THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE JAZZ QUESTIONNAIRE: Tamara Murphy of Spirograph Studies

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Kindness Not Courtesy
THE FAMOUS ELSEWHERE JAZZ QUESTIONNAIRE: Tamara Murphy of Spirograph Studies
Melbourne bassist Tamara Murphy is the writer/leader of the jazz group Spirograph Studies.

In 2011 she won the inaugural PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission for the creation and presentation of the work Big Creatures and Little Creatures with her ensemble, Murphy’s Law.

On release in 2012 it was nominated for The Age's Genre Music Awards and Murphy’s Law also nominated for an Australian Jazz Bell Award.

She's an in-demand player but is now devoted to Spirograph Studies whose debut album Kindness, Not Courtesy they will launch in New Zealand in three concerts in September (dates below) as part of an Australasian tour.

With music which is subtle and seductive, Kindness Not Courtesy is not just a showcase for Murphy's writing but the group of pianist Luke Howard (a contemporary classical player outside of SpSt), guitarist and composer Fran Swinn and drummer James McLean (who won the A$20,000 Freedman Award for jazz and classical artists in 2016).

So quite an implosion of talent brought to music which values space and consideration as much as improvisation.

Kindness not Courtesy is an album to gently let soak in and in advance of their New Zealand dates you can hear it here on bandcamp.


The first piece of music, jazz or otherwise, which really affected you was . . ?

When I was 12 we went to Indonesia, and there were these dodgy pirate cassette tapes (yes, that’s how old I am) at the market there. I bought every Beatles album I could find, and spent our entire holiday there listening to it in its entirety. I especially remember listening to the White Album over and over as we drove through the amazing mountain roads, and being amused at the disparity between songs on that album – from Rocky Raccoon, to While my Guitar Gently Weeps and (even a bit shocked at) the surreal Piggies.

When did you first realise this jazz thing was for you?

I was exposed to improvised music from a young age, so it was I think it was bound to be a part of my musical language, simply by association. However, in saying that, I also have many, many other sources of musical and artistic influence, so I would not call myself a jazz player, exclusively. I grew up in the 80s and 90s in Australia, so the pop and rock music I was surrounded by cannot be disregarded. I also had a fondness of 60s and 70s music when I was a teenager, getting heavily into bands like The Doors and The Beatles (as previously mentioned) and singers like Rickie Lee Jones and Aretha Franklin.

What one piece of music would you play to a 15-year old into rock music to show them, 'This is jazz, and this is how it works'?

I think it depends on what I was specifically trying to show them! But a great starting point is probably some Billie Holiday, with Lester Young blowing on the middle of the song. The albums were smaller then, so players had to be more concise to fit their music onto the recording, so they make a great snapshot. Also Billie is so heavy musically, and so emotive.

Time travel allows you go back to experience great jazz. You would go to . . ?

I would argue that jazz is a music which responds to both the time and place in which it is created, so I think there is great jazz being experienced right now! I feel so lucky to be living in Melbourne, as the scene there is so diverse, where all the players mix and play with each other, and yet create unique musical outcomes.

Which period of Miles Davis' career do you most relate to, and why: the acoustic Fifties; his orchestrated albums with Gil Evans; the acoustic bands, the fusion of the late Sixties; street funk of the Seventies or the Tutu album and beyond in the Eighties . . .

When I was at university, I really got into the My Funny Valentine Concert (’64), so I feel particularly attached to that album and time period. The interplay within the ensemble is really wonderful, and the solos are really something else, from each member of the band. Stella by Starlight… Just check it out.

Any interesting, valuable or just plain strange musical memorabilia at home?

I have a t-shirt from when Miles was in Australia in 1988. I didn’t get to go to the concert, but my parents did, so they got me a t-shirt. I think it finally fits me now and it’s very faded.

The best book on the jazz life you have read is . . .

Oh, it’s a three-way toss up between Beneath the Underdog by Mingus (it’s a great read, and outrageous in many ways), Miles’ autobiography, and But Beautiful by Geoff Dyer, which is fiction – and uses themes from the lives of jazz musicians to create his own short stories (which is sort of how I imagine a writer would approach a theme similar to how a jazz musician plays a standard). It’s a genuinely great book, which made me feel like I was there with these musicians, decades earlier.

If you could get on stage with anyone it would be . . . (And you would play?)

Bill Frisell. I’d be happy to play anything at all with that guy.

The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)

My most recent download is Book Of Travellers by Gabriel Kahane. I have been listening to whole albums recently (rather than just a track here and there), and this one has been on high rotation. Each time I listen I discover something new. The last LP/CD I bought was Brown Sugar by D’Angelo. It’s a banger.

One jazz standard you wished you had written . . .

This is tricky to answer. But each time I play or hear I’ll Be Seeing You, it really affects me. So I think that has to be the one. But then, You Go To My Head is also a very favourite tune. It’s a tie.

a3579168018_16The poster, album cover or piece of art could you live with on your bedroom forever would be . . .

Almond Blossom – Van Gogh

Three non-jazz albums for a desert island would be . . ?

Bjork – Homogenic.

Punch Brothers – Antifogmatic

Rickie Lee Jones - Pirates

Your dream band of musicians (living or dead) would be . . ?

Bill Frisell, Bill Evans, Larry Grenadier and Brian Blade.

And finally, is there a track on your most recent album you would love people to hear. And, if so, why that one?

Kindness, Not Courtesy – the title track. I think we could all use more kindness right now.

Spirograph Studies album tour

September 11 - Creative Jazz Club (Auckland)

September 12 - Wellington Jazz CoOperative (Wellington)

September 13 - Orange Studios (Christchurch)


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