Helen Svoboda is the Winner of the 2020 Freedman Jazz Fellowship

Brisbane bassist and composer Helen Svoboda has been announced as the winner of this year’s Freedman Jazz Fellowship, valued at $21,000.


[from the media release]

This year, the distinguished judges were Mike Nock, Chris Cody and Laurence Pike, who are all accomplished musicians, composers and educators. They commented:

“Each finalist was chosen because they presented a unique artistic vision. Helen’s proposed collaboration ‘The Odd Bunch’ with film-maker Angus Kirby was truly inspired. She communicated her vision through a well-considered and refined musical project which also spoke to a real-world issue that humanity is facing. Her energy and passion were palpable, and the excellence clearly at the fore. Helen will be a force in Australian music.”

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

‘The Odd Bunch’ ensemble will feature three interchangeable trios which cycle through characteristics related to mass produce such as GMOs, Pesticides and Organics. The trios will perform sometimes in conflict with each other, or by morphing into one another and occasionally joining 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.

Helen 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 from vegetables, flowers and the genres of minimalist neo-classical music, folk and experimental jazz.

Born of Finnish/Australian heritage, Helen recently graduated from a Masters of Music course in the Netherlands, specializing in soloistic double bass composition.

She has released nine albums as leader/co leader with three on the way.

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.

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Director of The Music Trust, Dr Dick Letts said of the 2020 Jazz Fellowship:

“This year, there were 18 musicians vying for the Freedman Jazz Fellowship. Nine great musicians from across Australia were given the terse instruction: ‘Nominate the winner.’ Of the four finalists, three play the double bass! – and one, the trumpet. Originality is valued. The rules are kept to a minimum. And this is the very unusual result. A brilliantly diverse set of musicians from the brilliantly diverse world of Australian jazz.”


The Freedman Jazz Fellowship has become probably the most prestigious award in Australia for a jazz musician. Usually the winner is decided at a concert of the finalists at The Studio at Sydney Opera House. This year, it of course was not possible to hold a concert and so the decision was made through consideration of recordings made by the candidates, written proposals for projects on which a candidate would spend the $21,000 should they win, and online interviews of each finalist. Also, for the first time the finalists were offered the services of a mentor to further refine and develop their project proposals.

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 madeMembers 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.