I recently began to share an office with Anthony, a new lecturer at NMIT where I work. I have known him for many years – we played in bands all through our undergrad years, and still do today.

I moved into the office a couple of weeks ago, and had set up my ‘half’ of the room in a thorough and economical fashion, filling my desk space, book shelf and filing cabinet with all my books, leads, papers, instruments, hard drives and artwork by my kids. My colleague was yet to move in, but there was a generously sized desk awaiting him, along with some rectangular tables, a circular table and some chairs at his disposal, courtesy of the previous occupant.

A week prior to his appointment, I had sent Anthony a link to an article from the NY Times about questioning first principles and achieving success (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/20/opinion/sunday/secret-ingredient-for-success.html?_r=3&). We discussed it, and the idea of applying it to music and our teaching. After a few days, he asked me a question: “How could we apply those ideas to this office and make a creative and vibrant space that people find inspiring?” I should perhaps have mentioned before that all the tables and desks were grey. But I think you knew that?

Immediately I was flooded with ideas. Within a couple of minutes I had outlined some plans which have now been actualised into that creative and vibrant space. We put Anthony’s desk on a diagonal line. We got rid of 4 tables and 4 chairs. He brought in a fantastic painting. We each bought a bean bag (his brown, mine light blue). We made a coffee table using a cardboard box. It has on it: magazines, a book, chocolate, a blue rubber ball and a puzzle. The one thing that we agree is required is one of those little basketball rings that will attach to the back of the door by suction cup.

Most people when they come in the room gravitate to the bean bags. I would like to think that it is a productive, creative and fun space for others; it certainly is for Anthony and I. And the funny thing is that I would not have had any of those ideas if Anthony had not asked ‘the question’. It has made me reflect on the power of asking a question. Asking the right one at the right time can challenge, provoke or tease out a creative response. Not every time of course. But when I think of that question, I see that what happened was a very nice collaboration. It was as though, by asking the question, he had gone and opened the door to a room which I didn’t even know was there, the contents of which were unknown to us, just to see what was inside. I think another reason why I found the whole experience so satisfying is that I feel we are both equally responsible. His asking of the question was deliberate – he wanted to provoke a creative response and expected it of me. That open invitation to look at a problem from the fresh perspective that he suggested was, to my mind, equally as creative as the ideas that followed.

Running some scales…

My brother Simon and I have played Jewish music (traditional, modern, Ashkenasi, Sephardi, Klezmer, Ladino – you name it) at countless Jewish wedding ceremonies. There are stages during the ceremony where music can be played that is not really essential from a religious point of view – it adds to the ambience etc. In these times, we often played jazz versions of different pieces from the repertoire, which was fun for us, and other people seemed to enjoy it.

At one point we had the idea of having a concert featuring Jewish jazz musicians. We have since held two of these concerts in partnership with the Jewish Museum of Australia, both held at BMW Edge. We made the piano players the focus – there are so many great ones of Jewish descent (in no particular order): Bob and Steve Sedergreen, Ron Rosenberg and Brett Rosenberg, Allan Zavod, Luke Howard, Ben Winkelman, Mark Isaacs and Simon Tedeschi. The non-pianists participating were Mal Sedergreen, Lucky Oceans, Yaron Hallis (Monsieur Camembert), Ernie Gruner, Ariel and Amy Valent, Willy Zygier, Reuben Zylberszpic, Sophie Brous, Barnaby Gold and Noah Rosenblum. Deborah Conway did some MC-ing. Simon and I were co-Artistic Directors.

