Meet Kerbside Collection

Normally we would be concerned about publishing something this long on the blog. We get it, attention spans are exponentially shorter on the internet, but this interview is so packed with interesting details about jazz music in Australia, its history and evolution along with links to get so much deeper into the study of Australian jazz, that we had to share it in its entirety. When he’s not talking about the history of jazz, dummer Jason Bell is explaining music’s ability to speak in a way words can’t, how the quintet goes about recording a jazz album (along with details on the gear they used) and the difficulties of being a band from all the way down under. If you can’t finish it all in one sitting, keep it bookmarked and remember to come back to it later. You won’t be sorry.

What is Australia’s jazz tradition like? Has it followed a similar trajectory as in the U.S. or would you say it’s unique to Australia?

Kerbside Collection isn’t really a jazz band…We play simple funky arranged songs, that have a more Jazzy, West Coast, instrumental flavour than that of the New Orleans/Bluesy/stripped back soul/ Sharon Jones and The Dapkings/Charles Bradley style of funk.

But If you wanted me to go ahead and try to answer the question….eeesh…wo…Ok-I’m no historian (merely a drummer) and by no means ‘an authority’ on Aussie Jazz, but I’ll try my best to answer this from my background.  

Australia has a very small, rarified but rich Jazz tradition. Of course we all know the first incarnation of ‘jazz’ was in America (that will never be forgotten) – but what’s really interesting is how it’s spread around the world, how other nations/races have absorbed the information they could find about it and mixed, and blended it alongside their existing culture and situations to express the colours of their environment or how they live.

This is exactly what’s happened in Australia – although the recent ‘Australia’ (like the recent America) is a concoction of a wide range of nationalities (that’s still very young – only around 200 yrs old). The earliest ‘waves’ of Jazz were very much the same as what was happening in America – New Orleans/Bluesy/Dixieland/Rag Time/Trad jazz (i.e. Duke, Louie, Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton etc) mostly instrumental. My Grandfather (Roger Bell – trumpet) and his brother (Graeme – piano – the more well known of the two) were among the first to really express an ‘Australian style’ of this type of jazz. Watch a documentary about it here

I think the ‘jolliness’ of that dixieland style really resonated with the ‘happy-go-lucky’/’larikin’ (but hard working) nature of Aussies at that time (early-mid 1900s), and not forgetting the importance it had (helping lift people’s spirits), during the 1st and 2nd world wars – at a time where families husbands and kids were off on the other side of the planet helping fight a war they didn’t know much about (something that actually took Graeme over to tour Europe and play for the ‘troops’)

The difference was that the music had a more stripped back, ‘down-home’, rustic flavour that resulted from the fact that there weren’t many musicians (or opportunities) to play this stuff, and that it was mostly a ‘hobby’  or  ‘spare-time’ pursuit (as opposed to the ‘big’ ‘brassy’ ‘showy’ and ‘technical’ American stuff  – which it had to be because of the competition in the US).

Here’s a cool clip of footage from an early ‘Australian Jazz Convention’ (or ‘weekender’ as they would say in the UK) that helps portray some of that Aussie spirit and the early jazz sounds of down under:

Getting back to my comment above about music (jazz) expressing the colours of the environment or surrounds, Australia has alot of ‘environment’ to ‘be inspired by’, or referenced to – but on a whole, we tend to lack the ‘creative know-how’ with which to express this (something Indigenous Australians have no trouble with – as they ‘live with the land’). However there are some great examples of Australian ‘music and land’ jazz. One of the most important being a series entitled ‘Australia and All that Jazz with compositions by one of Australia’s great ‘jazz men’ – multi-instrumentalist John Sangster – who also made some funkier jazz albums worth checking (Ahead of HairMiddle Earth etc). These compilations were interesting musical excursions into some of the iconic landscape of Australia. 

In reference to Jazz in Australia’s ‘rarified’ appearance, there weren’t many spots or hang outs to let jazz grow commercially in a performance setting, however one club famous for this was Sydney’s ‘El Rocco’ Jazz Cellar known for nurturing some important jazz musicians (Judy Bailey, Don Burrows, Errol Buddle, Galapagos Duck etc), and pivotal in the development of ‘modern jazz’ (Bop etc) in Oz….the lack of clubs/festivals/opportunities has never deterred the people that ‘really’ love this type of music from keeping it alive, and this is Australian Jazz’s strongest attribute – that we have some absolute hidden talents worth discovering, and that somehow the music can still live on without a substantial platform (I guess the same way it has in Europe)….I do however think that ‘Jazz’ has fallen off the Australian radar considerably over the past 20 years (especially after the ’80’s nearly killed ‘organic’ music) the same way it has in America….so yes Jazz’s ‘heyday’ has definitely passed – but it hasn’t stopped people from learning it, making it, exploring it, and releasing it – and that’s what keeps it fresh from an ‘enthusiast point of view’….some of the most interesting ‘new jazz’ coming out today (in my opinion) is from Scandinavia (The Five Corners Quintent, Jukka Eskola, Dalindeo, Teddy Rok, etc.) and Japan (Quasimode, Indigo Jam Unit, Hajima Yoshizawa & Sleep Walker, Soil & Pimp Session, etc) …including the UK and of course the Mattson 2 (US) are sounding fresh! 🙂 

For more info and a brief digest overview on Aussie Jazz read: here

For info on are Aussie Funk releases read: here

A DJ mix was created to coincide with our ‘Mind the Curb’ album release. It actually contains a couple of Aussie records featuring some important jazz musicians (Don Burrows, George Golla, Julien Lee, Col Nolan etc), swell as a couple of new school bands (The Bamboos, The Cactus Channel) alongside some other rarified jazz funk and West Coast inspired flavours

…take a listen here

How many people make up the Collection? What instruments are represented?

In it’s basic setup – Kerbside Collection is guitar, organ, bass, and drums (4). From time to time, we’ve involved various other instruments and friends (Flute, Baritone sax etc).

Have you ever considered introducing a singer?

For now Kerbside Collection on it’s own is an all instrumental project. We’re not against singers (infact, I love good vocals – I flew down to Sydney earlier in the year to see Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley!), but I wanted to put a project together that helped give the musicians room to ‘speak’. I believe sometimes musicians can have some cool things, or at least sometimes more interesting things to say than words on their own can. Some of the songs have definite ‘theme’s’, but being purely instrumental, it can help keep the music open, and people can interpret it in various ways. I just thought there was alot of vocal stuff out there, and thought it would be nice to do something instrumental. We actually do a little funk/rare groove/northern soul night that we call ‘The Good Foot’ where the band plays covers of some classics (James Brown, Barbara Acklin, the Meters, Nicole Willis etc) including reworks of current tunes alongside a vocalist…which has been fun…but for now Kerbside Collection recordings won’t contain any vocals.

How long have you been playing music together? How many records do you have to your Kerbside name?

Around four years – we got together loosly towards the end of 2009. 

We have the debut 7″ (released in Nov 2011 – limited 300 copies!) – Jelly Belly/A Night Tunisia (covering Dizzy Gillespie’s classic) 

Now the the debut LP ‘Mind The Curb’

There’s a limited (100 copies) hand stamped 7″ of Cat Whip/Red Stripe coming out late this month or early August (for the 45 collectors)…then there’s a remix release due out later in the year (featuring remixes and reworks from friends).

Jazz is mainly improv, no? How do you go about putting an album together? Do you just jam in the studio with the recorders on and pick out the good stuff, or do you write the songs beforehand?

Depends on what ‘kind of Jazz’. Yes in it’s true sense ‘jazz playing or soloing’ is quite free, unique to each player, improvised and sometimes created on the spot (after many years of learning, practicing the craft heh)…Kerbside Collection’s sound features this element, but within a ‘song structure’ – I believe the song/theme/melody is important – that’s what the majority of people can understand/digest if presented properly.  Although I appreciate the ‘art’, I find it a little ‘hard going’ getting down and boogieing to, or even simply understanding a crazy Sun Ra free jazz piece.

