Barney McAll

Jazz

We recently had the opportunity to have a chat with Australia’s own Grammy-nominated jazz pianist, Barney McAll.

MJ Tell me about your early musical experiences and influences growing up in Melbourne.

BM Well, I started playing piano at about seven years old, and I used to practice by myself. I’d play games in my head that at the end of the world, those people who could survive had to play a song. I used to play games like that for hours, and then I’d look up, and it would be dark outside. So then, I had a band and we started playing around, and I started getting more into jazz. I had Len Barnard live up the street, a great Australian jazz drummer, and he turned us on to Pinetop Smith, Bud Powell and Miles Davis. We had another friend who turned us on to all this blues music, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf. Eventually I would go in and out of the city playing gigs with people, and I started working with Vince Jones, Alan Browne, Doug De Vries, Gary Costello… I wasn’t anywhere near supposed to be in that band. I had to learn fast, and then I really started working hard and shedding.

“I wasn’t anywhere near supposed to be in that band. I had to learn fast…”

MJ You are an Australian, but you’ve spent a lot of time abroad. Do you think that Australia has it’s own brand of jazz, it’s own flavour, or are we just doing the same kind of thing as people all over the globe?

BM It’s a complex question. I think there’s possibly a music that’s developing, and it stems from American jazz. Improvised music in Australia has changed to be less influenced by straight-ahead black American music. It’s more compositional, so it’s kind of a hybrid. This is happening as you say, all over the world. Improvised music is becoming less of a jazz thing, less walking bass, swinging hats, and more experimental, involved in all sorts of rhythms and meters, and intervalic ways of writing music and playing it. Whether it’s just that life changes and people make music that’s relevant to a changing life.

MJ You’ve worked with a large number of high-profile acts. Everyone from Roy Ayers and Maceo Parker, right through to a lot of pop acts like Aloe Blacc and Sia to name a few. How do you think this has shaped the way you play?

BM Significantly, I think. I was working with Gary Bartz for many years, and then I started working with Fred Wesley who works with Maceo. I remember going back to play some straight-ahead jazz with Gary Bartz, and he said, “Tell Fred, thank you”. What he was saying was, tell Fred thank you for helping you lay in the pocket, to play more simply, and to listen. That was a direct way that playing funk has helped me be more musical in a jazz context. Playing with Sia, and Aloe Blacc, Daniel Merriweather, that’s great music as well. I suppose all those influences help you to understand that there’s only two kinds of music; good or bad. It helps you become a better musician, and to make music as opposed to jazz.

“…all those influences help you to understand that there’s only two kinds of music; good or bad.”

MJ How would you describe your style of playing?

BM It’s a difficult question, but it’s kind of a lot of different influences. Stylistically, I’ve been deliberately trying to infuse gospel colours into my music. Previously, I was into Afro-Cuban music, so, that’s in there a little bit too. But I’m really just an improvising musician, I’m a spontaneous composer.

MJ It’s interesting that you cite those particular influences, because listening to your playing, it’s the gospel inflections and Afro-Cuban influences that seem most prominent, even when you’re playing in other genres.

BM Yeah, I’m not trying to play those genres and try to rehash them, but I’m interested in infusing it, and just getting some of those colours that I find so beautiful and so interesting.

MJ Did you have a favourite player growing up, and has that changed over time?

BM Yeah, it’s always changing. Growing up, it was listening to a lot of Bud Powell and being just completely perplexed and lured into the music. And I always loved Keith Jarrett. I also loved the piano playing of singer songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin, and especially Ray Charles. I find their piano playing really mystical, and very original.

MJ During your musical journey, can you remember a piece of advice that you received that had a particular impact on your way of thinking or playing?

BM Wow, I can give you a couple. One of them, Daniel Merriweather said to me, which was, “If you don’t try to be bluesy, you’re more bluesy”. I think that’s pretty hip. Gary Bartz hadn’t ever given me any advice on how to play. When I first got to New York we were doing a live recording of a jazz standard, and he just said “relax”. That’s all he’s ever said to me. But I think the best piece of advice that anyone’s ever given me, is a piece of advice that I’ve heard four or five people say, and that is, “just keep playing”.

MJ Your arrangements are often very lush and rely pretty heavily on the musicians in your ensembles playing a specific way. How much of this is about getting the right guys in for the job, and how much is your direction?

BM Which piece are you talking about for example?

MJ You have a piece called thirty three which starts out with a bass motif that’s repeated throughout the whole song.

