Jeremy, what is the inspiration behind your music - what is that makes you want to play?
I hear music in my head pretty much continually. If there is a strong theme I’ve heard, it’ll stick around on replay. Sometimes this happens with other artists music that I’ve heard, or something of mine I’ve been playing, but when that fades, I find myself hearing new sounds. Sometimes vivd, but often a bit vague. Playing consolidates them, and I find it satisfying to hear it externally. I consider a public performance an invitation to others to share with me in my little world of music-in-my-head, so I guess it is communication or sharing.
Have you always been inventing music?
My first music teacher’s comments are documented in a practice book as being something like; “Jeremy plays well, but it would be nice if he played what was written more often”. I’m not sure if it was a rebellion from imposed structure, asserting independence, laziness because it was easier to improvise or a strong sense of aesthetic that drew that out of me!
Where do you think that improvisation or composition stem from? Is it an innate ability, or perhaps something that comes from the environment we are in a children?
I don’t feel I was ever a particular talented student or that I have some special musical gift. It’s that I’ve persisted in developing the skills of a musician that I attribute to any praise my music receives. Improvisation and composition seem very natural human traits. Children improvise ditties to entertain themselves quite spontaneously. Of course it does help to have exposure to quality music in childhood and a supportive family situation. And some people do have mystical talents like perfect pitch. But even those musicians won’t amount to anything much unless they also put in a lot of hard work.
And in your growing up, were there things that were particularly inspirational or influential?
Dad had a few jazz records. I always used to like listening to Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out”. My parents would usually have ABC classic drive playing during dinner during the week and Jazz Track on weekends. Though at the time I thought nothing of it, I’m now grateful as I think I absorbed some appreciation of certain aesthetic qualities of classical music and jazz that pop music doesn’t present so clearly.
I had the fortune of having a jazz bassist, Tony Paye as a teacher during high school years. He gave me structure to channel my creativity. That structure was the genre of jazz.
And that led you to peruse more study?
Yeah. I was a trombonist at the time and my first music degree that was my principle study. I started piano as a minor study partway through that course. Anthony Shultz was my teacher. He was, and still is, quite an inspiration. To be playing the piano though - that really enabled me to play the sounds I’d been hearing in a way trombone was never going to do. So out of that course, I spent a year of very intense practice and was accepted into the VCA as a pianist in 1999.
You hadn’t really been playing very long then, when you started at the College of the Arts?
About 2 years. I was very immature as a pianist. I had great difficulty keeping up with the course because of the massive technical inexperience. I did have keyboard lessons as a kid - actually on the “Electone”, the Yamaha electronic organ that was all the rage in the 80s. It was kind of fun - which is good for a kid to engage their interest - but it didn’t lay down many skills.
Did you study classical music at the college, or was it jazz? Your music seems to embrace both elements.
I was in the jazz stream at VCA. I did very few classical lessons - maybe learnt 7 or 8 tunes. I studied with some classical teachers working on technical aspects though. I studied Alexander Technique with a classical pianist and vocalist, Carol Veldhoven for 6 years or so and worked on applying The Technique to piano. More recently, I spent a couple of years studying Taubman technique with Sonya Liftschitz - a concert pianist. But I never really worked on classical repertoire. It always seems so much easier and satisfying to improvise! I find reading challenging - I kind of regret I didn’t spend more time on it when I was younger, then it wouldn’t be so laborious now.
Alexander Technique is a field you’ve studied in depth - how does that relate to music making?
Alexander Technique looks at the way we move and the way we think. Making changes in the way one moves has an immediate effect for musicians as a good instrument will reflect very subtle changes in muscle tone. Initially, I studied Alexander Technique because of back pain. At the time I began, I couldn’t sit for 15 minutes without intense pain. I learnt I could change the way I was relating to the instrument, my body and the music. This meant I fairly quickly learnt to manage back pain, but I also found that moving with more ease led me to a technical revolution. I doubled my speed in about 3 months just by letting go of unnecessary tensions!
I went on to train as a teacher after the VCA as it seemed the most relevant way to take my playing to the next stage. I now run a private teaching studio working with musicians and other people.
You also mentioned Taubman technique - is that similar to Alexander Technique?
There is much evidence of Alexander’s principles in the study I made of Taubman. I think Dorothy Taubman acknowledges that it informed her approach to the piano significantly. Alexander Technique deals with the whole body and it’s relation to thinking in any activity, but Taubman Technique is specific to piano. It focus more on the interface between the pianist and the instrument. So it forms the basis for my instrumental technique whilst the Alexander Technique forms the basis for my overall posture and attitude.
We’ve talked a little about classical and jazz study, but there are other influences you attribute to your music - South American music - particularly tango and European music. Where did that come from, and how does it influence you now?
