Three finalists have been named for the most prestigious prize for young Australian jazz musicians under 35, to be decided in a play-off in the Studio at the Sydney Opera House on September 3.
Tom Avgenicos (trumpet) and Holly Conner (drums) from Sydney and Flora Carbo (saxophone) from Melbourne will go before esteemed judges Virna Sanzone, Andrew Robson and Steve Barry for the chance to take home the $21,000 award.
The Freedman Jazz Fellowships, awarded annually, began in 2002 and have contributed to the careers of Australia’s most distinguished jazz artists, including such luminaries as Andrea Keller, Julien Wilson, James Muller and Phil Slater.
Candidates apply with a sound recording and a description of a career-advancing project they would undertake with the award funds.
The three finalists are already highly accomplished and acclaimed. One, Flora Carbo, has even been nominated for the Freedman three times before.
Former Freedman judge and Australian jazz legend Mike Nock, who will play a special guest set with Julien Wilson while the judges deliberate on September 3, said, “It is a strong group. By the time they get to this level they haven’t come out of the blue. They have a history. It is very competitive.”
Tom Avgenicos has established himself as a distinctive innovator in the Australian jazz scene and as bandleader of jazz group Delay 45, who this year released the album Flux.
If successful on September 3, he will develop two multidisciplinary works for his quartet while collaborating with string quartet Ensemble Apex, contemporary dancer/choreographer Reina Takeuchi and motion graphics artist Jordan East.
Flora Carbo’s compositions push boundaries between genres. If she takes home the award she will take part in “Residency in Motion”, a four-month international program travelling by bicycle in Europe and the UK.
Holly Conner has worked across the fields of contemporary improvised, jazz, free jazz, and experimental music. If she wins, she will produce an album of new percussive works in collaboration with electronic music producers, art-pop songwriters, sound artists, multi-instrumentalists and contemporary classical musicians.
Nock said Freedman Jazz was important for jazz in Australia because it encouraged younger talented musicians.
“There is competition to get into it and once you get there you have to jump a lot of hurdles.
“The prize money is very helpful for a young musician starting out. It is quite considerable and must be spent specifically on a project. In order to rise up the ranks it is also important what you intend to do with the money. It’s not just about how well you play.
“When I first started in the doing the Freedmans, I always wanted to make sure projects would offer something to Australian music and the jazz scene at large, not just to the winners themselves.
“There are interviews with the finalists, so you get a sense of the person and their commitment and seriousness, a sense of what they are like. This is very important. It contributes to the overall picture.”
The judges had to consider more than just the final performances, he said, but it was about the music first and foremost.
Jazz in Australia
Nock said the Freedman Fellowship was also important given the lack of recognition afforded contemporary music in Australia.
He said it was a bit of a worry that music, and creative music in particular, was not given the same degree of scrutiny or interest in Australia as sport, which received much more attention.
“That’s the way Australia has been for a long time but that doesn’t mean the level of expertise and commitment in jazz is any less.”
Publicity for the Freedman final quotes Nock as saying it would be a smorgasbord of youthful energy.
“The finalists are quite different from one another,” he said, “not only in the instruments they play.
“It’s about freedom of expression. Jazz now is a widely disseminated music, probably the most open music there is.
“It will be difficult for judges to determine who gets this prize. It’s going to be very interesting.”
This year’s nominees have been said to demonstrate the continually expanding possibilities of contemporary jazz but Nock said jazz had always been like that.
“Until the rise of commercialism, which is pretty much everywhere nowadays, jazz has always been about honest expression.
“Coming from the Black community too, the African diaspora – it doesn’t have to be that but that’s where it has come from, the seeds of the music, America’s great contribution to the world in terms of art – it has been picked up by all kinds of countries and all kinds of cultures, that whole idea of self-expression.
“Commercial interests have seen an opportunity and have tried to put it in a box, but the thing about jazz is that it keeps escaping the box. So we get some pretty honest approaches to what it means to be human; and that’s what the bottom line is really. Jazz is very much a human music.”
Asked how hard it was now for a jazz artist to offer a distinctive creative voice, Nock said all three finalists had such a voice.
“It’s no harder than how you can look inside yourself,” he said.
“Jazz has always gone forward through the individual. It started with strong individual voices that resonated, like Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. They come along and a lot of people follow.
“In the United States that was always something people wanted more than anything. But in other countries, even Australia, people want you to sound like someone else.
“In America it was always about trying to be yourself and, if you found that, hey that was it. It’s about the personal as opposed to the corporate.
“But the jazz we are hearing in the Freedman is truly Australian because it is a personal thing, and relating to the world.”
The best of jazz in a contemporary setting
Nock said he was excited about his duo performance with Julien Wilson.
“They aren’t here to listen to us specifically but the music will be very high level, and very interesting, and will give people something to focus on for however long the judges will be deliberating. I hope they deliberate for a long time!”
He said the Studio at the Opera House was a good space for the final.
“It’s the first live Freedman Jazz Final in three years so it should be quite a celebration.
“It will be a great night to come and hear what the best in contemporary Australian jazz has to offer in a great setting.”
Eds note: Tom Avgenicos was announced as the winner of the Freedman Jazz Fellowship on September 3.
The Freedman Fellowships were conceived by Laurence Freedman AM and Dr Richard Letts AM, are managed by The Music Trust, and administered and produced by SIMA. They are funded by the Freedman Foundation, which was founded by Laurence Freedman AM and Kathy Freedman AM.