GETTING TO KNOW: JESS GREEN

Born in Canberra, Jess completed a Bachelor of Music (Jazz Studies) majoring in guitar at the Canberra School of Music (ANU) in 2001. Critically acclaimed, Jess has released three recordings under her own name; The Singing Fish, The New Dynamites, and Tinkly Tinkly. She has worked extensively as a guitarist and guitarist/singer with many well- known Australian musicians and groups including: The catholics; Jim Conway’s Big Wheel; Petulant Frenzy, and Alyx Dennison. Since 2012 Jess has worked as guitarist, percussionist and vocalist for Shaun Parker Dance Company, touring major arts festivals in Australia as well as Europe and Malaysia in 2015.  Jess performed at the 2017 Queensland Music Festival as part of the Songs that Made Me project, working alongside Deborah Conway, Clare Bowditch and Hannah Macklin.

Jess is a sought after educator, teaching at The Australian Institute of Music, The University of Western Sydney, The SIMA Young Women’s Jazz Workshops, and for Musica Viva in Schools.

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The Street talked to Jess Green, Musical Director (composition) of Boys Will Be Boys, opening at The Street at the end of October

DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MUSIC. WHY JAZZ?

Dad turned me on to Zappa and Ry Cooder early, and there’s a lot of Jazz in their work, but also during my teens I grew up with Zoe Hauptmann and her brothers and they were already passionate jazz players. I knew I wanted to study music academically so I followed that path, luckily I fell in love with it and it’s meant I’ve had a really broad training for all sorts of musical situations.

YOU STUDIED AT THE ANU SCHOOL OF MUSIC AND THEN SPENT TWELVE YEARS IN SYDNEY BEFORE RETURNING TO CANBERRA. WHAT BROUGHT YOU BACK?

Family, Trees, rent ha ha…We had our first child in Sydney, and I really wanted number 2 (who is now 6 weeks old). We decided it was just too hard financially to keep struggling away up there. My husband is an artist so we’re not exactly loaded, we needed somewhere cheaper to rent and live, but also, really wanted more nature around us and our kids. Having Mum and her partner living here and my sister was the biggest attraction, so important with a young family, but also Canberra is a great combination of high level culture, schools, services with a relaxed pace. And it’s cool now!!

WHAT IS YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE MUSIC SCENE IN CANBERRA?

Being a busy mum, and still touring I find it really hard to get to all the gigs I’d like to, and it also seems like there is a lot going on. Last year when launching Pheno, I was looking for artists to play supports at my shows and I discovered so many cool bands – very exciting.

WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO JOIN THE CREATIVE TEAM OF BOYS WILL BE BOYS?

I absolutely adore working in theatre. I was a member of Canberra Youth Theatre for a long time in my teens, acting in plays, studying different forms of theatre. My first professional composing gig out of uni was a Street production. ‘Adult Child/Dead Child’ and I realised I feel extremely natural working with text, movement and music. I only wish I could do it more! I was also very impressed by the script, and the opportunity to work with Caroline and an all women cast.

YOU ARE WORKING WITH DIRECTOR CAROLINE STACEY. TALK US THROUGH THE DEVELOPMENT PROCESS.  

I’ve really enjoyed working under Caroline’s strong leadership, and have felt it’s been a very intuitive partnership. We had several meetings discussing the key elements of the play and how that translates musically, and the sort of support or musical undercurrent each scene needs. I made demos of how I imagined music working and sent them to her for feedback. Also on the music team is Stu King. (I was to perform, but then fell pregnant and wasn’t keen to with a 6 week old baby!) He’s a fantastic guitarist and I’ve given him direction for how I imagine the guitar to work, sometimes keys, textures, references, but he has really shaped the scenes with Pippa and Caroline. Kimmo Vennonen is a very important part of the process too. Several of the scenes are pre-recorded track, so after locking things in with Caroline, I’ve sent them to Kimmo and he’s very much acting in a producer role, mixing, editing, mastering and often making creative decisions too. It’s been very educational and interesting!

WHAT DOES YOUR ROLE AS MUSICAL DIRECTOR OF BOYS WILL BE BOYS INVOLVE?

It involves original composition, re-working / arrangement of songs in the script, musical direction in rehearsal and acting as a musical consultant to Caroline in the overall feeling of the work.

WHAT TRAINING AND SKILLS DO YOU DRAW TO COMPOSE MUSIC FOR A THEATRE PLAY?

Well certainly knowledge of the stylistic elements of jazz and cabaret, arranging skills, but also general creative skills that help me find new ways of interpreting the songs, and skills of process and collaboration. As well as all this it’s drawn on my skills in working with software to produce music. I’ve brought my love of 80’s pop to the work as well, incorporating beats, synths and some other surprises.

BOYS WILL BE BOYS INCLUDES CABARET SCENES FEATURING ICONIC SONGS BY ETTA JAMES, NINA SIMONE AND ROSEMARY CLOONEY. WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS TO THE ARRANGEMENT FOR THE PERFORMANCE BY GUITARIST STUART KING?

For some of the pieces we’ve just designed very traditional guitar accompaniment for these songs and Stu has played this style of music many times. For some of the other scenes, I wanted the guitar to be more conversational and free. And I found he played intuitively very well with the text right from the beginning. So I wanted to stay out of his way as much as possible to allow him to develop a language and relationship to text and to Pippa of his own. But it is wonderful to be able to throw him guitar ideas and he can run with it straight away. I could be discussing range, or texture or I can even say ‘you know that Bill Frisell stuff you’re doing there, keep that!’ and he know what I mean.

HOW DO YOU SEE THE INDUSTRY OF PLAYWRIGHTS AND DIRECTORS INSPIRING ARTISTS IN THE MUSICAL-THEATRE WORLD?

Well having the inclusion within the text of song instantly gives someone a job! But also Caroline is particularly supportive of composers and women composers at that. We want to work in that world, just need the opportunity! Actors and musician and composers are often dealing with the same core intention and it is so exciting exploring where sound, text and movement converge and compliment.

WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU CREATIVELY AT THE MOMENT?

During this show I’ve thought a lot about my friends from the Am I band, and particularly composer Nick Wales, with whom I’ve worked a lot. I learnt a lot watching him work with a large team to produce work. Since my baby has been born I’ve been listening to a lot of West African music again, and fusion. Marvin Pontiac is amazing!

WHAT ARE YOU READING AND WATCHING CURRENTLY?

Can’t wait for the time to watch season 4 of Broad City! Reading Love Goes to Buildings on Fire – all about the New York creative scene in the late 70’s really interesting, will mention Sol Dewitt one moment, and, Patti Smith or Phillip Glass in another.

 

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