Recently I exchanged some emails with Australian now New York based pianist/composer Sean Wayland and I decided I wanted to post some of his replies. I highly recommend checking out his website and taking advantage of his writings and music on offer.
On a few counts you have mentioned the importance and high quality of Australian composers – who are some of the composers that have influenced you and what aspects in particular draw you to their music?
I grew up in Sydney . As a child I was taught European Classical music ( violin , piano ) . I listened to a lot of pop music on the radio . I was lucky to have been around in the “Countdown” era where there was a lot of exposure for Australian pop music . Australian pop/Rock Bands I enjoyed ( and still do ! ) included Midnight Oil , Matt Finish , The Divynils , ACDC , Olivia Newtown-John , The Sunnyboys etc . Later on I got into my father’s jazz LP collection . As well as a few Australian jazz LPs he was the accountant for a great video of a jazz festival in Sydney called ” Southern Crossing ” . It featured some touring Americans and a lot of Australian jazz music . Through that video I heard of Judy Bailey ( who played at my 21st birthday party ) , Roger Frampton and many others . I studied Electrical Engineering at UNSW but was drawn to jazz music . I had some lessons with Roger Frampton and eventually ended up at the Con . The teachers at the con where really great and encouraged me to pursue my own creativity . At the same time we where forced to memorise a bunch of American “Jazz Standards ” . I think that is a great thing , but it would have been nice in retrospect that we had learnt a few Aussie jazz classics too . I think it’s also a shame that I didn’t get a better education in Australian “classical” composition history, and Australian musical history in general . We had a jazz history class where we listened to Duke Ellington , Clark Terry etc . That seemed pretty useless to me as I was well aware of all that music as I was already heavily into it . As an expat , it’s pretty striking to me that I don’t know any Aboriginal songs and can’t speak a lick of any of the hundreds of aboriginal languages that exist(ed) . Well I can say “Bondi” .
I recently watched an old VHS of “Beyond El Rocco ” which is a charming document of Australian modern jazz history . I also recently read ” Jazz : The Australian accent ” . Generalising … there is an attitude in Australian jazz musicians of comparing themselves to Americans . There are “rebellious” types who have “discarded the American model ” , but the point is that most of the musicians see the “American” STYLE as a point of reference , whether you accept it or discard it . I have seen this attitude in my world travels as a jazz musician . In most cities of the world their are jazz musicians who seem themselves being either for or against the “american ” way of playing jazz music.
In a time when gigs where more plentiful , there was no “con” and Australians where more isolated , jazz musos struggled to emulate their heroes and in the process came up with something really beautiful and passionate .
Historically , in jazz music , style and performance I think to some degree have been more important than composition . To most jazz musicians the “tune” is something that can quickly be largely discarded to make room for improvising .
Since moving to New York , and having spent almost ten years here , one aspect of Australian jazz that is a still a stand out to me is the compositions . There are more “great players ” here than you can poke a stick at , but the Aussie jazz songbook is huge considering the small population . Generally Australian jazz tunes have a sence of lyricism , simplicity , honesty and beauty that is missing here these days .
I really think it is something as Australian musicians we should be very proud of … The Australian/New Zealand jazz “canon” is pretty remarkable to me when you think of it … Think of all the great music written in the last 30-40 in OZ by people like , Judy Bailey , Roger Frampton , Dale Barlow , Mike Nock , Bernie Mcgann , Paul Grabowsky , James Muller , Steve Hunter , Carl Orr , Matt Mcmahon , Cameron Undy etc ….. Its a long list and if you compare it to jazz tunes written outside of Australia since 1970 its pretty darn hot ! The lovely thing about those tunes is they can be appreciated without comparing them in a virtuosic or stylistic sense to any other music from overseas .
I recently filled in at a Ten Part Invention rehearsal where we played many Roger Frampton compositions. I was amazed by his writing – its uniqueness, but also how much respect he gets from musicians. I unfortunately never got the opportunity to learn from him but understand you did. What were some of the teachings of Roger Frampton?
It’s difficult for me to talk of Roger as I was very young when I was studying with him ( I was 20-23 years old which is 20 years ago ) . Roger was a complex character and obviously very intelligent . He was an eccentric person no doubt . I think being british and a jazz musician and being into avant-garde music in Australia at that time would make anyone eccentric . When I first saw him play he was wearing a bright purple suit . He could play jazz piano as well as anyone in Sydney at that point , but he also had a penchant for experimental music . When performing a more traditional role as a pianist/sideman he would still have a “rubber duckie” on the piano which he used to play ” solos ” on . He was pretty strict and didn’t have a lot of tolerance for laziness . He would often point out to me quite bluntly what was wrong with my playing . He also had a great sense of humour . He was the first guy to tell me that if the piano was out of tune that if you got drunk it would help . He also said that if you wanted to perform under the influence of drugs or alcohol that you had to rehearse that way . I remember having a beer at a rehearsal once with my trio at lunch and realised how difficult even one drink could make playing music . His response to the music business was “practise ten hours a day mate as you will be surprised that at age 45 you still have to hussle for gigs ” .
He had a very broad minded , yet calculated approach to music . There was a zen philosophy ( trying not to think on the bandstand ) combined with a very analytic approach to study . While his performances could involve turning a vacuum cleaner into a wind instrument , study with him involved deep analysis of classic jazz recordings . We dissected “empyrian isles” , “freddie freeloader” and herbie’s solo on “all of you ” from ” Miles in Europe at great length . He expected me to write those solos down . He also would ask me to construct ” solos ” in advance to tunes and write them out .
One fond memory I have of Roger is a dispute that he was having with the neighbours about the noise from his music making ( something which I have been re-enacting over here ) . I am not sure how much of this is true but I think the neighbours got so angry that they started mowing the lawn at 4am . Roger then stole the lawnmower ! The neighbours broke into Roger’s place , found the lawnmower and called the police . They all ended up in court and I think the judge had a good laugh and told them to leave .
I wish I could find a solo piano LP that Roger played me then that he had made . It had a version of “Girl from Ipanema” with the whole tune reduced into 2 bars of atonal music . If any readers can get me copies of his music to listen too I would be greatly appreciative . I have very fond memories of listening to Roger play the piano during lessons . I think it was the first time that I was “blown away” by a jazz musician playing for me live …