After this, we decided to form a band. We spent quite a bit of time researching, arranging and composing and ended up completing a recording with the aid of a grant from the City of Port Phillip and support from many people and organisations. It was called Pazit, distributed through Jazzhead. Luke Howard contributed a couple of arrangements, the rest were done by Simon and I. Particular mention should be made of the mountainous private collection of sheet music made available to us by Rabbi Philip Heilbrun. There are two original tunes on the CD, Chalomot ha Kirkas (Dreams of the Circus) and Meditations on a Judeo-Babylonian Ritual Song. They both featured in my PhD folio – that is the subject of another blog. A number of musicians contributed to the recording:

Drums – Danny Farrugia (Max Cash), Sam Hirschfelder
Saxophone/Clarinet – (Anton ‘Shnooksy Delicatessen’ Delecca)
Trumpet – Eamon McNelis
Trumpet/Piano Accordion/Guitar – Steve Grant
Piano – Scott Griffiths

You can hear all the tracks, read some information, see a picture or too and some videos here: http://www.myspace.com/ajme

After launching the CD, Simon and I both independently moved to Israel. He went indefinitely (still there) and we went for a year. Some great things happened in this year, musically and other.

Here is a Passover song that Simon and I played in 5/4, recorded in the flat in Jerusalem:

Echad Mi Yodea

Were it not for the fact that this blog is focused towards music, I would have to do a post on Hummous. It is something I am very passionate about. Just writing that makes me wish I was in Yaffo around 1pm, just about to walk into Abu Hassan. Drool. Where was I? Aah yes. So when we were there, we assembled a crack troop of musicians for the Israeli franchise, and played around the country. These musicians are all worth checking out, they are all awesome.

Saxophones – Kobi Salomon
Trumpet – Artur Kobasayev
Trombone/Oud – Gershon Waiserfire
Piano – Omri Mor / Anat Fort
Drums – Amir Bresler

Here is that old chestnut, Hava Nagila, played Austin Powers style at Bet Avi Chai (Jerusalem)

Hava Nagila

Some new material has been added, mostly of the ‘tricky’ variety. Some of the music from the album is very hard to play. Both of my originals had complicated click-tracks which Danny F managed to play organically to. Astonishing really (if you heard the click-tracks). We are having a gig soon, without Simon, at the Jewish Museum. I am excited about it, and also about the fact that we will be rehearsing at my place – with the piano! Consolidating arrangements as we speak…

As I was finishing off my PhD in Israel, I reached the conclusion that it is very important to me to engage with Jewish music. To play it, arrange it, compose it. To eat hummous while listening to it. To eat the music while listening to the hummous. To sing it. It is not for religious reasons; it is more viscerally motivated. My Great-Grandfather was the last in a chain of 44 consecutive family Rabbis. He had a son (my Grandfather) – a Doctor. His son (my Dad) was a teacher. I am a musician, which doesn’t leave my son (Sebastian) much room to move.

AJME is playing a different kind of material at the moment – there is arrangement (both notated and conceptual), although there is more scope for spontaneity and individual input. I am proud of our first album, but I feel that the second one will be a little more improvisational. I will try and record our up and coming gig at the Jewish Museum of Australia on September 9, because I think it is going to be special. More on that later…

It is my intention to post things that are new and interesting to me. Before I get into the nuts and bolts of that stage of this blog (it will be soon), I want to devote posts to several projects or areas that are, and have been, important to me in the immediate past/present/future.

I am a member of an ensemble called Frock and have been for over 15 years. The ensemble was formed as a consequence of an enjoyable, shared musical experience during my final year recital for my Bachelor Degree at the Victorian College of the Arts. For this recital, I put together an ensemble that formed the nucleus of what became Frock.

As with most positive experiences I have had, there was a fair degree of luck involved. I had never even spoken to Craig Beard (teacher of percussion, specialist in vibraphone) before I invited him to play on the recital. I was fortunate in that he agreed and that his personality  (both musical and other) was compatible with the rest of the group. I had been lucky to play with Anthony Schulz in ensembles throughout my VCA experience and even luckier to have a brother (Simon) who played bass.

