product of which will be released as a visual album with six accompanying short films (i.e. in the form of a limited edition USB + digital release).

The ensemble, which is titled ‘The Odd Bunch’, will feature three interchangeable trios (each of which will cycle through particular assigned characteristics related to mass produce i.e. GMOs, Pesticides & Herbicides, Organics) conflicting with each other, morphing into one another, and occasionally coming together in musical unity. They craft a twisted story about the uncertainty of an unstable environment and nutritional denial. Spoken word and poetry will form a vital component of the story-telling process, touching on additional topics such as future farming innovations such as vertical farming with strange dialogues between the different vegetable and fruit families.

Judges’ Comments

Mike Nock:

“This year’s Freedman Jazz Fellowship submissions were the strongest and most conceptually varied so far. It augurs well for the future of jazz – let a thousand flowers bloom.”

Chris Cody:

“The finalists this year show a very high degree of proficiency as well as courage and ambition in their music, with a lot of thought given to the projects and music. The nominated candidates this year demonstrated very diverse styles of jazz from electric ambient to abstract acoustic, from free improvisation to through-composed music, from solo to large ensemble.”

Laurence Pike:

“This year’s field has proven to be one of the most musically diverse in the fellowship’s history, covering everything from electronic-informed drone music to large ensemble improvisation, showing the essence of jazz in Australia continues to transcend notions of style.

“In what has been a difficult year, a focus on community, social consciousness, and a consideration of what is essential to the practice of this music in Australia also appears to have imbued the applications, as the finalists seek to adapt to an ever changing environment.

“Our final four applicants represent an exciting cross section of this country’s creative talent, all worthy of being the recipient of the 2020 Freedman Jazz Fellowship.”

Dr Richard Letts from The Music Trust comments:

“Our finalists include three bass players and one trumpet player. How extraordinary. But every one of them is distinctively marvellous. Their projects are so different and so imaginative. Is it the COVID? this is an exceptional year.”

In this extraordinary year of COVID-19, the much-anticipated gathering of jazz-lovers and media, under the shells of the Sydney Opera House, is not possible. However, the Freedman Jazz Fellowship will prevail by ensuring participation of finalists via video conference in this life-changing event for the eventual winner.

The winner will be announced on Thursday 22 of October