Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky

Paul Grabowsky’s is a name that needs no introduction in the world of Jazz music.

He is a celebrated and accomplished musician, having won 5 ARIA awards, including this year’s Jazz Album of the Year with his ‘The Bitter Suite’ album.He has been an International jazz pianist, a TV celebrity, Festival Director and a founding member of the Australian Art Orchestra.

After starting his studies at the Conservatorium of Music at the University of Melbourne at the tender age of 7, Grabowsky has turned his passion into a career and says that jazz is not only a part of his life, it IS his life.

“Well it’s kept me off the streets!” he laughed.

“I’m a person who is never totally happy with anything. I always feel there’s room for improvement so I go on searching for that. I’m not a great person for looking back but I guess I’ve done alot of stuff,” he conceded.

“I just love the combination of the need to be very creative and to be able to play an instrument really, really well and then all of the different influences that you can bring into he music – all of the influences of African/American music but also the influences of many other things that all go into jazz and find a home in jazz. Jazz is like a culture and it draws all these diverse elements into it and finds a way to allow them to co – exist.”

Throughout his career, Paul has managed to secure the help and assistance from many distinguished players in the scene, but perhaps none more so than two comedians in the form of Steve Vizard for whom Paul played in the house band Grabowsky and the Groovematics for – and Red Symonds who was instrumental in landing Paul his first film score.

Paul says that the union of jazz musicians and comedians isn’t as strange a collaboration as you would think.

“You’d be surprised,” he said.

“There is a long history of crossover between jazz and comedy. In fact, back in the ‘golden era’ of jazz music, the modern jazz world of the 1960’s – the beatnick, hipster kind of period – comedians like Lenny Bruce wold work in the same clubs as famous jazz musicians like Myles Davis and they would do back to back sets with each other so people would go and hear Lenny Bruce and see jazz so it was almost considered to be part of the same culture.”

As well as being a performing artist, Paul has also written music scores for more than 20 films, including ‘The Eye of the Storm’ and ‘Innocence’, and says that the challenges that lie in writing and performing your own music as opposed to writing for a film are one of the things that keep him fresh.

“Film music is very much written according to a brief,” he explained.

“The director wants a particular thing and then the composer sets about realising that thing so it’s very much a collaboration in that regard, but you find the director has the ultimate sign off whereas with jazz it’s my music but it’s far more collaborative in that individual musicians have a greater deal of input into what it actually sounds like so they are quite different but equally as rewarding. In jazz music it’s all about knowing who you’re writing for, the players and what they can do. Jazz is very much a music of individuality and individual expression. The greatest jazz composers are people who have been able to take that individuality and use it within a much more structured context and in film music the challenge is always being able to nail whatever it is that the director is looking for. You’ve still got to use your own voice, I mean it is you sounding like you – you don’t want to try and sound like somebody else – but the music tends to be far more structured because it needs to conform to a certain amount of time. It’s very, very precise. It’s about precision and writing music for certain hip points to duration. It’s a very, very different kind of head space to the freedom at the heart of jazz. I like doing both but obviously jazz gives me alot more scope because I get to play AND write the music so it satisfies alot of my different musical impulses.”

For his Cairns concert at the Tanks on March 20, Paul has assembled an almost supergroup of accomplished performers, featuring Alto and Tenor saxophones, trombone, bass and drums, and he is glowing in appraisal of what each member brings to the table.

“They are between them some of the most experienced jazz musicians in the country,” he enthused, “and people who know anything about jazz will be very familiar with these people. Jamie Olas is a Tenor Saxophone player and is one of the greatest saxophonists in this country, Andrew Robson is the other Saxophonist so Jamie plays Tenor and Andrew plays Alto and Andrew is a great composer who comes from Sydney, as does the rest of the band. Andrew has done all kinds of interesting projects, often drawing on classical musical traditions and folk music traditions. In fact he has been doing a very big research project into traditional English folk songs, and James Green is a trombonist who has played with everybody. There’s hardly a band or a serious musical endeavour which has happened over the last 30 years that James hasn’t had some kind of a hand in. He’s like the first call trombonist for most people for most situations. Simon Barker is our drummer – Doctor Simon Barker – he is also on the staff at the Sydney Conservatorium, and his main claim to fame is he has been involved in Korean drumming. He is one of the greatest jazz drummers that has ever been produced in Australia, but he also an expert in non jazz drumming traditions as well and then there is Cameron Undy, a very well known and loved bassist from Sydney who runs a jazz club called Venue 505.”

“It’s a very interesting band, it’s alot of fun. Even people who think they don’t like jazz have liked this band.”

Kris Peters.

Paul Grabowsky plays at the Tanks Arts Centre on Friday, March 20. Tickets are $40/$35 and can be bought through Ticketlink

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