April-May 2004


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My study of pre-composed orchestral material is teaching me more about improvising than any study I've done of improvisors... —Eugene Ball

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.

EugeneAllAboutJazz: 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.

Healing 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.

IshI'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!


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 class="f-right"> Back to top ^

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'.

All About Jazz: Let's talk about the philosophy behind Vorticity Music.

Carey Opie: 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.

AAJ: So what's a good model now, in your opinion, particularly in Australia?

CO: Well, for example, we don't see Vorticity Music as an Australian label, per se. We see our selves as a label with the Internet – and that enables us to be a global label. I'm originally from New Zealand and I now live in Melbourne and that happens to be where the company’s based, but with the Internet as it is now, we have global reach. Half of our retail sales are international. If you focus on Australia as a music company, you're going to struggle because the dominant culture in Australia is sport.

AAJ: Does Vorticity Music concentrate on a particular type of music?

CO: We want to deal with quality, intelligent music. Jazz is a starting point because a lot of the great musicians are in that genre. Many people are starting to realise that the roots of much of the mainstream pop music they are listening to comes from jazz.

When the company was incorporated around 1997 we focused on three main areas: touring Jazz and Fusion artists; a label to promote and distribute local artists and also an artist services company where we assisted musicians with services such as accounting and legal.

While historically we are a fusion company having released CDs of international Fusion drummers Virgil Donati and Sam Aliano, we are always looking to take the jazz definition out to its widest extremes. We have to. Plus I think that to organically grow the jazz market we have to move it into areas that traditional jazz has probably not visited.

AAJ: So you think organically is the way to go for a market like this? That takes time... more than you usually expect. Have you built that into the business model?

CO: Yes we very much have. I think the jazz market in a lot of circles is very narrowly defined. You'll talk to a lot of jazz festivals who won't touch anyone who has an electric instrument. And I have also heard kids talk about traditional jazz as 'Grandad Jazz'. What we have to do with the jazz market is very much what the wine industry in Australia had to do 20 years ago.

AAJ: What's that?

CO: I'd say 20 years ago a young man would go into a restaurant with his girlfriend and order a bottle of wine and choose the Black Tower or the Blue Duck – something very familiar. Or if it was a really special occasion, something from overseas like a French champagne. The waiter would be intimidating and he would sometimes scoff at your choice, but you didn't want to spend fifteen or twenty dollars on something that might not taste very nice. Why should I spend thirty dollars when I don't know the difference between that and a ten dollar bottle?

I think if you compare that to someone looking at a wall of music for sale at thirty dollars a CD, they're going to buy what they know. They won't take a chance at thirty dollars a pop. They need to find out about it, and how do they do that?

AAJ: By word of mouth or hearing it on a radio station, I guess.

CO: Yes, exactly and that's where people like Gerry Koster, Len Davis and Steve Robertson from PBS do so much. They have built up an audience. Len Davis for example has been doing a show that plays jazz fusion for twenty five years. Twenty five years! And he plays it in its widest context.

I've had people come down to Kurt Elling shows or a Mark Isaacs gig because I've told them to go or because they are friends of mine who are supporting the company. They've been completely surprised that this music exists, and want to know where they can get more of it. People went to the Kurt Elling show on the Friday that he was in Melbourne and then decided to go to the Sunday show as well because they enjoyed it so much. But somebody had to tell them about it to get them down there the first time.

AAJ: Let's talk about touring international artists. You're one of only a few companies doing that with jazz artists of this calibre. How hard has it been to build up contacts overseas and build up the trust – to get the ball rolling?

CO: Well, with Kurt Elling for example, we toured him in 1997. He wasn't such a big name at that point [laughs] he only had a couple of Grammies at the time. We've been able to undertake a number of tours because the artist was keen to get to Australia and expand their market so they took a long term view and worked with us to make it viable commercially - They enjoy many facets of touring Australia – for example the weather and touring during our summer while back home friends a family froze in the snow, enjoying the Australian experience as well as expanding their audience base.

We can't compete with the big companies but we offer some lifestyle benefits instead – for example we schedule extra days in for things like visiting the Barossa Valley in South Australia, which we did with Kurt when he was here. We also slot in time for the band to do clinics.. We hook the artists up with with the educational facilities.and they host the clinics and master classes which provides extra income for the Artists. It is all about being creative and thinking out side the box We have found the Artists we have toured that are the most open to that, have been the most successful.

AAJ: They are probably going to be more interesting human beings anyway aren't they?

CO: Funnily enough that seems to be true. For example this is our fourth tour with Kurt Elling and we're getting bigger and better each time, the money might not have been as high as he could have demanded in Europe or Japan but he was forward thinking enough to think about the relationship – and I hope we'll be touring Kurt for years to come as we both benefit from the long term vision

AAJ: Tell me about the way you handle the label side of things – what's the model you use for releasing music?

CO: We are more of a project management company than anything. We don't own the material. We licence. For us, there's a cut-off point with the artist that we deal with. Artists have to come to us with a product. Pretty close to being finished

We provide guidance. but we don't pay for the recording. We don't loan money to artists. We would like it if some of these large labels, in the process of slimming down, which they will inevitably have to do, sold their masters back to the artists because then we can deal with those people direct. If the artist wants us to help them with something like artwork or legal aspects or something then we can do that on a consultancy basis and add a margin Or we can point them in the direction of someone who can help them.

My philosophy in music, in its widest form, is that I don't like seeing a hundred musicians making millions of dollars a year while a million musicians struggle to make a living. I would like to see five million musicians making fifty thousand dollars each year. I want good musicians to be able to live a life, buy a house, all those things and do it all by playing music full-time. I think the Internet may allow that to happen – get fans back in touch, with search engines and information and online word of mouth in newsgroups and forums and sites like AllAbouJazz.com.

