A World Apart

By Adam Norris

Even if you’re only vaguely familiar with the world of jazz, you’ve probably heard of Mike Nock. One of the most accomplished and respected musicians in the country, Mike has seen it all – from his hometown in New Zealand, to the heights of acclaim in London and New York, to his current home in Sydney, Mike’s sixty-year career in jazz saw him play with the greats… And you can count his own name among them. On tour with his latest ARIA-nominated album This World, Mike contemplates a life in jazz before his return to the Mid North Coast.

“You’re not exactly sharing your thoughts [on stage],” Mike muses, “But you’re sharing your emotions. I’m an emotional musician, where some musicians are more thoughtful. It’s not that I don’t think about music – I’m thinking about music all the time! But to me, I see music as the emotional language, and what you get is not so much my thoughts but my emotions, which are driven by what’s going on around me. Trying to tell a story [through jazz], it’s like writing about architecture, seriously. It’s an emotive thing, and as many listeners as there are, they’re all going to get a different take on it. That’s one of the things I’ve noticed. I’ve done a lot of work judging certain things, where you’ll hear a piece of music, and you’ll get something from it. Then, you go back and listen to it the next day, and quite often the same piece of music in a different setting will have a totally different impact. Music’s always changing.”

This rings particularly true when it comes to improvisational music, where no two performances are ever going to be the same. This is close to the heart of jazz – some wild quality that springboards from sound to sound, corralled by master craftsfolk into unexpected forms. It also resonates with Mike’s own approach to collaboration. Across a variety of bands he assembles a crew of both seasoned and emerging musicians, always looking for fresh direction.

“I try to select musicians who have the same attitude in their playing. Just yesterday a young friend came over, he’s not even twenty, but I thought I’ll give him a shot. We play together, and he has a real fantastic spirit. The young people do have it more than the old people. There’s all kind of things they don’t have,” Mike laughs. “But that’s different. They’ve got that kernel of talent, that seed, and you need to encourage that, because that’s what it’s all about. Growing, and out of that you never know what you’re going to get.

And I learn a lot from that, in important ways. Get off your thoughts, open up, look at it through another pair of eyes, another pair of ears. And sure, I’ve got the knowledge – he’d be at least sixty years younger than I am. But when we make the music, it straddles
generations.”

Though Mike may well be the legend in the mix, even without his presence the lineup of This World is enough to make jazz-heads sit up and take notice. Julien Wilson, Hamish Stuart, Jonathan Zwartz – between them, there isn’t a jazz award they haven’t won, and the album itself has already garnered a slew of international praise. Now, it’s Bellingen’s turn to see the quartet in action. It’s been some time since Mike visited the area for the Bellingen Jazz Festival (“I loved playing there! Everything’s so beautiful”), and with the festival seemingly unlikely to return in the near future, this will prove a rare opportunity to see some of the most exceptional performers doing what they love most.

“I’m still totally surprised when I play with others, totally surprised. I’ve worked to further that. This is the thing. It is
actually infinite. Live performance is infinite. I spend a lot of time practising, but I don’t practise what I’m going to play. I practice to be at a certain state.

Your inspiration doesn’t come from [performing]. It’s from life. You do the work with the music, but the inspiration, what you’re really talking about is life, and that’s the thing that really gives us what we need. Let’s face it, life is an incredibly rich experience, it’s so rich we can’t even comprehend it… My sense of truth, I felt that it was music. Music has something of the truth to it, music itself, that’s what I want to do. I want to follow this, because it’s true. That’s all.”

WHO JONATHAN ZWARTZ TRIO
WHEN SUN 23 MAY, 7pm
WHERE 5 Church St, Bellingen
BOOK PH: 6655 0873

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