In this edition:
Eugene Ball is a Melbourne-based trumpeter. With Steve Magnusson (guitar) and Sergio Beresovsky (drums) Ball has recently released the CD Healing Songs on the Newmarket Music label. He's also gearing up for gigs with another bass-less improvising trio that is backed up by a string quartet whose members are all 'readers' and not improvisers. AAJ caught up with Ball over a flat white coffee one evening in April and found out why he chose the trumpet and what gets him excited.
Tell us how you became a jazz musician. Eugene Ball:
I got interested in jazz when I was young teenager. My father is a jazz musician - Dennis Ball. He's a clarinetist of some repute, playing with bands such as the Yarra Yarra Jazz Band for many years. To say I grew up with music in the house is true to a certain extent. They did have rehearsals in the house and Dad took us to gigs so jazz was certainly part of life. AAJ:
Was there a particular event or concert that triggered your decision to become a musician? EB:
Yes it was, and the reason is quite perverse when I think about it. I'm the youngest of three boys and I think it would be fair to say that they beat the crap out of me often, growing up. In fact I often got into trouble for yelling when I was getting the crap beaten out of me! When I went to hear and see Dad play, the trumpet player would be the one in control of those ensembles. He counted the songs in, he made the call on what the song was going to be, introduced the song, directed who was going to solo, he was the loudest, he always played the melody, he was the guy who paid Dad at the end... so I guess in some way it was definitely a calling to find a way to be in control. Which is what I least like about the instrument now, that role of it being the most dominant and the one who controls the direction of the music as it's going. AAJ:
Do you try and change that, in the way you write for the trumpet and play it? EB:
I don't like the idea of one dominant voice too much. I don't believe that complete musical democracy works, because if nobody's going to take control then nothing happens. But the idea of a featured soloist being supported by a rhythm section, I think has served its purpose. AAJ:
So can you give me an example of how you've worked though that with some of your current or recent projects? EB:
Things like the trio with Steve [Magnusson] and Sergio [Beresovsky] - a lot of the time it's ensemble music. When solos happen there's a freedom for anyone else to play with the solo or against the solo. The music is guided by the strongest voice at the time. It doesn't have to change, but it can change at any time. Anybody can choose to be the dominant voice.
Many of the groups I play in have an emphasis on group improvisation rather than solo improvisation. The Hoodangers for instance. We do have huge bebop solos in the middle of things but the heads-in and the heads-out are extended ensemble improvisation. It's based on that role of the trumpet taking the melody, rhythm section groove, clarinet and trombone kind of supporting voices but it's moved way beyond that - it's much more a collective improvisation. I very rarely state the melody too much at all and the interweaving of the voices is equal in the parts.
AAJ: Are those sorts of projects the ones you are drawn to at the moment? EB:
Yes, I like that idea of ensemble improvising. Ish Ish is another great example of where it happens all the time. The new Andrea Keller ensemble - the quartet - is also largely ensemble improvised. It's moving away from the idea of the soloist, the star, the virtuoso. I shy away from that because it's not very 'me'. Sometimes it's great to burn - to play some fast and beboppy kind of stuff and be a bit showy but the tradition of the one solo virtuoso voice supported by the others is just not my thing. AAJ:
And is it also about the structure of the ensemble - is there something about that that you want to experiment with? EB:
I'm drawn to ensembles with slightly different instrumentation. The Hoodangers is not a normal contemporary jazz instrumentation. In the trio with Steve and now Joe [Talia], by removing the bass, everybody's roles are up in the air. In challenging the roles you challenge the stereotypes as well. You have to ask yourself, "Is my job primarily melodic? Am I supposed to take 'the lead'?"
Another project I have, and it only happens occasionally is a trio with Aarron Choulai, the young pianist and Raj Jayaweera, a young drummer... again a bass-less trio and this time with a string quartet who are all readers, not improvisers. Somehow within the framework of the fully composed music that the string quartet follows is this improvisation that the trio makes. AAJ:
The challenges for composition for a group like that must be quite interesting. Are you drawn to that? EB:
Yes, a large part of my study this year and last year is composition and orchestration for non-improvising ensembles. My study of pre-composed orchestral material is teaching me more about improvising than any study I've done of improvisors, I think. There is just so much in that music and I am only just scratching the surface of. AAJ:
Do you have a sense of direction as a musician, of where you want to be? EB:
Yes, in that I like being a member of ensembles. I like being able to say I'm a member of Andrea Keller's quartet and I'm a member of Ish Ish and a member of the Hoodangers. I'm a member and semi-leader of the Hoodangers and semi-leader of Trio with Steve and Joe.
But mainly I like being a valued sideman - someone who's not just there to facilitate the leader's ideas but to be involved in the process of shaping the music. That happens in bands like Andrea's and Ish Ish. I guess I'm the leader of the Bennetts Lane big band but that's kind of by default.
