Where are you currently based?
The EJT is based in Sydney, though, in a normal gigging year i would be performing around Australia at various points of the year and at least 1 overseas gig during the year. New Zealand is the easiest place to get to, its quicker and cheaper to fly to Auckland from Sydney than it is to fly to Perth.
What’s been happening recently?
Alot of contemplation about how exactly are we going to do this whole music thing after 2 extended lockdowns. Music doesn’t just happen by itself, its alot of effort from the artist, and then there’s various middle management (venues, festivals, arts organisations, radio/media) and then there’s the dance of audiences and artists trying to connect with each other. These 3 points in the live performance symbiosis are what creates a music scene, the most important parts are the artists and the audience, the least important is the middle people. It can be very convoluted sometimes as each point has expectations and investments in the process, which sometimes don’t align. The pandemic has further divided these points: artists have been struggling with no work (yes artists work professionally and feed families/pay mortgages from performing music), middle management have been trying to survive without any artists to work and no audiences to attend, and audiences are rightly terrified of seeing live music due to the evolving Covid 19 situation. As a veteran artist of 14 years in Sydney, it has been obvious that it is up to musicians themselves to sort out these issues. Local council and state government support of Sydney live music has been very poor for over 10 years and an expectation that they will magically fix this is a pipedream. Musicians aren’t experienced or qualified in government lobbying, but one thing i have come to realise is small things matter quite alot. Releasing music, booking gigs where ever you can, engaging audiences in any way possible are the most important things musicians can be doing right now. That’s what’s been happening lately.
How did EJT form?
James, Felix, Stu, Casey and Ed are all musicians who i admire. James invited me to play with his group the Sonic Mayhem Orchestra a few times, its a terrifying ensemble led by James which he finds absolute shredders to play super hectic music in a big band setting. I’ve been gigging with Felix in various corporate type things for a few years, it’s a wonderful luxury when you are playing back ground music with one of Australia’s finest jazz guitarists, no one might be listening but the music itself is very good. I did a corporate gig with Stu in 2015, which afterwards he invited me to play in his group ‘Mashas Legacy’, the group performs usually 2-3 times a year which is always something to look forward to. Casey is a brilliant Australian jazz pianist, his trio ‘States of Chaos’ is a real upper echelon of modern jazz playing. I used to check out Ed do modern jazz gigs when i was in uni and his unique way of playing the drums is an incredible thing to hear, its great trying to raise the standard of your own playing to work with him. Bringing these players together was a combination of these incredible strengths they each have for their music, plus, individually, they each have accumulated their own successes off their own hard work, so it brings a wonderful challenge to run an ensemble with each of members are more than capable of running their own high level ensemble.
Your new album Gastronomy Astrology is out now on Rippa Recordings, what influenced the sound and songwriting?
The sound of 2 saxophones, bass, guitar, piano and drums is a new area for me. Sydney generally is more rewarding for small ensembles like duo’s or trio’s due to the very limited opportunities for performance and the financial realities of playing jazz in Sydney. Putting together a 6 piece is a bit illogical, though, attempting challenging things is the only way to learn new things. ive always wanted to have a larger jazz group so during the 2020 lockdown i thought ‘why not?’, i think for non musicians it is tricky to understand the reasons musicians do things, i personally work with a philosophy of developing aspects of my career which are very reliable and also investing time into things which may not work out. Successes with trying things which might not work out for me has been building a reputation and career from solo improvised double bass playing. At no point in my life has anyone told me this was a good idea, but i did it and continue to have very wonderful things happen as a result. Trying to explain the unexplainable is the prerogative of artists with our work and also our careers. When i write music, i like to get it done as quickly as possible, im not a fan working at something for along time, i think this is because the outcome can be unreliable and i dont want to over invest in something not worth doing. All the music was written in an afternoon of inspiration, it was written in a way which left alot of opportunity for creativity in the ensemble. Its a waste to book extremely high level players with strong unique playing styles and not letting them tap into that when creating music, its like driving a Ferrari in peak hour traffic. The recording process was wonderful, we did 3 takes of each tune and went with the best take of each. As a professional player, i have been involved in ‘jazz’ recordings which utilise ‘tracking’ and alot of ‘studio magic’ to try and create a result. I feel jazz is a very alive genre and if an ensemble can’t record themselves playing it in real time in a real studio i am dubious to whether its more pop music than jazz. Each to their own though, we live in an incredible time where hip hop/jazz has pioneered incredible studio production mixed with improvisation type projects (Robert Glasper) and this sort of use of a studio as a creative tool is brilliant. We recorded all the tunes i wrote which i am happy about, nothing was cut or heavily re arranged to suit.
