GETTING TO KNOW: JOHN MACKEY

John Mackey began playing clarinet aged 10 and then won a scholarship to study classical saxophone at age 12. John graduated from Edith Cowan University in Perth Western Australia, with a 4 year BMus in Jazz in 1990. He has been performing professionally since the age of 14, nationally and internationally. John has appeared on many national television shows including, Hey Hey Its Saturday as well as the Sunday program. He resided in Sweden for three years 1991 – 1994 and used this a base to travel and perform extensively throughout Scandinavia, Europe and the U.S.A. John has performed with many Jazz legends including BB King, Ray Charles, Kurt Elling, Johnny Griffin, Lee Konitz, Jim McNeely, Kenny Werner, Al Cohn, Mike Nock, Nat Adderley, Roy Hargrove, George Shearing and many more. John resided in Sydney Australia upon his return from overseas in 1994 until 1999. He moved to Canberra in mid 1999 and performs regularly in Australiasia. John has been a member of Faculty at the ANU School of Music since 2000 and is currently embarked on a PhD.

THE STREET TALKED TO JOHN BEFORE HIS CONCERT AND PERFORMANCE OF HIS NEW SONG SUITE WITH MUSICIANS AND FRIENDS ON 5 MARCH.

DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MUSIC

Music has been at the forefront of my life since I was a young child. It continues to nurture the essence of who I am as a person, and brings out the best in me on every occasion. I am blessed to be able to work in a musical environment and help inspire generations of students realise their musical dreams and to grow as people. I get to perform all over the world and meet new people, as well as maintaining and growing longstanding friendships. I love to compose and record original music and am very proud of all of the ANU students who have come through the ANU School of Music. The new generation of students are exposed to many facets of music which will aid them in carving out a career in the international music industry. My relationship with music is diverse and has provided me with many incredible experiences. 

WHAT ARE THE POSSIBILITIES OF THE SAXOPHONE FOR YOU?

Due to my eclectic approach to music, I am fortunate to have traversed a multitude of music genres including, Traditional Dixieland, Swing, Big Band, Bop/HardBop, Modal, Jazz Rock/Fusion, Smooth Jazz, Free/Avant-Garde Jazz, Rock, Funk, Hip-Hop, Rap and have played with Turntable artists in Europe, as well as performances with the London Symphony, West Australian, Canberra and Melbourne Symphony Orchestras. The versatility of the saxophone is endless, and I love the humanity of the instrument. It is naturally sonorous in its timbre and is very close to the human voice.

HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE YOUR SOUND?

I find it difficult talking about such things, however, my tone is full bodied, resonant and full of harmonics. I have bought people to tears whilst playing ballads which is an amazing feeling. I can hear some people reply with something else…HaHa…but seriously it is true!! I play saxophone and music[JM1]  generally to make a difference to people’s emotional state. I want to make people feel something amidst a world full of complexities. It is wonderful when it works sometimes! My tone is broad and rich and it seems to do the trick.

THE WAVE LENGTHS SUITE IS BORN OF 2020 – NAMED IN HOMAGE TO BOTH THE WAVES OF COVID WE’VE EXPERIENCED AND THE SOUNDWAVES YOU’VE CREATED AS A RESULT. WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?

I have assembled my musical friends around me to create new music inspired by skeletal canvasses from which to explore different possibilities. There will be a variety of offerings throughout the night, which may include fire, bounding grooves and ambient reflections.

YOU HAVE PERFORMED WITH MANY JAZZ LEGENDS AROUND THE WORLD. HOW DO YOU COLLABORATE WITH MUSICIANS?

I have been fortunate in my career to perform with extraordinary musicians both domestically and internationally. The nature of the music circles I move in allow me to create new projects across all styles of music genres. My international artist interactions have occurred in Australia and abroad in Scandinavia and the U.S.A. I have performed with and been the support act to many of my childhood heroes. My most recent exchange was in the Czech Republic in 2019, featuring the great Czech jazz pianist Emil Viklicky, and Australian legend Miroslav Bukovsky. Over the decades I have built a reputation and wonderful opportunities are created to perform, and I hope this continues for a few more decades, or as long as people want to come and hear me play.

