GETTING TO KNOW: GERARD MASTERS

Gerard Masters grew up studying music in New Zealand and now resides in Australia where he makes music with some of the best acts in the country. Gerard is consistently involved with many high end pop groups including Missy Higgins, The Potbelleez, James Morrison, Pete Murray, The McClymonts to name a few. Gerard also performs under his own name and has a range of different aspects and capabilities which are featured throughout his performances. As a singer, Gerard has a wide ranging repertoire and covers songs from diverse artists as diverse as Ray Charles, Coldplay, Daft Funk or Frank Sinatra. Gerard is a multi instrumentalist and performs on piano, guitar and electric bass, as well as working as a DJ.

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Gerard Masters talks to The Street ahead of the FinnLand performance at Capital Jazz Project 2016.

WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO TAKE UP MUSIC AS A CAREER?

Well, music was deeply entrenched in my family by the time I arrived. All of my grandparents played instruments, and my Dad is also a piano player. My Uncle was touring in bands when I was a kid too, so playing music was just like eating to us. My sister (who is now one of the top Clarinet players in Europe) and I, had an amazing cast of musical teachers and mentors as we were growing up – music people just seemed to be everywhere for us!

MASTERTON TO CHRISTCHURCH TO SYDNEY. HOW DOES CONNECTION TO PLACE FEED INTO YOUR WORK?

Well, growing up in New Zealand, definitely gave me a great appreciation of space, as in ‘lots of open space’ and I think that translates into the music that I make. I choose to live out of Sydney on the Central Coast, probably due to the fact that I have always been so used to space, and perhaps the heart of Sydney is a bit too cluttered for me. I find a lot of long expansive landscape type imagery in the music of the Finn Brothers too, which is perhaps why i have chosen to feature this music with FinnLand.

YOU ARE MUCH IN DEMAND AS A KEYBOARD PLAYER/PIANIST ACROSS JAZZ, COUNTRY, AND POP AS WELL AS LEADING YOUR OWN  JAZZ TRIO. WHAT PUSHES YOUR MUSIC BUTTONS AND WHY?

The main music button for me is actually the audience button. That is, it is very important to me that the audience feels like they are engaged with the music, in some way or another. It can be by getting up and dancing, singing along, or in more introspective ways too. I tend to almost treat the audience on a whole as an extra member of the band. This factor leans quite heavily on the choice of repertoire I choose to perform to. I see no point in playing music that is simply for the self gratification of the artist or band members. Subsequently I get particularly bored if I go and see a band who pays little or no respect to their audience.

WHY FINNLAND?

This question leads well on from the last one. FinnLand was put together in an attempt to bring some more well known music to the jazz arena. Whilst I personally have a great love of the jazz standards and ‘great American songbook’, these songs are perhaps becoming less and less relevant to the general public – especially in our part of the world. I found that Finn Brothers music, could be melded into jazz formats really easily, and lends itself really well to explorations of different grooves and improvisational techniques. All the while having a very familiar element , that the audience can grab onto and feel at home throughout the performance.

TALK US THROUGH YOUR PROCESS OF ‘TURNING PERFECTLY GOOD POP MUSIC INTO THE EVIL JAZZ’!

Well this is a pretty tongue in cheek quote of mine – it kind of stems from the fact that a lot of pop artists poke a good deal of fun at us jazzers for what some see as ‘ self indulgent noodling’ or ‘overplaying’ on pop music. I actually think that FinnLand does a great job at having our feet in both camps, that is, paying respect to the beautifully crafted pop forms, whilst tastefully elaborating upon them using various improvisational techniques. Having said that, it is fun to be ‘Evil’ sometimes!!!

DO TIM FINN AND NEIL FINN RESPOND to the PROJECT SONG BY SONG?

We are actually waiting for the right time to arrive for us to present some FinnLand recordings to the Finn royal family. Zoe (our bass player) has toured as a part of Neil Finn’s band, so we have a good ‘in’ there. But I want to make sure the recorded versions of the music is really at it’s absolute best before we show them what we have been up to.

WHY EMMA AND DARREN?

Well as well as being (in my opinion) two of the greatest Jazz singers that the country has, both Emma and Darren have an amazing knowledge of pop music too. So they really get the concept behind FinnLand. I couldn’t think of any two singers who could fit this mould better.

WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’VE EVER BEEN GIVEN?

The best (and funniest) piece of musical advice I’ve been given was by a legendary, and sadly recently departed New Zealand musician , Stu Buchanan. I played keyboard with him when I was just starting out in jazz as a teenager. He told me one night to ‘Leave that bloody muck spreader at home’ (muck spreader being my keyboard) What he really meant was that I was playing far too many notes and generally getting in the way of the music that was trying to happen organically. Stu was telling me to leave space, and listen to the music that’s happening, and play only what is needed, without a whole lot of clutter.

WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU’D KNOWN WHEN YOU STARTED OUT?

I’m glad that I knew nothing, because I really do enjoy the fact that every day feels like I am still starting out on a big musical journey. There is really so much to learn, that I’m sure I’ll be 80 years old and still feel like I’m only scratching the surface.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

I’ve just come back from a week of playing music with two great friends in New Zealand – Brett Hirst (Bass) and Daniel Kennedy (Drums). These guys inspired me immensely with their intense commitment to music and the energy they create when they perform. It’s great to be inspired by the people closest to you, and I often feel that there is more than enough great music to listen to that is just being made by my close circle of friends.

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

I just finished a fairly in-depth biography of Shane Warne, and am just starting one on Thelonious Monk. Two pretty contrasting characters, but there are some amazing similarities between them too. Who would have thought!!!!

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