Each year since 2005, in the month leading up to the jazz festival in Wangaratta, Miriam Zolin interviews the finalists in the National Jazz Awards. The awards are decided at Wangaratta in a series of heats culminating in a finals performance on the Sunday of the festival. Wangaratta Jazz Festival in 2012 runs from Friday 2 to Monday 5 November.
This year’s ten finalists are: Cyrille Aimée, France (currently based in New York) | Kristin Berardi, Sydney | Briana Cowlishaw, Sydney | Luara Karlson-Carp, Brisbane | Kate Kelsey-Sugg, Melbourne | Joshua Kyle, Melbourne | Chantal Mitvalsky, Melbourne | Judith Perl, Melbourne | Liz Tobias, Adelaide (currently based in Boston) | Katie Wighton, Sydney
I grew up in Django Reinhardt’s town which is a small village in the outskirts of Paris called Samois. Every year a festival in his name is held there and gypsies from all across Europe come in their caravans to honor him during the summer, including his direct family. I started hanging out with the gypsies when I was about thirteen and became obsessed with their way of living and their culture and was adopted by them. One gypsy taught me the guitar and in exchange I taught him how to read, then one day he asked me to learn a song on an old Django record called Sweet Sue. I sang it around the camp fire in front of the whole family with all the guitars, and that was my ‘moment’. The gypsies called me ‘Sweet Sue’ after that!
Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
Well, of course Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli were my first inspirations. I started learning all their solos by heart after I got the ‘swing fever’! Then, when someone gave me a 4CD box set of Ella Fitzgerald, I was done for and learned every note on all four discs! Another great influence of mine is Bobby McFerrin. I guess what I love about all these artists, and what I think they have in common, is the joy they transmit through their music, so naturally. As if for them making music is as natural as hanging out on the porch on a rocking chair, just telling a story, not trying too hard.
When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?
I usually get my inspiration from real events in my life or someone close to me.
What’s your favourite place to play or practise?
Wherever I am at that moment!
What are you most looking forward to at Wangaratta?
I can’t wait to discover Australia as I’ve never been there! I know a lot of Aussies here in NY and they are such great people! I am really looking forward to be immersed in the culture and meet new friends!
What are you listening to now?
As I am typing I am listening to Sarah Vaughan ‘Just Friends’! But in general I listen to a lot of everything! Of the new stuff I am particularly in love with Tigran’s record, Ambrose, Caravan Palace, James Blake, Little Dragon, Leila Martial… A list of very different kinds of music! From Salsa to Gypsy Jazz to modern, electro jazz, to hip hop and pop! Don’t get me started… !
The National Jazz Awards
The National Jazz Awards have been presented at the festival since it began in 1990 and were designed to contribute to the development and recognition of young jazz and blues musicians up to the age 35. The Awards have become a much anticipated highlight of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues.