Australian multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, educator and may we add ORIS LOVER, James Morrison plays multiple roles, but all of them bound by notes of music. James has a veritable fan following and we were fortunate enough to sit down with the ‘King of Jazz’ at a recent valedictorian event in Mount Gambier. James’ latest release “In Good Company” with his mentor, the legendary Don Burrows has remained at the top of the charts ever since its debut. Morrison is also on the path to making a mark on music education through The James Morrison Academy of Music, a dedicated jazz school in partnership with the University of South Australia. Read on to know more about the maestro…
Early musical influences…
My roots are in a small town, in the country. The community was very musical. My mother played the organ in church. We moved to Sydney when I was seven years old. I joined the school band. But, the local church we went to was bigger, and ironically, I first heard jazz there. One thing led to another. I took to jazz and started playing in bands. The rest as they say, is history.
How has jazz transformed your life?
I don’t think that being a jazz musician is something you choose. You discover that you are one. If you are lucky you can discover it and make it a career. I think it is something you are, rather than something you do. What that means is that it is a form of expression, and to take this expression and your passion into a vocation is really difficult. These are often three different things, and to have them connected as one; it’s a different kind of life. The line between work, passion and expression is completely gone.
Your latest release “In Good Company” with Don Burrows has remained in the Top 10 of the Aria Jazz Charts since its debut at No 2. What are some of the best things about creating your own music?
A jazz musician is freer in interpreting. So I think that what we should do, at least once a year or so, is to question where am I heading now, and interpret that by capturing snapshots, collaborations…With Don Burrows I have collaborated for long and he has been an important part of my life. To capture that musically is really what it’s about.
You are known for inspiring the next generation of musicians. We would love to know a little about the James Morrison academy of music and how have you seen jazz evolve over the last few years?
I’ve always been involved in education, but mainly as a touring musician and doing workshops, master classes and so on. You talk to a group of musicians and then you may or may not even see them again. When you do this over many years, you tend to think in terms of, “If I had a school then…”. The opportunity to take a group of musicians and follow them through, and nurture them; that is what the James Morrison Academy of Music is about. We have courses, but the purpose is to find out what kind of musician you are and to manifest it. There are many different ways of playing jazz as there are people playing it. It is a journey together.
We don’t talk about rhythm and pulse; we talk about time! When we ask, how is his time, we refer to the ability to evoke rhythm. Jazz is all about time! It’s kind of cool that the highest award we give to a jazz musician is a timepiece because that person will have exceptional time! A watch is something that lasts a lifetime. There is nothing more long-lasting than that. When your phone becomes three models old, it will not be useful, and one day it eventually breaks. So does a lovely pair of glasses or any other item. Very few things in life, are for life. Beautiful pens can be one of them. Most of them but, are timepieces. It is something that we want to be timeless. To have something like that as a gift always works. It is a beautiful marriage of ideas and physical object. A jazz watch…that’s the coolest thing! It is riddled with great connections.
As an artist, what drew you to Oris?
I have always loved fine things, and that includes Swiss watches. It is an example of craftsmanship, but it also symbolizes something. You can tell the time with any digital watch. It keeps perfect time. Anything can keep time. It’s more about what went into making the timepiece. I find that the personal interests of the person who makes the products, like the jazz line, is interesting. It is all about what you are putting into it, and that says something. It’s more than a timepiece. It’s a statement. I am currently wearing the Oris Oscar Peterson. Here is a company that relates to something. The fact that they have jazz watches…well that’s something!
The actual people in the company don’t see their work as just a job. It is a company that does not just make beautiful products, but also thinks about ‘why’. The little things and symbols in the design matter. They don’t scream for attention. You appreciate the thought behind it.
How would you describe your style and how does Oris come into it?
I am a jazz musician and I like change! Thankfully, I am able to have more than one watch! My style is changeable. Some of my watches are classy, some are avant-garde. I don’t go sporty as often, so I don’t have many sport watches. I love complicated watches with lots of functions. I can sit on a plane and try different things with the watch. I fly around a lot, and so a pilot’s watch is a must. A classy dress watch is also a must.
That’s a great note to end on!
(Many thanks to James Morrison and his team and Oris Australia for making this interview possible. Interview taken in November 2016)