A leading figure in the jazz and improvised music scene, Carl Dewhurst can effortlessly slide across genres. His versatility and innate musicianship have seen Carl become a much sought-after collaborator, recording, performing and touring with an international roll-call of jazz, rock, pop and world artists. Carl has led his own jazz trio and quartet and is co-leader of Showa 44, with drummer Simon Barker. He also led the genre defying trio The Drip Hards and was a member of the legendary free-jazz quartet NUDE with Lisa Parrott, Cam Undy and Louis Burdett. He performed for many years with Undy’s 20th Century Dog and Numerology. Carl is a member of Korean/Australian ensemble Daorum, and also plays with Scott Tinkler’s power trio DRUB, Band of Five Names, and Stu Hunter’s Migration. He is a long-time member of the Australian Art Orchestra and was a regular member of the James Morrison Quintet for over fifteen years. He has collaborated for nearly twenty years with vocalist Susan Gai Dowling. Carl also has composed soundtracks for the theatre and film and written songs for artists including Lily Dior, Susan Gai Dowling, Lucinda Peters and Dewey. Carl has a Diploma of Music and a Masters Degree of Music from the Australian National University. He is a lecturer in jazz and improvisation at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and at the James Morrison Academy of Music.
The Street talked to Carl before his duo performance with pianist Matt McMahon and their Canberra concert of their album Trapeze for Two Atoms on September 6th.
WHAT ARE THE POSSIBILITIES OF THE GUITAR FOR YOU?
The thing I love about the guitar is the vast landscape of sounds and textures you can extract from the instrument and the many different ways you can approach playing it. Not only can you play melodies and chords but can play rhythmically in a very percussive fashion, like a drum – You can play fingerstyle or pick, tap, stroke and strum and that’s just all when playing acoustically. When you play an electric guitar and add some effect pedals into the mix the tonal possibilities are endless!
YOU HAVE PLAYED WITH LEGENDARY AND DIVERSE ARTISTS INCLUDING THE JAMES MORRISON QUINTET AND AUSTRALIAN ART ORCHESTRA AS WELL AS LEADING YOUR OWN JAZZ TRIO. TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR MUSIC JOURNEY.
Well I’ve been playing the guitar for 40 years now and I’ve been blessed from the outset with amazing teachers, mentors and colleagues. It’s really humbling to reflect upon all the good fortune that seems to have conspired to help me forge a career in music. From my first teacher at primary school in Canberra through to playing in James’ band and the AAO, these little doors open which beckon you to walk through and your horizons keep expanding. It’s incredible really.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND TRAPEZE FOR TWO ATOMS?
My first guitar teacher is a wonderful man called John Cowan – he was one of my year 4 teachers at Rivett Primary School. John and I have remained friends ever since then. John now lives on the south coast and has hosted house concerts for many years. It was basically his suggestion that Matt and I come down and play. The concerts were a huge success after which we decided to go into the studio and record this album.
HOW DID YOU AND MATT WORK TOGETHER TO CREATE THE SOUNDSCAPE FOR YOUR FIRST RECORDING TOGETHER?
Most of what we recorded in the studio was material that we’d been playing live. We both had a bunch of original tunes; Matt had brought arrangements of some Irish folk songs; some jazz standards and we also did some free improv. The main difference was that I brought my acoustic guitar to the session which I ended up playing on most of the tracks. It’s taken the sound of the duo in a whole other direction.
WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO COLLABORATION AND WORKING WITH OTHER SONGWRITERS AND MUSICIANS?
I try to keep as open a mind and ear as possible. You have to be willing to let things go that you might be attached to and similarly be open to trying new things that may feel uncomfortable at first. Each artist has their own creative process so you need to be open and respectful of each other’s work if you are to come together and create something that is truly collaborative.
YOU HAVE WRITTEN SOUNDTRACKS FOR THEATRE PRODUCTIONS, DOCUMENTARIES AND FILMS? WHAT IS THE CREATIVE PROCESS FOR THESE COMPOSITIONS?
When I wrote the music (with Alan John) for the Belvoir St production of Scorched, director Neil Armfield wanted me to be part of the creative process from the outset as I was to perform the music live during the play. This was something very different for me but meant that the music that emerged was actually part of the performance. I was able to interact with the action onstage and actually improvise in response to the ebb and flow of each individual performance. It was an incredible experience. It differed very much from writing away from the action with only images or footage to work with.
HOW DID YOUR STUDIES AT THE ANU SCHOOL OF MUSIC INFORM YOUR CAREER?
My time at ANU really set me up with a solid foundation of skills and fundamentals that have allowed me to operate as a flexible professional musician. I was blessed with two wonderful guitar teachers Mike Price and Dave Kain and many of my fellow students are still close friends and colleagues to this day.
WHAT IS ON THE HORIZON FOR YOU?
I’ll be releasing a trio album at the end of this year. And I’ll be recording a new Showa 44 album with Simon Barker. We’ll both be recording with Scott Tinkler later this year also.
I just returned from performing in Europe with a wonderful singer Jade MacRae and we are embarking on an Australian leg of shows promoting her new album.
I also have some performances coming up with vocalist, cellist, double bassist Mary Rapp promoting her new album By One Of The Night.
And I’ll be performing with the Australian Art Orchestra at the end of the year.
WHAT IS INSPIRING YOU MUSICALLY AT THE MOMENT?
I’ve been learning the drums for nearly four years so I find a lot of inspiration in that practice. It’s a whole body instrument where you have to learn to coordinate all the limbs in real time. Much of the movement is pendulum like and is very similar to strumming a guitar. Learning about body motion and it’s relationship to time, feeling, articulation and tone production is really inspiring. Discovering ways of moving the body that relate to rhythm is an area I’m very fascinated by at present.