BM That piece was a fantastic experience because it was based on an Afro-Cuban rhythm called Ellegua. You have to play that piece first, because you honour Ellegua in the Afro-Cuban tradition. And if the spirit of Ellegua likes what you’re doing, then your tapes in the studio won’t get chewed up. What you’re hearing is the first time we ever played it, cos I wanted to write simple, lush things that people could sightread, and then they would feel the song unfolding as it was going onto tape. We started with that piece on the record, and it went for 15 minutes, it was really very exciting. The percussionist had spoken to the drummer, Joey Barrett, and told him what to play, and given him direction. Apart from that, I had just chosen the players, which were amazing musicians, and we just played it.

MJ A lot of your music has quite open, improvised forms. How much of that is prearranged, and how much do you just leave up to the gig?

BM Well, I’m interested in the unexpected, and I’m interested in getting away from the whole jazz idea of head, solos, head. So, it is very much arranged to be the way it is manifested. But by the same token, good musicians can follow a tangent that is indicated by any of the musicians, and just milk it or flesh it out on a dime. Good musicians can feel something changing or some direction, and everyone can go there immediately. Without musicians having that incredible quick-wittedness- their whole life is about being able to change very quickly. A lot of the music that I write is really helped along by that incredible reflex of creativity.

“Good musicians can feel something changing or some direction, and everyone can go there…”

MJ You’ll be performing with your quintet at the jazz festival, with a few local favourites. Can you talk a bit about the music and the band?

BM So the band is called ASIO, which stands for the Australian Symbiotic Improvisers Orbit. The players are Jonathan Zwartz on bass, Simon Barker on drums, Julien Wilson on tenor saxophone and Steve Magnusson on guitar. These are all the players that are also on the new album which is called Mooroolbark, dedicated to the place where I grew up. We’ll be playing the CD release of Mooroolbark at the Melbourne Jazz Festival. Asio, interestingly enough, also stands for the genus of true owls- you’ll want to put that in the article please (laughs).

MJ And are you now back in Australia for a little bit?

BM I’m in Sydney for the whole of 2015, I’m doing a Peggy Glanville-Hicks composer residency in Paddington, so I’m just composing for one year here.

MJ You’ve worked in a number of different settings, do you think your playing style changes significantly depending on who you’re playing with?

BM Most certainly. In fact, if you look at a band that’s been playing together, you get much more music and creativity than if you have the best players in the world all thrown together in a superstar band. All superstars together does not necessarily make for good music. I’ve played with these guys in this band for a while now, and I’m looking forward to it because we’re trying to develop it as a band.

“All superstars together does not necessarily make for good music.”

MJ Is your current lineup the preferred format you like to play in?

BM I’m kind of liking this, you know, tenor saxophone, guitar, bass, drums, piano. I’ve written all this music for that, and it’s a compact unit. Julien Wilson’s such a beautiful player, as is Steve Magnusson, so you really get a chance to hear things interpreted in a really rich way. I’m down for all sorts of things. I play in a band in New York which is three trombones and myself, so I’m definitely open to all different colours.

MJ You spend a lot of time writing and playing, and doing all things music. What do you like to listen when you’re just relaxing in your down time?

BM That’s a very good question! I like to listen to a lot of African music. There’s a website called Capes of Africa, and it’s unbelievable. You can download the most rare and bizarre, deep, old music from cassettes that’s been uploaded. I just love listening to that stuff, it’s really inspiring to me. I like to listen to artists like Morton Feldman, Brian Eno, I like an English new wave band called Eyeless In Gaza. There’s an Australian rapper named Remi who’s actually pretty happening, and also Andrea Keller’s music. I like to listen to a lot of ambient sounds, sounds of nature. That’s kind of a way to have an inspirational, meditational journey.

MJ You’ve already had a very rich career. What are your plans for the future?

BM Philosophically, my plan is to be new every moment. But in a straight-ahead answer of what music might be coming in the future, I’m writing a piece for a large ensemble, for the Monash Art Ensemble. That piece is representative of having enough time to really explore different avenues that I’ve wanted to for quite a while. I’m also working on a pop album, that so far features Sia, and actually the vocalist from Jagwar Ma, Gabriel Winterfield, and Gian Slater. It’s kind of a pop album, but it’s a protest album disguised as a pop album.

Barney McAll’s album, Mooroolbark, is now available from all good record stores.

