Barney McAll: One to Watch

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I was listening to Bitches Brew a lot before I recorded the CD and I just loved the way Miles and Teo Macero had captured such rawness. I was very aware of trying to capture the feeling you get when you play a tune for the first time.
This interview was first published in 2001.

Barney McAll All About Jazz: First, if you don't mind, tell me some other biographical details (where did you study?)

Barney McAll: I was born in Melbourne Australia. I started playing piano at seven years old. My older brother John, was very influential on me playing, as he is a great pianist and composer.

I can remember playing games in my head and just playing piano for hours on end and many times I would play right into the night. I'd look up and realize it was dark and that I had been playing for hours and hours. My parents were friends with Jane and Len Barnard (the drummer) and so I think Lenny left a lot of jazz records at the family house. I can remember the first jazz piano I heard—it was Pinetop Smith playing 'Pinetop Boogie.' I loved this music, I can remember he is interviewed on the record and the interviewer says 'Pinetop, you know there's a lot of awful good piano players out there?,' and Pinetop says "Yeah, I know, I better start practicing RIGHT NOW!"

...But it wasn't until John, my older brother played me some Bud Powell that I was really hypnotized by music. When I first heard Bud I was shocked and I can still remember how I felt—I had no idea what he was doing, it was so sour and so sweet, and that was it, I wanted to play piano.

I studied classical music up to AMEB Grade Six. I also studied at the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne. I joined Vince Jones in my first year and was touring a lot so I only barely passed, but Vince's band was a great learning opportunity.

I also received a study grant from the Arts Council in 1991 and I studied with various private teachers in NYC. Teachers such as Barry Harris, Mulgrew Miller, Walter Bishop, Jr., Larry Goldings, etc.

AAJ: What does this new album represent in terms of your career? (Tell us about the Transparent label too please). Tell us how you got to this point.

BMcA: The new album represents a shift in musical aesthetic from something less straight ahead Jazz to something hopefully more universally appreciable. I had observed myself reaching for certain CDs in my collection over the years and I wondered why I it was that I chose these particular CDs. What it was that drew me to them? (The Necks' Sex, Miles Davis' Bitches Brew, Mike Nock's Touch, Herbie Hancock's Speak like a Child, Donny Hathaway Live, Keith Jarrett's Survivor's Suite, to name a few). I thought, I'd really like to make a CD that I would reach for, that my friends and family might reach for, that has something in it one would like to hear again.

I was also trying to create a warm feeling about the music, to create a music that set up a feeling in the room, and where the feeling was more important than any technical display.

In the studio I explained to the musicians that I wanted a hypnotic and trance-like feel to the music. After it was finished Chuck Mitchell, who is the head of Transparent Music in NY, heard it and said he would put it out.

This has been a real blessing because Transparent have done an excellent job of promoting it and getting the music heard. It is also a relief because it's so hard to get any music out unless you have a name and high profile or unless you are with a good label. With Transparent I have finally been given a break so that people can hear my music. There's a good chance now that other doors may open because I have sounds on the airwaves and in stores. I am delighted.

AAJ: Tell us about your Havana experience, the Santeria thing and the Orishas (it's quite a way from home for an Aussie isn't it?). How did you become familiar enough with Afro-Cuban culture and its idioms?

BMcA: I was first introduced to Afro-Cuban music by the percussionists that were in the Groove Collective (the NY-based funky-jazz Latin-hip hop ensemble I have worked with on and off for about five years). On tour buses these guys would play a lot of folkloric Cuban music, Haitian music, Latin jazz etc and I was eventually captivated by it.

I decided to travel to Cuba after this and that was the most inspiring outing I think I have ever had. I remember a photographer saying to me once that if you want to take an incredible shot in Cuba, just load the camera close your eyes and shoot! and that will be it! ...It really is that picturesque. It's far out too because you really wouldn't know you weren't in 1960 in many parts of Havana and Cuba. It's a trip.

Musically there is so much purity there. I mean you can't really make any money there as a musician or as anything. So what that does is help to create the most pure and soulful music because it isn't market driven or money oriented.

It's just amazing how musical the Cubans are. They could be the greatest musicians in the world and against very bad odds. There was a lot of poverty. I went to some Santerian ceremonies there. That was a real blessing and honor. These ceremonies are like church services, healing rituals, and spiritual oases all in one. They are sources of great light in a sometimes dark environment.

It's hard to describe what it was like there but the spirit was present, that's for sure. Cuba really is the jewel of the Caribbean.

I took a little keyboard in as well and had some lessons there with several great pianists. Here in New York I also play in a Latin Jazz ensemble called Mambo Macoco and this has been pretty inspiring and educational too. Bobby Sanabria played drums with the band recently and that was incredible! (pick that name up off the floor would you, Shane).


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