Having just settled back in Perth after our 9-months’ stint in Qingdao, China, I scrambled through the articles to catch some wind of some jazz news. Each time i do this, i find my other pair of fingers crossed. The last i checked, more jazz venues closed down. More live music venues closed down. Coming back to Perth, I was glad to see Perth Jazz Society keeping it on. And a few new venues have popped up, perhaps replacing others that have faded away. But there is a love for this music that has not trickled away, washed away by more popular, less cerebral, perhaps more easily-digestible sounds. Perhaps, the existence of watchmen: Musos who saw themselves quietly perhaps as watchmen of their music and community such as Clare Fischer, Rosa Passos, or friend, colleague and educator Aya Sekine who would volunteer time, effort, money with deliberation to grow a scene and keep it alive. It takes more than one, and hopefully the seeds sown well will be adopted by greater gardeners in time to come. Wanting to share, to write, to create to put themselves out their to learn.

But as I scanned the jazz articles from Jazz Australia, I came across several encouraging articles to reveal how the jazz scene in Perth is pushing on. Notable efforts from Perth Jazz Society and PIJF panel. On the website, I also tripped on an interview with poet, lyricist and jazz vocalist Kurt Elling by Joanne Kee on Jazz Australia.

Passion World - Kurt Elling's Latest Album

Passion World – Kurt Elling’s Latest Album


The first thing that struck me as interesting and would be very encouraging to any late bloomer is that he only released his first album at age 27.

“Unlike pop musicians I don’t have the luxury of spending weeks and weeks in the studio. I’ve got to go in with my guys and get the job done in short order, probably just a couple of days.” – Kurt Elling

This is one of the things I’d learnt very quickly when I first started out with singing jazz. ’til then, I’d been a signed recording artiste in a booth and though i was very skilled in carving out tone, pitch and textural details with my voice by the decade into my job, this was a whole new ballgame altogether. The beauty and the thrill of it all for a (jazz) singer are what the audiences see and hear for the first time perhaps, but the hard work we revisit day after day is what we often forget to mention.

I also liked what he shared about songwriting and the process of finding material for an album. In a way, i find myself being led. I don’t think I ever went ahead with an album or a song without first sitting down to pray on it. Letting it lead me, and then letting God guide me to a fierce sort of peace that refuses to let me or the project go. That was how “The Perfect Journey” and later my live jazz album “White Noise Live” came about. It was also how my mandarin lyrics to ‘JoySpring’, ‘So Danco Samba’, ‘One Note Samba’ and ‘O Barquinho’ came about. Most times if you tug at it even when it feels wrong, you’d find yourself starting over in no time. Then when I’m finally are happy with the song and want to record with a hot band, I pause again. Who’s my band? I like to work with people who are hungry, curious, bold, audacious but also responsible for themselves. I don’t mind being told off, as long as it contributes to the art/music. I also like working with friends, or potential friends. You just know. Music is a conversation and in jazz it’s a conversation unveiled and free of courtesies, and filled with boldness to tickle, to laugh, to frown, to celebrate what nobody else you know cares about all in a moment. It’s nice to get dissed in a jazz solo, it’s like a dance battle you see on ‘Step Up’. Getting serious to be not serious at times too! So for me, it’s so intimate, i wouldn’t move ahead without prayer and leading.

“So the material again, the material again has to interest me. A lot of the times it’s stuff that I have been working on, writing or collaborating with others on writing and there has to be a through way that makes sense to me where the whole project can stand up. It’s not just about kind of random singles thrown together, there has to be the opportunity to play with the people I want to make music with so those things have to come together at the same time.” – Kurt Elling

Finally, his advice is something i would give to any fellow singer-songwriter or student too:

Joanna Kee (journalist): It is so easy to release music these days, what advice would you give to younger musicians about recording?

Kurt Elling: Make sure as much as possible that you’re putting out the best quality music, that you’re putting out the best possible thing that you can create, that you’re working with people that are smarter than you are, who you can learn from and that you are writing as much new material as you can.

If you were a follower of this blog, you might have picked up how I enjoy being humbled and would position myself to being the weakest in the band. It’s the most precious thing you could pray for if you were serious about growth. As you move along with this mentality, you realise the curves change, and it’s harder to find giants to humble you, but you keep going that way, searching to be nearer to Greatness, but never shouting about it.

Kurt is unfortunately not coming to Perth this tour, but if you are in Sydney or Melbourne, be sure to catch him and his ‘hot band’. Kurt Elling, is accompanied by Gary Versace (Piano/Organ), Clark Sommers (Bass), Ulysses Owens (Drums) and John McLean (Guitar).

3rd June City Recital Hall, Sydney
31st May to 2nd June Birds Basement, Melbourne

Kurt Elling’s Official Website

Perth International Jazz Festival runs from 3-5 June 2016.