August-September 2004

Miriam Zolin By

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In this edition:

"inventive is the word for Ten Part Invention..." ~ Jack Bowers

On the eve of Ten Part Invention's departure for a US tour that takes in the Chicago Jazz Festival, The John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington DC and gigs in Iowa and Illinois, AllAboutJazz spoke to John Pochée, drummer and leader of this band of originals.

All About Jazz: Ten Part Invention has been around for nearly twenty years - that's quite a track record. And no mean feat considering the line-up. They're all musicians who are in demand for other projects.

John Pochée: Yeah, rehearsing can be a difficult thing nowadays - most of the musicians make a living by teaching so for a band like this its incredibly difficult but we always manage to get together. In the early nineties for a couple of years there we rehearsed every week for about 8 months of the year and that really gave the band a solid thing - it only needs to be a little bit of playing and everybody rises to the occasion.

AAJ: How did it all come together?

JP: The band started in 1986. I put it together for the Adelaide Festival of the Arts. It was a dream that I'd had for many years - since the early sixties I'd always wanted to have a ten-piece ensemble. I'd liked some of the Thelonius Monk ten-piece ensembles and that line-up had always appealed to me, but I never saw any opportunity to do it. When the 1986 festival was coming up I approached Anthony Steele, who was the director that year and put it to him that the jazz content of the festival could do with something fresh and new. The concept that I put to him was that I would pick out the finest players in Sydney and put them together and form a band to play all original material.

AAJ: Who ended up in the band and how did you choose them?

JP: The band I had in mind was going to be built on top of The Last Straw which was the quintet I had for twenty five years. It turned out that only Ken James and Bernie McGann were going to be available. Then, there were Mike Bukovsky and Roger Frampton - I was aware of their writing abilities and I thought a band like the one I was proposing would be perfect for them. I was chasing Steve Elphick to play bass. I'd been hearing him since the late seventies. I approached Sandy Evans... I'd never met her but I'd heard some of her tunes she was performing somewhere and I could see there was a future there. I thought that Sandy would be terrific to have in group. Eventually we settled on the line-up.

A wonderful thing about the band, for me, is the people it includes from four different decades. Roger Frampton and Mike Bukovsky, I've known since the late sixties and of course Bernie McGann and Bob Bertles I'd known since I began in the fifties, so there was like a twelve to thirteen year gap between meeting those guys. Then I met Ken James in 1974 when we played with Judy Bailey and I met Steve Elphick in 1978. From the eighties there were the other people I asked to join, - Warwick Alder, Sandy Evans and James Greening. James was still in the Con [Sydney Conservatorium of Music] at that time and nobody had ever heard about him.

AAJ: People often say about Ten Part that the generations within it make it vibrant.

JP: Yeah, well we had people from four decades there. And the great thing is that just about everyone is a band leader. But the funny thing is that it just worked. We just put these people together and there were no egos in there although everyone thought there would be. From the very first - it was even stated in reviews of the band - everyone thought it would be a problem... and it was quite the opposite. In fact it went on for fourteen years without a change until Roger [Frampton, pianist and composer] died and then a couple of years later Bernie retired from the band.

AAJ: So when a situation like that happens and you've got a group that's been working together for so long and somebody leaves, how do you choose someone new?

JP: [shrugs] Well, I suppose when the time comes you think about it. So I had to think carefully about piano players who were around when Roger died. The music written for this band is not simple music so if the piano player is not available then I just say we can't do that date. All the other parts are difficult too, of course. I mean, Andrew Robson came into the band and he says that Ten Part's been an inspiration for him through the years. He had the music, I told him what to look at and he came into a rehearsal... I mean he's a wonderful musician and he was saying "I didn't think it was this hard!" so there you go. And I think there's a lot of depth in those charts and there's a lot of knowledge required...

All the band members have had a career over the general jazz spectrum and I think everyone's played some experimental music ... they're people who love a challenge and there is a lot of adventure in this music and conversational things happening. I think that's been the secret of why Ten Part Invention works. The older guys have been really interested to hear fresh and new ideas and the other ones, the younger ones, really grab the opportunity to learn from the experienced players. So we've just all grown together over the last eighteen years now.


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