How did you go about writing the music?
Being creative is a muscle which can be developed. In 2012, while doing a classical double bass degree, i made a very logical and liberating decision to not pursue a classical/orchestral performance career. These reasons are personal though have been 100% the right thing to do. This switch of career mindset left a very open canvas to exactly what i was going to do with my life, and it started with doing 4-5 hour improvised performances every Sunday morning at BJs cafe in Marrickville in 2012. The logic behind it was improvisation has been a huge part of playing since i can remember, though i had never tapped into it as an actual performance medium. Going up in a rural town and teaching myself to play the double bass left alot to the imagination with how to play the instrument and to progress. Its much better to have an experienced teacher to teach you, though id chosen my passion and had to try to learn exactly how it worked. Much of my practice time when i was a kid was simply just playing the bass, i used to play along with ‘Rage’ on the ABC every Saturday morning, i played in every community ensemble in Tamworth (orchestra, big band and musical theatre society) and when i was 14 i started trying to book gigs, which was relatively successful. At the core of alot of this was improvisation inspired by the various things which i grabbed onto to try and learn about how to play the bass. I’ve been developing my solo improvised performance since 2012, now which includes multiple overseas tours and major label releases, its become something i can rely on very confidently. When composing i try to use this muscle ie. asking myself ‘what would i play now?’ to decide melody, harmony and rhythm. The best thing about writing music is you can change it if you need to, any bad idea can be changed into a good idea and a great idea can be developed to make more impact.
Where and when did you record/produce/master and who with?
We recorded with Chris Doherty at 301 studios in Alexandria. Chris is a brilliant tech who’d id previously recorded with on a classical baroque recording. His experience includes Grammy award winning rock bands and internationally regarded classical ensembles. This was very important as i wanted to capture the authentic sound of the ensemble and i didnt want to spend countless hours going back through the recordings to check if everything was done properly. A good recording session is one where you dont need to be thinking or worrying about what everyone else is doing, and just focusing on what you need to be doing. We were only in the studio for 6 hours, which is a very short amount of time to record an entire album, this was because of Chris and his wealth of experience. We listened to mixes straight off the desk after recording and everything had been micced and recorded as best as it could. We recorded in November 2020, so i was optimistic that Covid was behind us and i had something i could invest fully into without hiccups. I was going to get a different tech to mix and master, as this is common practice as your ears lose their ability to mix the longer you listen to something. With the delays of Covid, it actually gave Chris enough time to be away from the mixes to mix them with fresh ears, then with further delays, he mastered them as well. Chris’ excellent work really sold this music in the best way that it could.
How did you approach the recording process?
We recorded in the big room at 301, this gave us a wonderful opportunity to use high ceilings, which is extremely important when recording acoustically. Each member had baffles between them, the guitar amp was patched into a different room. Recording electric and acoustic instruments which are naturally louder and quieter than each other is a huge recording challenge. Old jazz recordings of the early 1900s had musicians positioned in specific parts of the room to try and even out these inconsistencies, though with the development of recording technology, you can arrange yourselves to be a bit more practical with spacing. Baffling between players is challenging too, one question that might be asked is ‘why dont you set up like you perform?’. The answer to that is performances isn’t an ideal recording setup and requires microphones and amplifiers to create a sound, and takes away alot of authentic sound of the instruments. Acoustic classical music is alot different in that you do setup as you would perform because all the instruments can play well with each other at the same volume and dont require any microphone or amplifiers to be heard. Chris spent an appropriate amount of time getting the sound from each instrument, we did some test plays to make sure every thing was fine, then we got stuck into it and recorded an album. I use a different microphone setup with bowed double bass and plucked double bass because the volume, tone and sound production on the instrument is entirely different in both settings. In a pro classical recording you wouldnt need to change the mic setup as you position the microphones alot further away from the instrument, but with jazz, the bass had alot of intricate mobility in the music, so intricate recording needs to be done or alot of tone can be lost.
What programs/instruments did you use?
