Feature Q&A: Jasper Leak, Jazz Man

What is a typical ‘day in the life’ like on a performance day for you?

Usually, the day of a performance is an all-consuming affair made up of load-in, sound check, set-list writing and answering texts — usually about the guest list! I’ve stopped practicing on the day of, accepting that what will be will be by that stage.

How did you become a musician? Do you remember the first time you picked up an instrument?

I fully decided around age 11 that I wanted to be a musician. I was pretty obsessed with it by that stage and was playing piano, trumpet and bass, messing around with a drum computer and 4-track recorder that my folks had given me.

How did you parents/home environment influence you?

I was born in to a musical family. My dad’s an artist who plays piano, my mum played a little guitar and my dad’s brother and sister have both made careers for themselves in music. My grandma started us all off on the piano when we were six. The whole family has always been very supportive of our artistic endeavours, which I’m so thankful for now, looking back.

What bands are you currently recording/playing with?

Sia.

What is your creative/song writing process?

My process is always changing. The initial germ of an idea can literally come from anywhere, and from then on ideas seem to stew around and grow in my subconcious. Sometimes, by the time I sit down to knock an idea out, it can come out close-to-done. Other times, I’ll sit down and mess around with a sample, a new synth patch, a keyboard, whatever. Collaboration is key for me when it comes to writing actual “songs.”

Fran Healy from Travis reckons one in 30 of his ideas become songs, so it’s always hit and miss. But I’ve realized the more I do — regardless if it’s crap or not — is good, because the more you work, the more the odds are in your favour.

What are your favourite jazz clubs in New York?

Fat Cat is great to take friends to and hang out. The 55 Bar, Jazz Gallery, Small’s, Village Vanguard are all great, too.

Who are some of the bands you list as your biggest influences?

Waaaaaaaay too many to list!

What are two current Australian jazz musicians/bands you love?

I’m so out of the loop jazz-wise these days, but I remember hearing a Melbourne trio recently — with Steve Magnusson, Julien Wilson and Stephen Grant — that was insane. The Alcohotlicks from Sydney are sick. too — a bass-less, guitar driven band that play stripped-back, bluesy, rock-y jazz.

Who are your two all-time jazz musicians?

Again, hard to answer….there’s a lot of history there, with a lot of greats along the way! But if I had to choose two, I’d say Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. They were both responsible for so many great albums, such great music and such incredible collaborations; Duke with Strayhorn and Miles with everyone from Charlie Parker, to Coltrane, to Bill Evans, to Herbie Hancock, to Tony Williams, to Wayne Shorter, to Keith Jarrett to rappers in the 90’s!

Any other insights into the music industry in U.S. that you can shed light on?

The music industry is pretty brutal in the U.S. There’s a lot of opportunity there, but the problem is everyone’s hunting the same break. For every band that’s “made it”, there are literally hundreds of others that never will, and the same can be said about guys trying to make it on their own, as sidemen. Even when people do make it, the ride can be short-lived. I’m still trying to find some consistency with it all, and tap in to something that’s a little more sustainable long-term, like writing/publishing, etc.

What are your three favourite music venues in the U.S.?

The Music Hall of Williamsburg [in Brooklyn, NY] sounds amazing. House Of Blues in New Orleans goes off and so does Stubb’s, in Austin, Texas.

What’s the best intimate venue in New York?

Rockwood 2 on Allen St., between Houston and Stanton, and Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker.

What’s one new, up-and coming Australian musician/band you recommend?

PVT. They’ve always had their own way of making music, and it’s great to see their hard work paying off, touring around and being signed to Warp these days.

Is there a standout live show you have played in the U.S.?

We had a concert at Dizzy’s Club in Lincoln Center when I was at school one night. It was with a blues ensemble, and Bernard Purdie was in the audience. I guess he felt like taking over drum duties, and literally walked up to the stage, took the sticks out of the drummer’s hands mid-song and launched in to his famous “Purdie-Shuffle” groove. It was insane to play with a guy who had recorded with Aretha Franklin and just about any famous soul singer you can name!

Any standout stories from performing in the U.S.? Collaborations?

There’s been a lot, and they all stand out for different reasons. Sometimes, someone will shout something out from the audience that can make a particular show stand out. An MC introduced me as “Jack Johnson on the bass” once!

I used to be the house bass player at a Baptist church in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which was a phenomenal experience. The audience/congregation in a place like that gives you more of an energy to feed off than anywhere else you can find. It gives me chills even now thinking about it.

Each recording session has a different dynamic and vibe to it. I did a session for Aussie band Tamarama last year that famed-producer David Kahne was producing. I didn’t even pull my bass out of the bag. He had everything he wanted me to do figured out ahead of time, down to the smallest nuance. He even had a bass for me to play: an old Hofner hollowbody that I think Paul McCartney gave him.

Others are more relaxed, like the ones I used to do for UK Hip Hop producer Lewis Parker. We were roommates at the time, and I remember getting stoned with him, eating watermelon from the local fruit shop and recording til the wee hours on a many a summer night.

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