I'd like to move into, if not writing for film then writing music for dance, or theatre, and I love being able to structure music fully - fully composed music - I love it. AAJ:
But you love the improvised music as well. EB:
Absolutely. Improvising is like having an idea and composition is where you get to really shape it and polish it. What you can do when you have the time to craft and polish an idea is just so much fun. AAJ:
Do you have trouble finishing and letting go, like some composers do? EB:
Yes but for many of the pieces I've been writing recently I've had pretty strict deadlines. So there's a point where I have to say "It will do for the moment". You could spend forever polishing and never be fully happy with it. Some people are even like that with improvising for a recording, for example, wanting ten takes of a song, whereas I'm willing to let just about anything of mine go to take. Even if I absolutely mess it up. AAJ:
Did you or do you have any musical heroes? EB:
I drew a lot from early Louis Armstrong, the Hot Fives and the Hot Sevens, Bix Beiderbecke, Jellyroll Morton, Duke Ellington. Clifford Brown was a massive influence. I missed a whole lot of those other players, just because I felt like they came from Clifford anyway. Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard to a certain extent... people might kill me for that but I don't own many Freddie Hubbard records. And then Miles of course, for sure. Lester Bowie, absolutely. Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry That's kind of all of the trumpet players as well.... Interestingly enough my listening went in that order as well. I started off listening to the early Louis. AAJ:
Did someone guide you through that? EB:
No, it was purely what was in my dad's record collection and what I liked. I loved big bands as a kid. I still like the idea of a big band but good ones are very very rare. AAJ:
Do you have a preference for the size of ensemble that you like to play in? EB:
Not really. When you're writing for more instruments there are more textures at your disposal if you choose to use them minimally, A lot of people might say they have 12 voices so they use 12 voices all the time. I am moving more and more away from that sort of thought. I like to break up the choir... have a trumpet, a French horn, a bassist and a cello and treat that as 'a voice'. That's not a common approach when you've got a whole symphony orchestra in front of you but that is certainly the way I am heading at the moment. . AAJ:
The Healing Songs
project. Do you want to talk a little bit about that? EB:
Well the CD was made quite a while a go, in 2001. It took a long time for it to come about. Steve [Magnusson] was the one who finally said "Look, let's just release it". AAJ:
What was the idea behind the CD? EB:
The title came out of a song on the CD which was called "Healing Song", that Sergio [Beresovsky] wrote for a friend of his who was ill with cancer. Sergio was coming out to Australia to play with SNAG and with Steve and me - we played up at Wangaratta. That was the year that Steve came an even first with James Muller in the National Jazz Awards. Then we went into the ABC to do a recording for Jim McLeod's JazzTrack program. So it wasn't a specific project as such. It was just a collection of songs that we had written for that ensemble. With the exception of the cover on it, which is "You're My Thrill". All of the rest were for that ensemble specifically. AAJ:
Have you had any comments about non-use of the bass? EB:
[laughs] only from irate bass players! Notes:
Eugene Ball will be playing at Bennetts Lane
in Melbourne on 30 May with his other bass-less trio Aarron Choulai (piano and some compositions), Raj Jayaweera drums and the string quartet (Alison Rayner, violin; alyssa Conrau, violin; Cerrid Davies, viola; Naomi Wyleman, cello)
The Healing Songs
CD has its own website - though the content is mainly happy snaps of Ball, Magnusson and Beresovsky. www.healingsongs.info
Newmarket Music - www.newmarketmusic.com.au
Hoodangers website - www.hoodangers.com
Ish Ish website - www.ishish.com.au
Andrea Keller's website - www.andreakellerpiano.com
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A seemingly constant feature of the jazz scene in Australia is the people who fall in love with the music and find ways to express their appreciation by supporting it in various ways – playing it on community radio, opening venues, arranging gigs and tours and releasing and distributing music. Jazz appeals to all types – including Carey Opie, who spent fifteen years running an Information Technology consultancy but changed direction and became involved with a small fusion label in Melbourne after realising that he was losing his soul in the world of IT. Now, as Managing Director of Vorticity Music, Opie brings his Internet knowledge, his business-speak and project management sensibilities to the world of Jazz and beyond. Vorticity Music has recently finished touring Kurt Elling in Australia and New Zealand on his most recent visit to this part of the world, and has also just released Mark Isaacs' latest CD 'Keeping the Standards'. AAJ caught up with Opie in a café in South Melbourne to talk about the label and other things 'jazz'. Carey Opie:
All About Jazz: Let's talk about the philosophy behind Vorticity Music.
I think it's about the new paradigm of what record labels and a record companies are.
The old paradigm is that a record label would put up some money for an artist to record an album and then there would be a budget allocated for recording, marketing and promotion. Typically the record company would 'fund' that when actually it's a loan through the artist ... not only that, but the record company spent that money on behalf of the artist. I don't want to disparage majors because they've done some good stuff in the past – you just have to look at the reach that some music has. But I think that kind of control and that model is not really relevant any more.