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Celebrating International Jazz Day

Tuesday, 30 April 2024
5 min read
Thomas Voss 1

Celebrate International Jazz Day at Adelaide’s Heart of the Arts with the Thomas Voss Big Band and Enne R Project.

Local musician, composer and big band leader Thomas Voss chatted with us about his approach to jazz and big band music ahead of his performance at Dunstan Playhouse next week.

What first drew you to jazz?

When I was in school there was a big band. I was fascinated by it – it was different to anything else I'd played in or heard, the rhythmic content was really different. I gravitated towards that, and then started digging around and finding recordings.

One of the first big band albums I heard, Unforgettable…with Love by Natalie Cole, I spent ages trying to transcribe the arrangements off there, not knowing at the time who the arrangers were. They’re now some of my favourite arrangers, guys like Gil Hoffman, John Clayton, I think there's a couple of Herbie Hancock arrangements on there too. I was fascinated by the sound of the band and wanted to capture a slice of that for myself.

From there I discovered Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool, Stan Kenton. Like most jazz musicians we find a funny way in and then have our own very individual journeys. For me it was it was through big bands first.

How do you describe your approach to jazz?

My approach to jazz is very heavily influenced by my favourite writers and players, Thad Jones, Maria Schneider, Bill Holman, a lot of the Count Basie writers, Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. I'm very influenced by their writing and the way they create stories and move people. I try to emulate that to find ways to tell stories and make the band and audience feel something when I'm writing and playing.

Are there any musical themes or motifs that you are particularly drawn to?

I love melody above everything else. I’m trying to construct the best melodies possible and that's really at the heart of everything I write, trying to write memorable melodies and lyrical melodies. That's the centre of my writing and playing.

What do you want audiences to get out of listening to big band music?

I want them to have an exciting and emotional experience. Big band at its core is dance music – it's been designed first and foremost for audiences. Whether you get up and dance to it or not, it's about creating a connection with the audience, creating rhythm and emotional connection. It's very unique having 17 or 18 people sitting there on stage pouring their hearts out and aiming towards the same goal. That element of improvising that comes into it, that spontaneity, every performance is a little bit different which is unique and very exciting.

How has jazz evolved for you, over the span of your career so far?

I think my approach to jazz and the style of my playing and writing has changed a lot since I was a university student. I'm more open to different sounds and I think a more adventurous player and writer than I have been in the past. I’m more willing to take risks to find new sounds and new ways of making connections with audiences.

Tell us about some of your most memorable performance experiences.

One of the best things I've ever done is play with Vince Jones and his big band at Adelaide Festival Centre last year. That was really one of the highlights - an incredible band, incredible arrangements and playing with Vince and Nina Ferro was just magical.

Also playing with the Vanessa Perica Orchestra on their newest album last year and releasing it at the Melbourne Jazz Festival.

UNESCO International Jazz Day

Celebrate International Jazz Day at Adelaide’s Heart of the Arts!

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