Anthony Shultz, my first piano teacher, gave me a tape once. (It was tapes back then.) One side had Bill Evan’s trio album “Blue in Green” and the other Astor Piazzolla’s “Milonga Del Angel”. Both were completely new to me and changed the direction of my study. I can say that those two artists are very well represented in my music collection! Anthony is perhaps best known as a piano accordionist, so naturally he has played much tango. As soon as I heard Piazzolla, I felt some kind of emotional response that I consider quite rare. So I studied tango after leaving college. I think I was a bit “jazzed out” and intimidated by the prospect of trying to be a jazz player, so I spent four years investigating tango and leading my own tango group “Estuary Three”. I called it “jazz--tango” as it was mostly a fusion of the two that appeared in my compositions. Later on, I added a singer and dancer and the repertoire became more traditional. These days, that experience filters through and the discerning listener will hear harmonies or rhythms of tango in many of my current works.
The European influence comes through the European take on jazz - the kind that is represented on the ECM label. As well as the more traditional Bill Evans or Oscar Peterson style, I’m drawn to the contemporary style of Marcin Wasilewski, John Taylor or the European Quartet work of Keith Jarrett. You might hear that come through in the very interactive nature of my ensemble work, or contrapuntal character in solo work. I compose very few tunes with the swing feel characteristic of the Afro-American jazz tradition.
There’s also the influence of Russian/Tatar singer Zulya. I find her music so enticingly haunting. I try and capture the essence of that on some of my recent work.
Are there other artists who have had a particular impact on your work?
I studied with Tony Gould and Bob Sedegreen - each who left an imprint on my playing. I listen to much local music live and can say Tim Stevens and Luke Howard inspire me as much as the more internationally renown people like Brad Meldhau. Pat Metheny’s compositions always grab me, and Bill Frisell I enjoy. I listen to a bit of bossa-nova, Portuguese fado music and modern Spanish music. The way Chick Corea embraces various influences is something I try to emulate. The jazz greats Herbie Hancock, Kenny Barron and similar I’ve listened to quite intensely at times. It was the bandoneon player Dino Saluzzi who’s work largely inspired the drummer-less line up I worked with for seven or eight years.
That was the Woolhouse - Michailidis - Robertson project?
With bassist Ben Robertson and guitarist Lucas Michailidis - both artists whose work with me and other groups I have learnt much from. I’m very grateful to have been able to perform and record with them.
So what are the current projects you have on the go now?
I’m part way through an album of solo piano works. I hope to have it completed and released by the end of 2012. I’ve just got a little distracted though as the opportunity came to work with Shannon Birchall in a duet project which we’ll be performing and recording this year. I’m particularly excited about that!
Why is that?
Shannon played bass on the recording that launched the jazz-tango project in the Estuary Three trio with Anthony Shultz playing piano accordion. Shannon is a great person to work with. He listens closely to what you play and chooses something very tasteful to complement it. Aside form being an absolute virtuoso of the double bass, he has a strong aesthetic and makes a committed contribution to the work he engages with. After we made our 2002 recording, Shannon went on tour with John Butler and other projects. So it has been 10 years now that I’ve been hoping to work with him again. The “Live at Baker Street” series is ideal for this lineup. The 33 1/3 auditorium is has intimacy perfect for duet line up and the acoustic brilliance of the room means the fine nuances in each musician’s playing can be heard a responded to by the artists as much as the audience. To play acoustically in a concert setting is a privilege unique to this venue. The duo with Lachlan Davidson will be great in that setting too.
What is your background with Lachlan?
Lok is a brilliant multi-instrumentalist. He mostly plays sax in jazz settings but he’ll have a few other instruments in this setting. It’ll add to the diversity of our set and give a distinctive character to each tune. This project is a premiere - we’ve not performed publicly before. The collaboration has arisen out of the numerous conversations I’ve had with Lok over 10 years or more. I must admit, I bought his “Unlokked” ensemble album on title alone: “A Hot Night In Burwood” - I used to live in Burwood! Lok’s musical aesthetic is very suited to mine, but it was the connections I made with him talking about approaches to music, composition, teaching and life that formed the connection. So it’s another collaboration that I’ve been wanting to engage with for many years. We’re calling it “Lok and Keys”.
So a solo and two duet projects. Is there more that your involved with or planing for the future?
I’m also in the process of launching a new trio. After 10 years leading original music ensembles without drums, I’m finally engaging in the more traditional line up. Many of my more recent compositions seem to be leading to that lineup, so I’m following that inclination. I have plans to notate some of my piano works and publish them so students and other pianists can play them. I hope to continue the recording and performance projects I’m initiating this year and generate enough interest in my compositions that I’ll not be spending quite as much time teaching than I have in the past. I find teaching very rewarding, but it does mean there is less available time for artistic endeavours. So that’s the plan anyway.