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Tim Nikolsky: Getting Real Down Under

By Published: April 20, 2011
AAJ: That's very sound logic. Traditional jazz has a long history in Australia, and a wonderful tradition in the Australian Jazz Convention, which has been going since 1946, yet that particular demographic, the over 60s by and large, seems to be missing from your survey, looking at the age of the respondents. Is there a reason why these people are absent from the survey?

TN: Absolutely. The people in the Australian Jazz Convention are either doing or have done a publication of tunes from the Australian Jazz Convention Original Tunes Competition from 1946 onwards. So, that resource is available and I didn't want to tread on their toes, by doubling up on a whole lot of things. I've tried to steer clear of all those Original Tunes winners, because I don't want to put anyone's nose out of joint by doubling up on those tunes. But a lot of the people who play in that scene are represented in the book anyway, you know, [reed player] Ade Monsbourgh, [pianist] Graeme Bell, and [trumpeter] Bob Banard—all those guys are here, and that's important.

AAJ: What did you learn from researching existing Real Books, which helped you to shape this one?

TN: Having played from Real Books from many years ago, I have a deep respect for those standard tunes and I still love playing those tunes. Gershwin, Rogers and Hart. I have a very deep respect for those particular composers. Those tunes are timeless for a reason. They're great melodies and they're great to blow over. The Australian Jazz Real Book is different because we don't have the whole Tin Pan Alley show tune history in Australia. What I've learnt from Real Books is that they are easy to read and easy to use, they have consistent formatting, and they are designed very well for use by musicians. There's a fantastic book out about the development of fake books, and how they came about, from tune-dex cards. [The Story of Fake Books: Bootlegging Songs to Musicians (Kernfeld, 2006)]. The book is really worth checking out. Fake books and Real Books have had a very chunky history, shall we say [laughs]. The guys at Berklee in the '70s, who created those Real Books. they were trying to pay their way through university and they were fulfilling a need. I'm not sure how many people play "A Call for all Demons," which is the first tune in that Berklee Real Book, but it's in there.

AAJ: In your opinion, is there such a thing as an Australian sound in jazz?

TN: Well, I've been discussing this with all the people I've interviewed, and I've been reading up about it a lot as well and it seems to me that there is something of the Australian nature in the music; Australians are pretty easy going, pretty good natured, have a bit of a larrikin attitude, and definitely a sense of humor in Australian jazz. In more musical terms, some people have said that there is a definite lyricism in Australian jazz, which could mean it's the opposite to New York 8th-note jazz and bebop vocabulary, for instance, and it could also be reflective of the big, wide open spaces we have here. There is a definite openness on lots of different levels. There's an openness, in terms of mixing different cultures and a crosspollination of different things going on in Australian jazz, which I guess you could call fusion and Third Stream and Latin jazz. There are all these different hybrids going on, which is a reflection of Australia being so multicultural.

I would say that here, in Melbourne, we have a different voice to jazz musicians in Sydney; the weather is different, and I think that plays a big part in it, but in Melbourne we're more integrated with different cultures, which has enabled us to collaborated with a whole lot of different musicians. The latest wave of migration here has been African, which is absolutely fantastic, because they've brought a whole tradition of African music with them and we've been able to work with these great African musicians in Melbourne, and that's really exciting. I think there is an Australian jazz, but it's very hard to put your finger on it. There's also, I wouldn't call it a lack of respect for convention, but a more relaxed attitude towards rules and conventions.

AAJ: It makes sense that something of the Australian character is reflected to a degree in the folk music, and what is jazz if it's not folk music?

TN: Yeah, absolutely. In post-war Australia there wasn't much of a lot of stuff and we had to make do with what we had in a very young country. People had to learn to adapt to what they had, and those kinds of cultures make really good improvisers. I think cultures that have that ability to adapt and to improvise with what they have, in order to get by, have a basis for creating a musical sound that is unique.

AAJ: There is a Kiwi Real Book, in your research did you come across any other Real Books that are based along national lines?

TN: Yeah, I've been speaking to Walter Van der Leur, and Tony Whyton, who's at Salford University and I believe, they have some funding to put together a Dutch Real Book. I have seen the Kiwi Real Book, and hats off to them, they've created a Real Book with Kiwi jazz musicians, and they use it on gigs and they use it in educational institutions, so it's definitely overdue for Australia to do one as well.

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