Q&A with the The Jac

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Described as being “on par with any global contemporary jazz bands (The Jac) is an exquisite slice of NZ jazz and one that deserves to be heard”.

Each year CMNZ supports tours by New Zealand musicians as part of our Encompass Series. In May, jazz octet, The Jac, will tour to seven centres spanning the length of the country in concerts presented by local music societies, music schools and the Southland Festival of the Arts.


Your group draws on quite an impressive range of musicians. What brought you together, from various corners of the wellington music scene?

Callum, Shaun and I were all in the same year at the jazz program at NZSM. We'd come from pretty different musical backgrounds, but ended up playing together a lot because we were listening to - and attempting to play - a lot of the same music. When we got onto this large ensemble stuff, we didn't know how to play it at all, so we asked our tutors to play it with us. Lex and Nick are still on board from that time. Dan Millward joined a bit later but was on very much the same buzz, and Chris and Matt came a bit later again, Chris through my playing with him in Rodger Fox big band and Matt through his acquaintance with Lex.


“The Jac” has a pretty nice ring to it – what’s the story behind the name?

We originally called ourselves the Wellington Jazz Collective. At the time I didn't know this was the name of Jeff Henderson's cooperative that ran the old Wellington jazz festival. When Rattle signed us we needed something more inclusive, and snappier. The Jac is a kind of shorthand we were already using (from the unspeakable "WeJacOv.") I don't think it's very good, but it's what we had at the time!


The compositions that your band perform have been described as cinematic. What does this mean? How do you create such a sweep of sound?

I guess we were trying to get away from song-based form - the jazz standard thing of head-solos-head, around and around the same set of chord changes. We were listening to more through-composed music, and it appealed to us - it also meant we could have lots of different sections in tunes to give to different improvisors. We really try to use the strengths of each member in the group in that way, Ellington styles. Anyway, we wound up with pretty long, epic, story-like songs from that, and it became a kind of signature sound.


The music that you play will be unfamiliar to those not fortunate enough to have picked up your latest Album “the green hour”. Do you see your music as having particular influences or emerging from particular traditions?

Absolutely! The music of Duke Ellington is an indirect but important influence - he more or less started the tradition of the classical influence in large ensemble music in jazz and that kind of through-composed thing. Listen to Black, Brown and Beige, or Such Sweet Thunder and you'll hear what I mean. Gil Evans too, in Sketches of Spain for example. More directly, Maria Schneider (Evan's protege) Darcy James Argue, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Guillermo Klein are all people whose music has worked it's way into ours. Sometimes you'll catch a little Mozart, or some modern rock type thing like Radiohead. I don't think these are direct influences, it's just that the jazz canon has such a broad scope nowadays.


What is next for your group?

We have an incredible project coming up straight off the back of this one - we're collaborating with a Korean group called Black String as part of the Wellington Jazz Festival. So hopefully that will take us to Korea as well, as part of a festival there called Jarasum, and maybe elsewhere in Asia - watch this space!


Find out more about The Jac's tour starting  5 May here.