Music has always been around me; in fact it started long before I was born. My Great Grandfather played in a military brass band on flute and fife, and my Grandmother, Bertha, studied piano and went on to be a church organist in Sydney, Australia. My Mum continued the family tradition playing piano and organ, and singing in the church choir. My Father had the most magnificent voice and I remember standing beside him, listening in awe, as his chest filled and out rolled that deep wonderful bass voice of his, heady stuff for a 6 year old!
But to be honest music did more for me than just stir my emotions, it also got me away from the difficulties I faced at school. Red heads with lily white skin are an easy mark for bullies, so it was as much of a need for a safe haven as some gene driven impulse that led me to Mrs Barwick’s school choir. Once inside however, I quickly became hooked. I learnt that music can be awesome fun and very moving. We worked towards our first performance, a combined school choir, performing in no less than the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House. What a start!
After this, high school beckoned, and survival, not singing, quickly filled my mind. With some strange reasoning by my father, I was lifted out of our local high school and placed in what should have been heaven.
Instead it turned out to be death by a thousand stinging crochets.
I was sent to St Andrew’s Cathedral School in Sydney, the school that supplies boy choristers to Australia’s foremost Anglican Cathedral, St Andrew’s Cathedral. Imagine, if you can, a wide-eyed boy of eleven with little or no real experience, apart from singing in a couple of large choirs, being suddenly confronted with the full horror that is music theory, duple time, semi-demi quavers, melodic vs harmonic minors, fortissimo etc, etc. it was enough to almost drive a young man away from music forever. Instead of Con amore it was Con dolore. I gave up on music.
End of dream?
But wait I hear you cry, doesn’t hope spring eternal?
Yes, yes it does or you wouldn’t be reading this.
Fortunately, music didn’t give up on me. In 1991 Melinda Howard’s Singing School, in Sydney, came into my life. Melinda, who went on to found “AusVoice” and “The Singing Studio”, had an aptitude for helping people find themselves through music and gave me the kick start I needed. I was soon auditioning for everything I could and I didn’t care what, as long as I was singing. Even a non-speaking part with the Australian Opera was fair game. All the while I was rehearsing with a rock band, singing in the chorus of The Mosman Gilbert and Sullivan Society, as well as a 60 man Barbershop Chorus, Then, a life changing opportunity arose. The rock band I’d been rehearsing with announced, our first gig would be a ‘Street and Strip’ show organized by the local bikies. I realised then that rock and I would soon part ways.
At this stage, 1992, a friend told me about Freddie and Bev Wilson who ran a workshop that taught “Jazz” singing using live bands. This interested me so I went. I remember the first lesson.
Freddie had told me to learn a jazz standard before I came so I learnt, Tie a Yellow Ribbon. Well, I reasoned, it’s not rock, it’s not classical, so it must be jazz. He laughed and told me that was a pop tune. First major lesson. The following week, I learnt, The Green Door. He laughed again and told me to learn, Fly me to the Moon. Learning this tune from recordings of Frank Sinatra is where the seed was sown.
I started knocking on the doors of venues and agents etc. (really anyone who would talk to me) and my first break came when I was offered a gig playing for a Bastille Day celebration held at the headquarters of Credit Lyonnais in Sydney. I quickly had to learn La Marseillaise, of course, and with only about 30 songs in my book I knew I would be singing every song I knew. To tell the truth, I was a “little” nervous. Afterwards, when I told my friend, who had booked me, this was my first professional gig with a jazz band she would not believe me, “but you sounded so professional” she said, I laughed, and thanked her profusely. From this one gig I learnt a valuable lesson that I still subscribe to today, always work with the best musicians available.
From that day on I would collect my fair share of successes and failures, continually refining my craft and performing gigs here and there whilst holding down various day jobs. In 1998, I began a relationship that would help to define who I am as a musician, I began playing flute. At the time, I didn’t know how profoundly this instrument would affect my understanding of music. If I had known how much hard work would have to go into it, I probably would never have started. Now however, the work I have put in is rewarding me in ways I could never have imagined. Thank God for naivety.
In 2007, I took over the hosting of Freddie’s Jazz Jam at the Bald Faced Stag Hotel in Leichhardt, Sydney turning it into the much loved (by me anyway) Pete Kelly’s Jazz Jam Deluxe. This jam, ostensibly an opportunity for Fred’s students to gain some experience in front of an audience, soon became a mini Mecca for other musicians with nowhere else to play. After 2 years, we moved to Wheels and Cupcake in Alexandria, and this is when we really took off. Over the next 3 years, we would attract some of Sydney’s best young players as well as some of the more established jazz players. All the while, I was refining my own musical tastes and learning valuable lessons in stagecraft.
I also made my first trip to Hong Kong in 2007 and was immediately attracted to the vibrant, unrelenting pulse of one of the most exciting cities in the world. A seed was sewn.
In 2008, a return trip to Hong Kong was made and after sitting-in, at a private function, dreams started to become plans!
In 2011, I packed up everything I owned and moved to Hong Kong. This started the steepest learning curve I have ever experienced. The quality of musicians who live and work here is phenomenal and I knew I could learn a lot from them. In July 2011, I had my professional debut, in Asia, at a tiny little bar in Soho called, quite strangely, Joyce is not here. One year later, I was glad to report that my monthly residency has been extended to “forever” or for as long as I want. Unfortunately my second anniversary coincided with the demise of this little haven of creativity due to a 60% rise in the rent. Other residencies have come and gone, Visage One continues to book me every couple of months or so and I held a residency at The Flying Winemaker in Central for 8 months. In 2011 I was invited to play the New Years Eve gig at Grissini in the Grand Hyatt with my trio. In 2012 I was invited to return to play at Grissini for New Years Eve. Taking care of each gig, is another of the valuable lessons I have learnt along the way. In 2013 I put together an 8 piece band, The Lucky 8. I always look forward to playing with this band as it offers a really unique sound that encompasses the big band front line harmony parts with the intimacy of a smaller group.
Also in 2013 the Cafe Deco Group started looking for suitable musicians to fill a jazz night they wanted to present on Wednesdays at their newly refurbished restaurant on the Peak. After a few trial runs I was very fortunate to secure the residency there and have been honoured to be able to present some of Hong Kong’s finest piano players. Jim Schneider, Yoyoung Aquino, Joao Mascarenhas and Bob Mocarsky have all graced the stage with their presence. In February 2016 we celebrated our 2nd anniversary of presenting Cafe Deco Jazz Club with the news that Cafe Deco had found new premises and would be moving in June and not taking us with them. Oh well, the life of a musician is one of ups and downs and really, 2 and a half years of stable employment was a pretty good run in a musician's books.
So fast forward to August and I find myself having discussions with the Michellin star chef Philippe Orrico’s Nomad Dining group to supply music for a jazz night they wanted and all of a sudden there I was working regularly again, this time in a trio.
2016 and 2017 passed by with a variety of performances at Hong Kong's most notable jazz venues and private function/corporate event gigs. All the while I continued to practice my craft and develop myself as an artist and performer.
When 2018 rolled around things got busy...
From my gig at On Dining I had been approached to run a jazz night at a small venue called STUDIO. This led to my company, What is music? booking that room 5 nights week for most of 2018 until a management change saw me out and STUDIO booking their own musicians. That lasted 6 weeks before we were invited back but by then it was too late. The public's trust had been broken with poor quality music. Lesson learnt; book great musicians if you want great music. I also started to get really serious about my tenor saxophone. Aiyah, another instrument to nuture!
In 2019 I found myself regularly performing at another venue in Central, But more on that later.