GETTING TO KNOW: CHRIS JOHNSTONE

Chris was born in Moranbah QLD in 1976. While he did not come from a musical family, he says he was lucky to have an uncle with a love for the music of Elvis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. The sounds of those blues inspired early rock n roll records ignited his passion for guitar at age 8 and he has been playing nearly every day since, still getting the same buzz from the instrument at the age of 43. After moving to Canberra in 1996 to study Jazz at the ANU School of Music he has played with the best local musicians and also become one of the most sought-after teachers in the area, especially in the area of jazz improvisation. He is very passionate about the local music scene and always promoting and supporting the arts in Canberra.

The Street talked to Chris before the upcoming night of celebratory music with Con Campbell, Brendon Clarke and Mark Sutton.

WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JAZZ?

I discovered Jazz while studying at the Griffith University in Mackay Queensland. I was immediately drawn to the music, especially the guitar sounds of Django, Charlie Christian, Joe Pass and Tal Farlow.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR MUSIC JOURNEY.

Growing up I was always attracted to improvisation, not that I knew what it was called back then. Being a child of the 80’s it was hard not to love the guitar sounds of Mark Knopfler, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, however later the blues sounds of Stevie Ray Vaughan became a massive influence. Once into jazz though you could sum up my inspiration into two words, Tal Farlow. He was and is to the day my biggest inspiration and I was even fortunate to speak to him before he died in 1997. My list of influences in jazz is too long to be included here, but I must mention Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Raney and Jim Hall, along with saxophonists Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon and Stan Getz. In the last 3 years I have gone back a little to my 80’s roots with Mike Stern and John Scofield being huge sources of inspiration too.

WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND YOUR UPCOMING PERFORMANCE WITH CON CAMPBELL CELEBRATING COLLABORATIONS IN GUITAR AND TENOR SAXOPHONE?

Con and I have a long history and from the first time we played together it just gelled. There is something special about the guitar and tenor saxophone playing together and after the success of my last performance this was always going to be my next project. I was just very fortunate that Con has moved back to Canberra at just the right time to make this happen!

HOW DID YOU AND CON WORK TOGETHER TO SELECT THE REPETOIR?

Con and I have listened to a lot of the same recordings over the years, so it really was an easy process. It will be a mix of some classic tunes from the saxophone/guitar collaboration LP’s plus some classic jazz standards given our own treatment, allowing the musicians to really put their own stamp on the music.

YOUR CONCERT FEATURES A RHYTHM SECTION PROVIDED BY BRENDAN CLARKE (DOUBLE BASS AND MARK SUTTON (DRUMS). WHAT SOUNDS CAN AUDIENCES EXPECT?

Well Brendan and Mark are just exceptional and have always been on my dream list to play with. Simply put you couldn’t ask for a better rhythm section and both these guys will be featured on the night. It’s going to SWING!!!!!

WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO COLLABORATION AND WORKING WITH OTHER MUSICIANS?

My approach has always been less is more, the less instruction the better. I book musicians based on their sound and I want them to have complete freedom to do whatever they feel musically.

HOW DID YOUR STUDIES AT THE ANU SCHOOL OF MUSIC INFORM YOUR CAREER AND ONGOING

RELATIONSHIPS?

The School of Music was vital in my musical training and also in establishing relationships that have continued to this day. It’s also been the place where you would hear about the up and coming players that you would be able to call upon when needed.

WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THE MUSIC SCENE IN CANBERRA AND NATIONALLY?

Canberra has always had one of the best scenes in Australia despite its smaller size. Having been a little quieter since the changes at the SOM it has again picked up over the last 2 years. New venues, older players returning and new players ready to emerge, the future is very bright!

WHAT IS ON THE HORIZON FOR YOU?

I’m already planning my next performance at The Street next year. This one will be all about funk and its influence on jazz. It will feature the music of the Meters, Scofield and also some original ideas. Also, I need to record my debut CD, it’s been a long time coming!

WHAT IS INSPIRING YOU MUSICALLY AT THE MOMENT?

Two words, Mike Stern. I’ve seen him twice in the last 2 years and will be heading down to see him again in October with Jeff Lorber. Hands down my favourite guitarist on the planet.

WHAT ARE YOU READING/WRITING CURRENTLY?

Another long-time project is my guitar instruction book which will be focused on jazz improvisation. I want it to be something that allows the player to develop their creativity when soloing or accompanying, not just a which scale goes with which chord type approach. The secret is to be creative no matter what level you are at.