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Walter Smith III

Jazz

Ahead of the upcoming Melbourne International Jazz Festival, we thought we’d have a bit of a chat to find out more about Texas-born tenor man, Walter Smith III

MJ You’re from Texas originally, which is not a place necessarily associated with jazz. How did you first become introduced to the genre, and what are some of your early experiences and influences?

WS Growing up, we had a lot of local people that were up and coming. We would have people come by the school, like a Jason Moran, Chris Dave and Eric Harland. We had that direct connection to the guys in New York who were doing everything we wanted to do. But we had the local scene, which was full of lots of great musicians. So there was a lot of inspiration around.

MJ How do you think that affected the way you thought about jazz? In the Mersey Beat movement in the UK, a lot of the young musicians, some of whom would go on to become Beatles, didn’t have access to a lot of great music but, like you were mentioning, they really fed off and taught each other. Is that something you think would have affected the way you play if you’d been brought up in New York or LA or Chicago or somewhere with a more defined scene?

WS Our influences were pretty much what we handpicked from records. I listened to a lot of Trane and Charlie Parker and Lester Young. Those were my big saxophone influences. But outside of that, I was more interested in the guys that were from Houston. It was Chris Dave playing with Kenny Garrett, and Eric Harland playing with McCoy at that time, and he played with Joe Henderson around that time too. Moran and Harlan both played with Greg Osby, so I grew up being really influenced by music that was happening, being made currently by that kind of scene.

“Our influences were pretty much what we handpicked from records…”

MJ Are there a lot of Houston players that you would associate these characteristics with?

WS Yeah, I think so. I was in the same grade with great electric bass player Mark Kelley, who now plays with The Roots, and Kendrick Scott, who I think is one of the most unique drummers out there now. And then, the grade ahead of me in school was Robert Glasper, and the guys that were younger than us- Jamire Williams, he’s a ridiculous drummer. Same thing with Ambrose (Akinmusire) and Howard Wiley, Dayna Stephens, Taylor Eigsti, Justin Brown, Julian Lage- all those guys are in that same boat. They grew up listening to what they listened to, and, well, they’re leaders of their generation in terms of being original voices.

MJ How would you describe your own style of playing? If you were to try to categorise it, how would you explain your concept and approach to the saxophone?

WS I would say it’s very grounded in an old sensibility, but with a few seemingly random choices that might not necessarily go along with whatever the history of saxophone is. So, just like a quirky version of something that you already heard before.

MJ The thing that really strikes me when listening to you, is your use of articulation. Particularly in really fast phrases, it doesn’t diminish at all or get sloppy.  Is that something you’ve deliberately worked on or is it something you’ve taken from other players?

WS Definitely. I went to Berklee College of Music, and really started studying a lot of older guys. Von Freeman, and Johnny Griffin, thinking about all the tempos that those guys were playing and the ideas, and trying to emulate that kind of style keeping it as clean as I could at faster tempos. I have a weird embouchure, which contributes to the fact that I have to really concentrate on articulation.

MJ Did you have a particular player that you looked up to growing up ?

WS It was the big three for me growing up. It started out as Charlie Parker, but then once I got to high school, it was equal parts Josh Redman, Kenny Garrett and Branford Marsalis. That was the thing I was going for, learning music and trying to play like them over it.

MJ Can you remember during the learning process, a piece of advice that someone said to you that had a big impact on your way of playing or thinking?

WS The first one that popped into my head was Jason Moran. He saw some YouTube video from my time at Berklee. Playing a rhythm changes with a band, and just playing constant eighth notes through the whole thing and not being very adventurous harmonically or rhythmically. He just sent me an email saying, “I watched this video of you. Have you ever thought about these things”? While I had thought about them, nobody ever just said it to me like that. It made me think that, stuff that you’re playing all the time, someone’s listening.

The other person around that same time, Aaron Goldberg was touring with Josh Redman, and I got to meet them and know them a little bit . I was having a conversation with Aaron about some guys and some records, and I was like, “Man, yeah I don’t really like that”. He said, “You just named three people that are some of the most respected musicians ever, and you don’t like it. You need to listen to it with different ears”. He was saying, humble yourself before you listen to it. He really made me think it’s not all supposed to be perfect. This is how they wanted it to be…. Everybody’s not coming from the same place.

“It’s not all supposed to be perfect. This is how they wanted it to be… Everybody’s not coming from the same place.”

MJ You’re coming out to Australia shortly for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. What do you enjoy most about coming out here?

