James Morrison multi-instrumentalist

home >> in print >> interviews >> JAMES MORRISON INTERVIEW - THE EARLY YEARS

keyboard wizard Allan ZavodJAMES MORRISON: THE EARLY YEARS

Article by: Allan Zavod

It's no secret that James Morrison is one of Australia's most talented musicians, capable of playing a myriad of instruments. What we're not so familiar with is where it all began for him. Good friend Allan Zavod was able to sit James down for a chat to discuss his musical roots and offer some valuable advice for young musicians.

Allan: How did you get into music?

James: The brass band at school and the interest in music that came from my Dad being a Preacher. My Mum played the reed organ. My brother and I used to sit either side of her at the organ. We grew up with that, then we moved to Sydney to school and that's when I heard my first brass band. It sounded wonderful to me. It was live, so I joined the brass band.

Allan: Did you go on to have a classical background?

James: No. Straight out of the brass band I heard a local trad jazz band at the local church. The minister was involved with American gospel music. I was about eight years old so I played with the jazz and blues bands from there. That was my education, my roots. At about ten or twelve I did some classical theory at school. The way I learned classical was by listening to classical records. That was my classical training. The way you can learn jazz is by listening and asking questions.

What defines you as a jazz musician amount other things, is the approach. I wanted to hear it and I wanted to be inspired by it. Then I wanted to give my version of it. That's what a jazz musician does.

Allan: What was your first instrument?

James: I started the piano at six at home but I didn't like the grade songs, so I gave it up and took up the cornet in the brass band which then led me on to the trombone and the tuba. I went back to the piano at nine because of Errol Garner. A lot in inspiration for how I play the trombone comes from pianists and inspiration for how I play the trumpet comes from listening to the saxophone. There is a lot of cross-pollination..

Allan: Yes, It's interesting. I wondered how you became so multi-faceted instrumentally?

James: Well most kids in bands swap instruments, just mucking around. It's just that I kept doing it and it became more than just mucking around. It was never a decision. It just happened from being inspired.

Allan: James, from my experience playing with Maynard Ferguson... with regard to the trumpets, there were lead players and section players and soloists. Then there are a few players, like yourself, who can do both. Why is that? What's the difference?

James: There's a certain mind set to playing good accurate high chops. Guys who are soloists and are jamming a lot may not play very high, very often. Hence they don't develop very good high chops. So you don't write the solos for the lead trumpeter. The best soloist is probably going to be playing second because he hasn't got the chops to be playing first and the guy who's spending all his time working on those accurate chops is probably not jamming: It's a different way of thinking.

The big band solo would all be on 'Trumpet two'. Trumpet two won't go above a certain range. You rarely see a solo written on a trumpet one part.

Allan: Let's get back to what you said earlier about practicing something and doing it a lot, meaning that the experience of doing it is a whole different experience from practicing?

James: Yes, it's kind of funny when you are asked by young people about how much you practice. You want to tell them to do a lot of practice but to answer honestly, I never have practiced as opposed to 'doing' it a lot. So I tell them you've got to play a lot every day, then you don't have to practice. The thing about practice is that it's an attitude to your instrument. There are guys who do practice a lot who are wonderful players. I'm not sure how they do that because as soon as I pick up a piece of brass, it's time to really play and make music. It's like a trigger

Allan: But James, do you warm up?

James: I don't warm up. I think from being a multi-instrumentalist it leads you into being the sort of player that inadvertently doesn't warm up because you can't warm them all up. You get used to picking up a physically cold instrument and also mentally cold. It actually becomes the way you play.

Allan: What would you say has been your most memorable performance" By what you said, it sounds like every one.

James: Yes. Rather than one, there are those great moments. Like as a kid I heard Dizzy Gillespie. Then many years later in Montreaux I'm standing there with Dizzy, Rufus Red, Mikey Roper and they're playing and I'm trading 4's with Dizzy. Then I suddenly realise, I'm playing a standard (we were doing Tunisia) and he's actually playing an original. Then you look back to when you were eight and he was just an idea. Well, that's a very special night.

Allan: James, What ingredients would you say go to make a good show?

James: Well, there's a lot that leads to it but what defines a good show in the end is much simpler. Having the right musicians around you, with the right attitude, with everyone wanting to do the same thing. You can get great players but if one guy's there whose mission that night is to achieve something totally different from what yours is, then you don't end up with great music. You've got to have oneness of purpose in the band.

But in the end what defines it as being a good show or not is whether that joy, that feeling, that the music came alive was felt by the people listening. If the connection was made - it was a good show.

Allan: How important would you say management is to a musician?

James: Australian musicians don't place enough emphasis on it as opposed to America.

Allan: In your early days you had a full on manager?

James: Yes, I think management is important. One thing that is not understood here very well is the difference between an agent and a manager. They are chalk and cheese. An agent books gigs. An agent doesn't make musical decisions, doesn't talk about what you'll wear. He's not interested in your career. The manager sits down and says I see you playing more this way, in these venues. I think you should lose the tie, etc, etc. A manager works along side you. I've come to the stage now where I feel I know enough to not want management anymore. I have my brother, who is in the Australian band and in the European group too, so I toss around ideas with him a lot. We make the managerial decisions. In the financial way, I make them with my wife. What I have is a representative in my Sydney office. He's an agent or a manager. I say this is what we want to do, you go and make it happen.

Allan: What advice do you have for young up and coming performers?

James: It's to be always true to yourself. To find that joy which gives you that adrenaline rush. It's amazing how we get tied down with practicing that mode or trying to get that gig and all of a sudden times past and you still haven't honed in on 'that Thing'. You should be spending all your time developing that which makes you smile. Find that and pursue it and all the other stuff will follow. If you put energy into what you like, everyone wants to be around you, and be part of whatever it is that makes your heart sing.