The songs get written in a pretty traditional ‘band setting’…Basic Ideas, melodies, grooves are presented and the tunes grow and expand from there till the arrangement is done (this can be as quick as 30 minutes, or a couple of weeks) The trick with this project is to not over complicate things, we’re not asking people to ‘take an exam’ when they listen to the music. 

For this record (Mind The curb), the tunes were all written, rehearsed and worked on before hand, then we went into the studio to record them down ‘live’ (all musicians in the one room playing together – mics bleeding into other mics and no ‘click’) over 3 days.>

For the gear geeks we had a full Hammond Organ (took 5 of us to lift up into the studio) and Leslie amp, fender rhodes and AER acoustic amp, Guitars through Fender Blues Junior amp with vintage mic, Bass player was playing a 1976 Fender ‘P’ Bass through a Custom Valve bass head, and I was playing on an orig  60’s Ludwig Bebop drum kit, copper Pearl floater snare with Bosphorus hand hammered hi-hats (versa series) and ride (Stanton Moore wide ride), and Ziljian Constantinople crash and home made rivet crash….all lovingly recording onto 1/4 inch tape and engineered by Jake Mason (from Cookin’ on 3 Burners – another cool Aussie hammond funk group worth checking). 

What makes what you do “jazz funk” as opposed to straight jazz?

Well that’s just used to help describe the sounds involved….the music sounds Jazzy and Funky…..or Funky and Jazzy….

The term Jazz-funk (according to wikipedia) “is a sub-genre of jazz music characterized by a strong back beat (groove), electrified sounds, and often retains a strong feel of groove embodying a more ‘R&B’ versus ‘jazz fusion’ approach to the production.” It’s used to describe the music made by people like The Mizell Brothers, Joe Sample (and the Crusaders), Eddie Henderson, Donald Byrd, and even some of George Benson’s work. The term was coined alongside the ‘rare groove’ crate digging DJs like Norman Jay and Gilles Peterson during the late 80s, when they were championing and rediscovering the more personal work of these artists (and many lesser knowns) who’s recordings and releases had gone by relatively un-noticed from their initial release in the 70s. 

Kerbside Collection is definitely ‘not’ a purists’ jazz group. Most of the songs have a strong funk (or groove) feel underneath with jazzy inflections (as opposed to ‘rocky’ or ‘latin’ or ‘disco’ etc) throughout the music. Some of the players have strong inspirations or stylings (e.g our guitarist – Ravi – who displays influences from people like Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Larry Carlton), but instead of just re-producing the ‘cleaner’ sound of those artists, we tried to gritty it up a little more – gritty is pretty….

the lengthier description of our sound is: ‘A gritty rhythm section of old school drums and fender or upright bass, alongside funky hammond and rhodes, with some sweet George Benson-ish jazz guitar licks on top.’  

You note that your sounds harken back to 60s and 70s-perhaps the jazz heyday. How do you make jazz contemporary? Or do you?

Yes our sound does harken back (especially maybe in the pre-80s production approach), but it also looks forward – not in a ‘completely innovative/ground breaking way’, but more of a gentle ‘preservation of appreciation’ way – keeping the simplistic sound and approach of that style going (drums, bass, keys and guitar). I would say if you want to talk about people really pushing the boundaries of contemporary jazz into the future – you would look at people like Jazz Re:freshed, Richard Spaven, Kaidi Tatham, Mark de Clive Owen, and Neil Cowley

I think its fine for people to still make funk and jazz these days. It’s good, tasty music, that people enjoy getting down to, musicians like playing it and the timeless sound of organic drums, organ, bass and guitar still sounds sounds fresh and can resonate with the times of today….People like Eddie Roberts, and The New Mastersounds, Soulive, FrootfulThe Mattson TwoRay Barbee, etc., are making great music with that same approach! As Duke Ellignton said, “there’s only 2 types of music – good music…and… the other stuff”.

Do you have plans to tour this new record?

We would love to get it out on the road…although our position all the way ‘down-under’ can make things a little trickier. We’ll be doing some spots around Australia, and maybe get to Europe next year….we’ve got a bunch of new songs that we hope to put some more work into later in the year and record early 2014.

For more from Kerbside Collection visit:

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