WS Yes, I was out there last year. We went to the Sydney festival and that was amazing. We played three or four times in different venues . We even got to see Chaka Khan, who I’d never seen before, and that was pretty amazing! Besides that, we had some good food. We had some great coffee. That was the supreme thing that we found… Really nice espressos.

MJ You’ll be playing with your quintet while you’re here. Can you talk a bit about the band and the music you’ll be playing?

WS I recorded an album last year, and it came out in September of 2014, called Still Casual. It has ten or eleven original compositions that I wrote in the last year and a half for this band. I wrote it in a way that I was trying to make myself play a little bit more mature. This is, so far, my best effort in terms of writing music and having a whole program of things that go together. We’ll be playing the music from that, and the band that we’ll be playing with, two of the guys from the album will be there. The pianist, Taylor Eigsti, Harish Raghavan, bassist, and we’ll be joined by Julian Lage on guitar, and Eric Harland on drums. Incidentally we also play together in Eric Harland’s band, which is called Voyager.

MJ You do work with a lot of the guys from your band in different settings. How do you feel that your role or the music differs depending on who the bandleader is at any given time?

WS I think everyone has a different approach to composition. I know I play totally different when I’m playing my music, and Eric’s music, or whoever else’s, and it’s the same with everyone else in the band.  Whoever the leader is, they just bring a different vibe to what they want from you.

MJ You’ve got four albums now under your belt as bandleader, and a whole heap more as a sideman. What direction do you see yourself heading over the next ten years or so?

WS I have a couple of projects in mind. I have four of my own, but it seems like I’ve done the same album four times so far. Moving forward, I’m just trying to really make decisions based on stuff that I’d want to listen to. It’s gonna be stuff that I find that I can sit down and listen to repeatedly, not just something that I hear one time through and I’m done. I have some ideas for some stuff with different instrumentation, strings and a couple of other horns.

“Moving forward, I’m just trying to really make decisions based on stuff that I’d want to listen to.”

MJ So when you don’t have your musician hat on, what do you actually like to listen to for recreation?

WS I find lately that I’ve been going back to albums from formative years. They just have that special feeling where you know every second of every track on there. So I’ve been going back looking at some of those Josh Redman albums, Mark Turner albums from back then, but lately I’ve been checking out Becca Stevens new album, Perfect Animal. I’ve been checking out the new Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly. I have a lot of friends that were a part of putting that together so it’s also cool to see them doing that. And also I’ve been checking out this duo out of LA called Nowa.

The Walter Smith III Quintet will be performing at Bennett’s Lane on May 29 as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival

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Hamilton de Holanda

Jazz, Latin

Melbourne recently hosted prodigious mandolin talent, Hamilton de Holanda. We caught up with him before he came out to find out more about the man and his music.

MJ You grew up in Brazil within a musical family. Can you tell me about your upbringing and some of your early influences?

HH Yes, I have a musical family. My father’s a guitar player, my grandfather was a trumpet player, and my brother is a 7-string guitar player. Since I was 5 years old, I have my first mandolin. It was a Christmas gift from my grandfather, and every day, all day, I played with my father and my brother. We have a choro group and every day we practiced since I have 5 years old. After that, when I have about 6 and 7, I studied in a music school in Brasilia, cos I was born in Rio de Janeiro, but I grew up in Brasilia the capital. I studied at the music school called Escola de Música de Brasília, and I studied five years violin, cos we didn’t have a mandolin teacher. The tuning of the mandolin and the violin is the same. So I had this five years violin studies. And a little bit guitar also, through learning harmony. But in this same time, I had this group with my father and my brother, and I used to play choro. Choro is like the first popular Brazilian music. It is my beginning.

MJ So, with a musical family, and given your upbringing in South America, do you think these factors have changed the way you might play?

HH I don’t know, cos I didn’t grow up in another place (laughs). But of course my music is a music that comes from the sun, and the hot temperature.

“My music is a music that comes from the sun…”

MJ Mandolin is not a very common instrument in jazz. Did you draw influence from other mandolin players growing up, or were there other instruments that shaped your playing?

HH Well, my first influence was Jacob do Bandolim. He’s like a father of the mandolin in Brazil. I have also Armandinho Macedo, the first mandolin player after Jacob, who has a new point of view of mandolin. More freedom, more improvisation. But I have many influences, not just mandolin players. Like Buddy Powell, like Agua de Beber, and Hermeto Pascoal of course. But I love jazz also. Keith Jarret and Chick Corea, Michael Brecker, John Coltrane. Also classical music, I love Villa-Lobos, I love Bach. My music have a little bit of these big influences.