The line up is alto sax, tenor sax, electric guitar, acoustic piano (grand piano), double bass and drums. Its an interesting blend of instruments that sit more in a modern jazz setting than a traditional jazz setting. The combo of Alto and Tenor gives a slight difference to how the saxes work in the music and helps with working out which voice goes where (the alto will take the higher voice, the tenor will take the lower voice). Electric guitar isnt new to jazz though Felix uses a Fender telecaster with various effects, much in line with modern and fusion jazz, as opposed to a traditional large body semi-acoustic jazz guitar, the variety of tone with this guitar helps alot with changing the texture in the music, as we have guitar and piano, so the roles of the instruments is quite fluid and neither need to be constantly playing chords in the music. Recording the grand piano in 301 studios was a great investment, im pretty sure Casey enjoyed playing it and it recorded well. I use the double bass in a more multi genre style of playing than any specific traditional jazz or classical technique or tone, i use the bow to do some soloing and melodies, i use various kinds of plucking to get different effects, so its very far removed from what is to be expected on a jazz recording. Ed Rodrigues is a very unique drummer both in style of playing and his set-up, it would be best to contact Ed directly to find out more about his style of playing, he lectures at Western Sydney University, so he would no doubt be able to give a very clear answer on any queries about his playing.
Please tell us about the Sydney jazz scene:
The Sydney jazz scene is a wonderful DIY type thing with a very diverse field of performers and influences. When i arrived in Sydney in 2008 as an 18 year old there was still a late night gig scene, most predominant for me was after any gig you were doing you could go and check out something at ‘The Mac’ (now closed) or Tattlers. With the various lock out laws and state premiers who’ve been caught doing illegal activities (then conveniently taken out of the public eye), plus local councils only giving lip service to supporting live music, live music has taken a huge kick in the teeth, which has shown its full harshness with the current lock downs. Being a radio presenter, ive stayed in touch with what the next generation of performers are doing, the under 25 year olds seem to have a knack for DIY organising and dont seem to be concerned over the lack of opportunities to perform compared to 10-30 years ago. This self reliant ability in young musicians is an incredible thing to see, as it changes the playing field and can operate without awful limits inflicted on it by the state and local governments. One of the organisations of jazz performance is SIMA (Sydney Improvised Music Association), it started out as a meeting point of all the leading jazz musicians in Sydney in the 80s at the Strawberry Hills Hotel (i think), which at the time, jazz was very community based and DIY, this joining of forces helped to regulate and create bigger things like festivals and bring musicians in from other countries. It evolved into a very formal ticket based concert series type thing in the SIMA Soundlounge at the Seymour Centre for a number of years, before its evolution into what is now, which it is trying to create platforms for music relevant and accessible to Sydney. I think not having many opportunities to perform jazz in Sydney is quite awful and our state and local governments can do alot better. A volunteer run series ‘Johnston Street Jazz’ has been an essential part of Sydney’s jazz scene since it started under the name of ‘Colburne Ave’. Its been extremely important during the pandemics as its flipped itself into an online concert series immediately once everything shut down, which is extremely important for the jazz community. JSJ ability to flip its self to support and sustain music did put many major arts organisations to shame as they couldn’t do the same with millions of dollars in funding.
What do you like to do away from music?
Ive been through various cycles of interests away from music. when i was younger i liked running, up until i was about 23 i liked daily running, after this i got a bit into Eastern meditation, and recently gotten very into cooking. Music is a lifestyle as much as a job, so having an interest away from it is fleeting for the most part.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
Been getting into a bit of Ari Hoenig, Ray Chen, Tal Wilkenfeld, Christian Mcbride, Roby Lakatos, Adam Baldych. Been shedding Miles Davis, Bottesini, Bach (orchestral and solo), Doc Watson. I also try to listen to as much local music as possible.
What’s planned for the remainder of 2021 going into 2022?
Im going to attempt to keep booking gigs with the band. We are playing with Brekky Boy soon (excellent Sydney jazz trio) and looking to do some more double bills with people. Ive decided im sick of being too busy doing gigs to not have time to see other peoples gigs, so im going to book double bills with excellent bands so i can watch them while also doing a gig. Im going to be hopeful and try and book something overseas, this may or may not happen.
Favourite food and place to hangout?
Theres alot of great places for food: Dosa Hut in Harris Park, Maroubra Fish Shop, Pho PHD, Restaurant Hubert, Pony in the Rocks, The Italian Bowl in Newtown, Ms Dumpling in Eastgardens, Rosebery Martabak in Kingsford, Sydney has excellent food. Lazybones is a great venue, The Street Market in Willoughby is fast becoming another excellent music venue. Johnston Street Jazz is amazing when theres no lockdown.