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Love, Blues and Other Fiction - An interview with Joe Chindamo

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Sydney-based Jasmine Crittenden catches up withJoe Chindamo to talk about Umbria Jazz Melbourne '05 and other projects, including his latest release, Love, Blues and Other Fiction, featuring Australian jazz icon, Graeme Lyall.

Jasmine: Let’s start with talking about what you're doing at the Festival…a duo with James Morrison.

Joe: Well, the first time I did a duet with James Morrison was last year, when Adrian Jackson, the former festival director, had an inspired thought to put James and I together. He reckons he was listening to a record of Dizzie Gillespie and Oscar Peterson and thought, ‘You know, this’d be a good thing to do.’

James and I had never played together before, well not in that context. Years ago, I used to play in television orchestras and he would come in and play a spot, but that’s not really playing together. So we played and had a great time – we really, really worked. Then we went to Perth and were booked separately to do something with the Western Australian Youth Jazz Orchestra, which Graeme Lyall conducts. He did a few numbers with them, I did a few numbers with them, and then we did a few things together. Then, because we had just played the concert in Melbourne and got on so well musically, he suggested doing a few more things and it just kept getting better and better every time we played. We had to drive to different destinations to do some concerts and we ended up talking and getting on pretty well.

From there, he invited me to The Basement, where I played with him in July last year. So we’ve been talking about recording together and touring and, this performance, it’s a good thing because it’s not just something that’s been put together for the festival. It’s not a finite thing in itself. It’s certainly a collaboration that’s growing and, really, I don’t know where it’ll end. We’re going to do probably a whole record of duets, maybe bring in a rhythm section for some things, with an eye to using it to help us tour Europe. I’m very excited about that. I love playing with James because of that positive energy that he has really rubs off. It’s very hard to keep positive in a country which is so hostile to its artists…When you get with him you just forget about all that, you just play and you play your best and you know that, whatever you do, and the better you play, the more it’s going to be appreciated.

Jaz: So what kind of stuff are you doing for this concert?

Joe: Well I don’t know yet. Last year, James got off the plane three hours before the gig. We shook hands, handed each other a few scraps of manuscript paper and talked about which standards we might like to do and went on stage. We actually played a couple of different things as well. I suspect the same thing will happen this year because James is arriving at the airport a few hours before we hit the stage. In actual fact, we have to talk about this. He was in Prague last year, I was in Melbourne – we just talked about a few things over the phone. I don’t know - its got to the point where it doesn’t really matter what we’ll play because it’s going to be us anyway. This whole thing about whether it’s a standard or an original to me is a ridiculous notion anyway. We’ve come to know and love Miles Davis’s music by way of his work on standards because basically that’s what he played mostly during his formative years, or the years that brought him fame. So to suggest that his work wasn’t original when he played Stella By Starlight is ridiculous. That goes for the majority of the jazz greats. Somehow, their originality was reflected through the music of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway composers. Somehow those tunes acted as a conduit for their creativity. So it doesn’t really matter what we're going to do. Maybe I’ll bring an original – last year I took The Entertainer, the Scott Joplin piece, and married it with Arnold Schoenberg and did it really slowly. James loved it and we had a ball with it.

Jasmine: So it’ll be whatever you decide on the day.

Joe: Yeah, or maybe on the phone today or tomorrow.

Jasmine: It seems that jazz musicians are often unsure of what they’re going to play beforehand.

Joe: That’s part of it. Like I have to walk on stage in front of two thousand people sometimes – I mean I did this in Italy at the Winter version of Umbria Jazz - as I’m walking up to the stage, I still haven’t decided what I’m playing. I think I just get nervous if I know too much. I think we improvising musicians are the opposite of classical musicians…Having played with lots of classical musicians and talking with them, they get nervous about not knowing what’s coming next. They tend to rehearse and every nuance is rehearsed. That doesn’t mean there’s no spontaneity in that way, dynamically or melodically, but the creativity lies in a different area. But talking to jazz musicians, we tend to get nervous if we do know what’s on the next page. I think it’s like a speechmaker who’s an expert in learning someone else’s words and his creativity lies in how he delivers those words, as an actor would. Then you’ve got another one who knows what he wants to say and may have a couple of stock phrases here or there, but is brilliant at stringing it together and does it so eloquently as to give the impression that it was actually pre-meditated. So it’s just a different thing and I think I’ve got used to the idea of ‘Well, I really don’t know what’s coming next,’ but that’s what excites me and that’s what actually gives me the creative impetus.

Jasmine: I think it’s a lifestyle thing. The culture surrounding jazz is like that too.

Joe: Yeah, well you should see my music room. There’s music littered all over the floor and I give the impression of being an extremely disorganised person but my mind’s fairly organised when it needs to be (laughs). You know, my messes are quite unorthodox. I’m not the tidiest of men…You’ve got to have a bit of looseness about you. If you look at Erroll Garner or Count Basie or Louis Armstrong, you can see a naughty boy back there, not some college trained professorial sounding guy who drinks herbal tea, you know. (laughs)

Jasmine: Well, back to the Festival. You’re doing a solo gig, too, as part of the Edge Series.

Joe: Well, Umbria Jazz has taken the Italian model and supplanted it in Melbourne. There they have about four or five pianists doing solo gigs, and that’s just part of the Festival.

I’ve been playing solo quite a bit lately. I’ve been getting right into all the old pianists like Art Tatum and Erroll Garner but putting on them a modern slant…It really suits the solo performance and maybe there’ll be a solo album in a couple of years, when I feel ready to make another album.

Jasmine: What’s led you back to those pianists?

Joe: Well, I’m a great fan of effortless mastery. Whether I’m looking at Mohammad Ali, or Fred Astaire, or Arthur Rubenstein, or Ian Thorpe, or attending Cirque du Soleil, or listening to Art Tatum. I’m just fascinated by people who do physical things and make them look easy and completely put off by people who do easy things and make them look difficult – like most rock musicians (laughs).

I think it’s also a natural thing that musicians and artists and writers have always done – sometimes they don’t look towards their own generation for inspiration, or the generation before them, but very often the generation before that. So in other words, you look to the generation that represents the grandfather of your art form. Stravinsky did that with Palestrina and created neo-classicism…I think I’ve assimilated the playing of Tatum and Garner but presented it in a modern context. Obviously, harmonically, I’m exposed to more contemporary ideas.

Jasmine: And then you’ve just recorded an album – Love, Blues and Other Fiction - with Graeme Lyall and you’ll be playing with him at the Festival too.

Joe: If there’s one musician in Australia who influenced me when I was growing up, it was Graeme. When I was a kid, he was the musical director of a lot of television shows. That’s where I got a lot of my musical education. Those guys were really good musicians, and once a week, or every couple of weeks, Graeme would give a solo. Graeme is one of the greatest musicians Australia’s ever produced. He’s actually my favourite living alto player. People get disturbed when I say that about another Australian…He’s been under recorded, which is why I thought I’d try to change that situation and record an album with him. So we’ll be launching it at the Festival.

Joe Chindamo plays several gigs at Umbria Jazz – Melbourne 05. For more information, visit www.ujm05.0rg

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