YOU ARE BRINGING TOGETHER A DYNAMIC LINE-UP OF MUSICIANS, SOME LONG-TERM COLLABORATORS, FOR YOUR CONCERT AT THE STREET. WHAT DO THESE LONG-TERM COLLABORATORS INSPIRE IN YOU?

This wonderful group of musicians and friends inspire new work and joy within. As I get older I am more grateful for the opportunity to share and create new music with people I care about. It is a marvellous feeling. I have known most of the musicians in the Melting Pot group for nearly twenty years, and Mark Sutton on drums for 27 years. Wayne Kelly joins us on keys and piano and is such a creative and melodic musician with a big heart. Greg Stott and guitar is one of Australia’s great guitarists and we are fortunate to have him here in Canberra. Lachlan Coventry is incredible fullstop!  Lachlan will be playing bass on the night and makes that thing sing. He is of course a wonderful guitarist as well. Mark Webber joins us again with his amazing interactive magic on laptop and is just a joy to work with. The quiet achiever. I love how Mark takes a sign wave and manipulates it through the laptop and sends it back out to us on stage within seconds of it happening. The great Mark Sutton on drums is a humble man who is a great inspiration to many generations of drummers coming out of Canberra. As he says, “I’m the best in country but not so good in city”!!!!…..Due to unforeseen circumstances my music idol Miroslav Bukovsky is unable to be with us on the night and so Wayne Kelly is taking his place. Sending love Miro!!!

YOU ARE A LECTURER IN PERFORMANCE STUDIES AT THE ANU SCHOOL OF MUSIC. WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS OF MUSIC EDUCATION THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO YOU?

Music Education is essential to the fundamental foundation of society and something that needs to be taken seriously in this country. There a many wonderful people within the education system who work tirelessly and inspire thousands of students every year to invite music into their lives. Introducing music to the youth of nations is pivotal to help nurture key aspects of everyday life including, social interaction, relational experiences, the art of teamwork, creativity and emotional intelligence and the list goes on.

I think governments would be smart if they included the arts and music in the STEM program, which of course produce the results they are actually after in terms of developing new generations of well-rounded intelligent people who can reflect upon life in generally and communicate via the wondrous world of music. Music education is seriously underfunded across all tiers of educational institutions and needs to be addressed immediately. A huge investment in the arts in general would help quash many of society’s ills.  Then power of music is infinite.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE STATE OF MUSIC IN AUSTRALIA?

The state of music in general is multifaceted. As I mentioned previously the lack of funding across music programs around Australia and other similar countries, means that the full benefit of an education involving music is not being realised to its full potential.

Moving on from that point it is interesting to note that despite this plight, the actual level of musicianship in this country is unbelievable and we compete at the highest levels with colleagues from all parts of the globe.

WHAT HAVE BEEN AND CONTINUE TO BE THE CHALLENGES OF WORKING DURING COVID-19

To be brief, I think the obvious challenges have been trying to maintain some semblance of a public profile and gigs of course have been scarce across the country, despite some pockets, including Canberra, where performance outlets have been fairly fertile.

Educationally speaking it is has been difficult to communicate effectively in the online forum, however, we have all done well to maintain a momentum not afforded in other countries around the world. I am very grateful to the Street Theatre for approaching me to perform at their wonderful venue. Thank you!!!!!!

WHAT IS INSPIRING YOU IN MUSIC AT THE MOMENT?

I think life in general is inspiring me to want to create new works and then perform them as often as possible. There are many Australian musicians who inspire me to keep playing and composing. I tend to write compositions in big batches rather than a consistent run across the year. I tend to sit on ideas for months and then let it rip when time permits.

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND WATCHING?

I am currently reading music pedagogy books, journal articles and other PhD’s in order to hopefully inspire my continued research. My PhD has been in the works for some time now and I look forward to finishing asap.

WHAT IS ON THE HORIZON FOR YOU?

The horizon is currently presenting a multitude of possible tangents so I need to remain focussed and prioritize my dreams. I am looking forward to spending time with my son and close friends. I am just grateful to be around I think. Life is short and wonderful and I need to get a lot of things done. Can’t wait to play again in the concert setting!!!


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