By Arne Sjostedt
With the excitement and drive of the New York jazz scene snapping at his heels, jazz pianist and ANU School of Music Graduate Marc Hannaford is where he wants to be. Which is a lucky thing for Canberra audiences, as he takes his trio on its first Australian tour.
Playing the Street Theatre as a part of its Jazz in the Capital program, being in New York has been a process of focussing on making the kind of music that he is most passionate about, with the people he knows in New York.
Though as inspiring as the Big Apple is, the 2013 Freedman Jazz Fellow says the cultural mecca can have its drawbacks.
“The New York scene is very different from the Australian scene,” he says. “It has its pros and cons. For me one of the biggest pros is that there is so much going on, all the time. There is a level of activity which when you are amongst it, its really inspiring. Because there are so many people who are just working on their vision with the utmost kind of commitment and dedication it’s not difficult to walk around and see some music and then think to yourself, ‘You know what, I should be working that hard on music too’. So that’s a really great thing about it."
"That’s not to say there aren’t inspiring people in Australia, but it’s just a level of intensity in New York. That also can be a problem if you want to try and relax for a second. New York is not the kind of city that lets you relax, because it doesn’t stop.”
Despite the city’s pull, teaching at Columbia University means Hannaford is in the enviable position of not having to perform to earn his living. “I like to play music that I like without the pressure of having to necessarily having to pay rent from it,” he says.
Known for his innovative improvisation and composition, like many of our musical exports, he is also glad when he can return home. “There is something about playing in a place that feels like home. And Australia just generally feels like home in may ways,” he says.
And given he spent some of his most formative musical years studying at the ANU School of Music between 2001 and 2003, Canberra holds its own social place for him. “Obviously I have a particular connection to Canberra,” he says. “It was a pretty transformative kind of time for me. And playing here feels like reconnecting with the very foundation of what I am now.”
Listing Australians like mentor, trumpeter Mike Bukovski and pianists Andrea Keller and Tim Stevens as some of the musicians he has been thinking about while back in the country, Hannaford got a little whimsical when discussing Erroll Garner, an older influence known for the landmark 1955 Columbia release Concert by the Sea.
“I had a real Erroll Garner phase in my under graduate because he has this amazing ability to have a kind of steady left hand, and this rhythmic flexibility in his right hand. And I remember being really attracted to that idea of a level of independence between the two hands. One rock solid and the other floating around in this beautiful swinging but flexible way,” he says.
“I think that’s the thing about influences. To my mind influences can be audible, in somebody’s playing. But they can also be conceptual or inaudible. I don’t think anybody would say that I play in a way that sounds like Erroll Garner. But conceptually he had this whole approach to rhythm, and also orchestration, the way he plays across the piano, that I strongly identify with.”
Together with Simon Jermyn on electric bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums, it is the trio’s approach to rhythm that Hannaford is concentrating the most on these days.
“One of the distinctive features about my music is that it has a very strong focus on rhythm. I like to think of it like this: it’s like groovy dance music, but it always feels like the music is speeding up and slowing down a little bit. And that is by design."
"At a basically human level I think a common way of feeling music is through movement. That could literally mean dancing, or it could just mean swaying or tapping your foot or nodding your head. Or just having music that can make us feel like want to move.”
Encouraging audiences to not be intimidated by the perceived complexity of jazz, while it is not anticipated people will be rising from their seats during one of his shows, Hannaford puts a lot of attention into making sure his music lets you dance on the inside.
The Marc Hannaford Trio plays The Street Theatre on Sunday 11 August, 4pm. Booking and further information at thestreet.org.au