MJ There’s one thing that I noticed when listening to you- it’s not just jazz. You can definitely tell the influence of classical music, more traditional influence and other genres in there too. Is this something that you’ve deliberately tried to bring into your playing, or is it a natural thing for you?

HH My first music is the Choro. Choro is a mix between the classical Europe music, and the African music. So the first melody and the harmony from the choro is the classical melodies and harmonies. The way of my music is to play the choro first, after- the other music, and of course things like classical music, but with freedom and improvisation.

MJ One thing that I really enjoy about your playing too, I’ve listened to other jazz mandolin players, and, to me, a lot of them play it more like a jazz guitar. The thing I like about your playing is that you actually use a lot of the traditional techniques like tremolos and double stops in your playing. Is this just a product of your background in more traditional music?

HH No, not really. I love other kinds of music, and I mix everything. It’s not a way to think about music, traditional. Music is freedom for me, I can do what I can think about. If I have a jam session with a Swedish guy, or Australian, American, or Venezuelan guy, if you have a music to play together, I play together. I don’t have this problem.

MJ So would you say you have a style?

HH My style is from Choro to jazz. (Laughs)

MJ I understand you have a 10-string custom mandolin that you play. Can you tell me a little bit about why this instrument’s so special?

HH When I have about 18, 20 years, I thought about having a polyphonic mandolin. More melody and chords and rhythm together, like a solo piano or guitar player. I tried to do that with my eight string, with my normal mandolin. I did some arrangements and some compositions, but I wanted to have a bigger mandolin with more bass notes. And I called a friend, a mandolin builder, “Hey, you can do a 10-string mandolin for me? You can use a wood, not expensive, because if we don’t like it, we burn it.” But the first was magnificent, it was an incredible instrument. This was in 2000. After that, all the building guys make this model.

“Hey, you can do a 10-string mandolin for me?… if we don’t like it, we burn it.”

MJ Can you remember a particular moment that’s made a big impact on your way of thinking or playing?

HH Many moments I have that reflects this. The first time when I listened Armandinho, when I saw the first time Hermeto Pascoal playing, when I listened the first time to clarinetist from Brazil called Paulo Moura, the first time Chick Corea, and when I begin to study the partitas and sonatas from violin solo from Bach. I have many influences to think about.

MJ You’ll be coming to Australia very shortly, playing with Stefano Bollani. What are you looking forward to most?

HH It’s my first time to Australia. I’m excited because it’s a beautiful country, and I saw about the people it’s like in Brazil. Have people with the sun, with a good deal of life, so I’m excited to be in Australia.

MJ Can you tell me about playing with Stefano?

HH Stefano is like a musical brother, and we play since 2008. Our first time was in Italy, and after the first music together, we said we have to do something. Just playing and no talking- everything’s looking with him. When he plays some melody or some charts, he didn’t need talking anything with me, and the opposite is the same. So we have a beautiful musical connection. We like improvisation, and he knows about Brazilian music. He has the rhythm, real rhythm with his piano and his ears to play anything.

MJ When I spoke to him, he mentioned that you don’t normally choose the songs before you go on stage. Is that something that you do to be in the spur of the moment?

HH We have set lists of about 40 or 50 songs, and when we are in the stage, we play. No rehearsal and just to have one set list. And this is the concert like that. We see the people and we play.

MJ Are you planning on seeing anyone play at the festival while you’re here?

HH If I have time between the concerts, I will see, of course. I love that. I love new music and new musicians around the world, and I have the same way in Australia, of course.

MJ You play with different acts and lineups. How does your playing change when you work with different people?

HH I think when I play with great people and great musicians, I want to learn some kind of great way of music, and also I want to give a little bit from my music.

MJ I know you’re a family man as well as being a busy musician. How do you relax when you’re not on the road, and what are your plans for the future?

HH My plans is continues to do what I do. I give the people my music and my heart because when I play, the most important for me is to touch the heart of the people. Is the good point, the beautiful point of the life for me. When I relax, I have my mandolin with me, and I can compose, or playing off with my kids, or give some piano lessons to my little boy who is just 7 years old. Or if there is a ball, I can play football with my kids. Life is beautiful.

“I give the people my music and my heart because… the most important for me is to touch the heart of the people.”

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Stefano Bollani

Jazz, Latin

Interview coming soon!

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Miguel Zenon

Jazz, Latin

Interview coming soon!

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Gian Slater

Jazz

Interview coming soon!

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