AAJ: How do you choose the music to release on the label?

CO: As I am not a schooled musician I don't have the skill set to identify the difference between a good artist and a great artist. My skill set is in the business, the technology and the back end infrastructure of the company.

We have advisors. It's not like a structured board. We have people that we have a relationship with, who identify talent for us or put us in a direction and educate us as to what's going on out there in the market.

AAJ: How do you know whose advice to listen to? It's such an important aspect of the business.

CO: Yes, very important. Our market is quite small and the same names keep popping up all the time. In my experience if there is one name that keeps popping up, and always in a positive light, we would then go towards that source. For us at the moment one of the main sources that we have is Gerry Koster. Through his show on PBS predominately and his experience working with the Newmarket label.

Gerry's very good at knowing what music will do well with a particular label. He is very open and generous in ensuring that other people benefit of the right connection. So he has an altruistic vibe but also has incredible knowledge and experience and also a massive amount of credibility in the market. I talked to him and started asking his opinion. We also started talking to him about the touring side because we were looking for good artists that we could tour nationally.

At that time, Gerry was pursuing a more independent path spend more time with PBS. He had his photography and he wanted to do more with artist management. We had a shared vision of developing an infrastructure, right from beginning to end. For one thing we think it might be inspiring for a young musician to know that there is an infrastructure, a path in place that will allow them to get to the pinnacle of their career.

AAJ: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

CO: I guess the biggest thing coming up is that we are re-releasing an album by a band that was very popular in the height of the fusion days in the '80s in Melbourne. The band was called Loose Change. They used to play at the Grainstore in King Street, when it was there and the vinyl release of Loose Change Live at the Grainstore was really popular. Virgil Donati, who is still in the fusion field was in that band – and here's the interesting thing – the keyboard player was Joe Chindamo. Joe has moved on form the fusion days - it's obviously not where he's at now. But it would be interesting for fans to see something of his past. We have a new release from a hot local fusion band called Logic?, and new Live Virgil Doanti release and we are working on a new Sam Aliano CD There is always something in the works and the information's always available on our website!


Website information:

Vorticity Music: www.vorticitymusic.com

Newmarket Music: www.newmarketmusic.com

3PBS Radio in Melbourne: www.pbsfm.org

Mark Isaacs' website: www.markisaacs.com

Kurt Elling's website: www.kurtelling.com

Sam Aliano's website: www.samaliano.com

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Melbourne International Jazz Festival May 6 - 16

The program is now available on the MIJF website www.mijf.org

Adrian Jackson, Artistic Director, quoted in the program:

"The Melbourne Internatinal Jazz festival, now in its sixth year, enters a new phase with the shift from summer to autumn. The Festival remains a celebration of Melbourne's remarkably diverse and vital jazz scene, with performances taking places in venues large and small, in and around Melbourne.

"The program includes artists from overseas and interstate, as well as many of the local musicians who play in Melbourne throughout the year. I hope the festival will introduce new audiences to the pleasure of jazz, in its many guises, and encourage them to support and enjoy jazz in Melbourne throughout the year as well as during these 11 days in May."

Confirmed artists to date:

  • James Morrison
  • Joe Chindamo
  • Christine Sullivan
  • Mark Murphy (USA)
  • Michael McQuaid
  • Hugh Fraser Quintet (Canada)
  • Christine Sullivan
  • Luis Valle’s Afro–Timba featuring Kenny Lopez (Cuba/Australia)
  • Vince Jones
  • Pascal Schumacher Quartet (Luxembourg/Belgium)
  • Graeme Bell
  • The Cat Empire
  • Frank Gibson Jr (NZ)

Sydney Venues

In the seemingly endless fluidity of venues that come and go in Sydney, there are a few that seem to be standing the test of time and a couple of new ones that are worth some attention. Here are three to whet your appetite for a night out in Sydney.

The Side-on Cafe , your AAJ correspondent's favourite jazz venue before she betrayed her origins and came back home to Melbourne has just expanded into the shop next door and now offers more space, extra comfortable seating and, to quote Peter Rechniewski the president of the Sydney Improvised Music Association ( SIMA ), also features an "area for those who want to hang out, chat and catch up with friends without disturbing the listening audience". Fantastic news for the listening audience, who can now concentrate on the music instead of shushing the chatterboxes. SIMA gigs feature Sydney's best jazz musicians and the cream of visitors to the city on Friday and Saturday nights.

83 Paramatta Road, Annandale Tel: +61 2 9516 3077
Web: www.side-on.com.au

Bar me is newish, and you can hear musicians such as Matt McMahon, Gerard Masters, The Matt Baker Trio, The Bill Risby Trio. On the site of the famous / infamous El Rocco, definitely worth a visit. And check out this Sydney Morning Herald Article

22-230 William Street, Potts Point, Tel: +61 2 9368 0894
Web: www.barme.com.au

The Excelsior Hotel in Foveaux Street, Surry Hills has been the regular JazzGroove Association Tuesday night gig for a while now, and there are occasional forays into other nights. Tuesday night is always a winner, but a recent email from Sean Wayland tells me that that the Magic Band is also playing there for Mondays in May. The Magic Band is James Muller (guitar) Sean Wayland (keyboards) Brett Hirst (bass) Felix Bloxsom (drums)

The Excelsior Hotel, 64 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills. Tel: + 61 2 9211 4945

More Aussie Jazz on AAJ

See the AAJ Australian Jazz Korner thread, started by Kenny Weir in Melbourne. Wonderful posts, and some great hints and pointers for gigs Australian Jazz Korner .

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