We found a young (at the time!) drummer, Dave Beck, to join us. He was and is a wonderful musician. I look back at how we developed our compositions, our playing and our organic ensemble elasticity. At the time, I assumed that everyone playing in an original jazz ensemble had their pieces practised individually by the band members during teaching days, between students. Just because they were interested musicians. I now know that this is not the rule but the exception. Several international tours and 7 albums later, I think we have all been lucky to grow up together.

Part of the band’s maturation came about through the intensity and excitement of the touring experience. We have been fortunate enough to play at a wide range of festivals and clubs in Europe and Australasia. Highlights include playing in Rome, Vieste, Bayreuth, Montreux (on different tours) and the beautiful, air-conditioned outdoor stage at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. On a different tour we battled legendary American a capella group Take 6 on the basketball court. It was like boys (very young and small boys) against men, and we were the boys. Our third CD Splash was recorded in Bavaria, in Markus Kopschitz’s Backyard Studios – a renovated castle that was also our accommodation. Every studio is unique, offering its own charms and sometimes challenges, but there is something special about recording in your bedroom. Here is a video clip Markus took of us playing Doug’s Dessert, a tune I wrote many years ago in response to a comment made by a former teacher and Melbourne guitar legend, Doug de Vries (our tunes were too demanding, he wanted something sweet…).

Doug’s Dessert

Frock is a slightly unusual ensemble that may safely fall under the broad banner ‘Contemporary Jazz’. It is tune-based, embracing a wide variety of styles and musical approaches. It features three chordal instruments: accordion or piano, guitar and vibraphone. This poses several challenges from an arrangement point of view, while at the same time offering many timbral and rhythmic possibilities. The two main strengths of the band (IMHO) are the differing, yet strongly individual compositional styles amongst its members, and the quality of its ensemble interplay.

There have been a few gigs over the years that the original ensemble has needed someone replaced for a gig or gigs, and we have been joined by some wonderful musicians. I am going to attempt to list them all:

Bass: Jonathon Zion, Chris Hale, Frank Di Sario, Björn Meyer, Anita Hustas

Guitar: Steve Magnusson, Lucas Michailidis

Drums: Danny Farrugia, Rajiv Jayaweera, Sergio Beresovsky, Niko Schauble, Tony Floyd, Ronny Farella, Alistair McGrath-Kerr, Sam Evans

Vibes: Dave Samuels

Saxophones: Anton Delecca, Julian Wilson, Ian Whitehurst, Phil Bywater

Voice: Gian Slater

It is through playing my original music, particularly in Frock, as well as in ensembles at VCA, that my aesthetic as a composer developed. Getting the immediate feedback of having ideas played, pieces rehearsed etc., has been essential in developing my voice as a composer.

Here is a clip of us at Bennett’s Lane, playing a choro I wrote some time ago (appearing on our 5th album Decadence).

Something Groovy Like I Love You

All our recorded music can be found on our Bandcamp page, with the exception of our only CD of non-original music, our interpretations of iconic Australian pop songs, The Father, Son and Holy Ghost – you can find it here (hard copy) or itunes for digital.

This will be an online forum for my thoughts and ideas (musical and other). I plan to post mp3s, videos, scores and prose on a semi-regular basis. I hope it may be of interest to those people who appreciate new music, creativity, improvisation and ideas in general. I also plan to use this forum to articulate and document creative process, and to chronicle wonderful musicians or pieces of music that I have either encountered for the first time, or been reunited with. Part of this project is also to learn through the process – I am hoping to further clarify my thoughts on music (and other) through this reflective lens. My website is www.adamstarr.com, where you can hear my music, see footage of some films I have scored and read a little more detail about me.

I thought I might put in image into this posting, and found this picture of a caterpillar, taken on the same day as Anouchka’s 4th birthday (my daughter).


About Me
I am Adam Starr, a Melbourne-based composer, guitarist, improviser, arranger, educator, husband and father of two beautiful kids. In no particular order, I love: eating, coffee, water, dancing, playing sport, Collingwood, word games, laughing, the absurd, ideas, films, music (come on) and my family. Welcome 2 my studio.
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