Music Arts blog

Graduate Profile - Johnny Lawrence

19 Sep 2016
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Ara Music Arts Graduate Johnny Lawrence’s journey as a musician started with his father, a classical pianist in Christchurch. Originally a guitarist, the bass became Johnny’s primary instrument after joining his father’s band.

“I eventually fell in love with it…at first I just wanted to play guitar, but [it was] the foundational aspect - how you’re the grounding the band. I love that big bass sound sitting at the bottom of a groove.”

Johnny credits another Music Arts graduate and his High School Bass tutor, Brett Hirst, with inspiring him to audition for the program. On reflection Johnny describes the positive environment and expertise of the tutors with making the program such an enjoyable experience.

As with many Music Arts graduates, Johnny spent the next several years aboard the cruise ships, playing first with a big band, before switching to a jazz trio.“I spent way too long on the cruise ships, I think on or off for about 6 or 7 years. The Jazz trio was great though, we really took it to the future by mixing electronic and groove into the mix.”

From there he went on to Asia playing the hotel covers circuit, before moving to Canada where he focused his playing on rock and pop before returning home to NZ in 2014.

“I loved playing with musicians of so many nationalities, especially Americans. I have a big love for American music and they seem to have the spirit of that music in them. Some of them truly are on another level and a bit more aggressive about making it.”

Since returning to New Zealand Johnny has found success with R&B/Soul/Electronica heroes Electric Wire Hustle. Having recently recorded and toured with them after relocating to Wellington.

“Work hard and play as much as you can with many different people is my advice. Stay hungry and committed to the music. If you have a passion for it you have to go for it. Keep your head down and dig deep and enjoy it!”

Graduate profile - John 'Hooves' Clayton

08 Jul 2016
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Originally starting out on piano at age six, John 'Hooves' Clayton would answer the calling of several musical instruments before finally landing behind the drum kit during his school years at Riccarton High.

"I'd never considered the possibility of making a career playing music", he admits, "At that point I was thinking about going and studying engineering. It wasn't until my friend Justin Fukushima auditioned for the Ara Music Arts course that I considered it. I was playing in Stu Buchannan's big band at the time and he encouraged me to go for it."

"I remember thinking, wait, you can actually go and study music, why didn't anyone tell me!? I grew up surrounded by music and would obsess over Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, the Finn Brothers, so it was a pretty easy choice."

Starting in 1995, John was quick to adapt. In his 2nd year he began composing his own music as well as delving into Drum & Bass and Jungle.

"Ara was a really great environment. I got along really well with everyone, even though I was a bit stunned at first by everyone's chops. I was a bit raw and green when I got in, but they shaped me up."

After graduating John played all over New Zealand and Indonesia before moving to Melbourne. He bought a computer and continued writing Drum & Bass, playing in various groups until in 2009 when Shapeshifter asked him to be their new drummer.

"I was with Shapeshifter for three years", he says, "They liked that I'd had that training and knew the genre. These days I drum in Opiou's live band and do a lot of session drumming. The electronic stuff is the hardest I've ever done!"

"I'd love to go back and study at Ara knowing what I know now. I would structure my practices more, but sometimes you have to learn that the hard way. I've been lucky to still be close to many of the people I met during my time at Ara, and it's always good having people set the bar high for your own work."

"If you really want this you have to work really hard, but if you want to lead a passionate life, live and work your passion. Then do it.  That was the choice I made and I've never looked back!"

Richard Ashby - Graduate - Q & A

16 Jun 2016

Q: Who are you? Where are you? What year did you graduate?

Richard Ashby - originally from Gore…been living in Sydney since 2008.  Graduated Dip.Jazz in 2002, and BMusHons (jazz) from University of Canterbury in 2004.

Q: What is your instrument and when and why did you start playing?

Guitar.  Started playing about age 12. I come from a musical family and grew up playing rock 'n' roll and country gigs around Southland and Otago. After school job during high school was playing gigs in country pubs and rugby clubs - quite a sight for a 14-15 year old at times!  By about 17-18 I was more into Blues and Rock, particularly instrumental guitar music like Joe Satriani. After a year at the SIT in Invercargill improving my music theory and reading, I decided I wanted to learn to play jazz and how to improvise. 

Q: How did Jazz school influence you and your playing? Tutors?Gigs?Workshops? 

Initially Jazz School was a shock to the system.  Coming from a rock and blues covers background I felt I couldn't say what I wanted to say on the guitar anymore, compared to how expressive accomplished jazz players could be.  After the first six months of the diploma course I realised I wanted to be able to improvise, and that was really my main motivation.  I have to credit Bob Heinz for instilling in me such a thorough knowledge of the guitar and music theory.  He helped to break down a lot of the barriers on my instrument and showed me how to access the whole instrument effectively.  Regular gigs at Vesuvio's, Sammy's, Sol Square among others helped me to build a repertoire (mostly of funk songs in the beginning!) and to gain confidence as a jazz performer. Just being able to play with experienced tutors on a daily basis was probably the greatest aspect of the jazz course - for me, having the opportunity to play with Gwyn Reynolds, Simon Lean-Massey, Harry Harrison, Cameron Pearce, Bob Heinz, Doug Caldwell and many others taught me so much very quickly.  Although at times intimidating, it was the best way to jump in the deep end and discover what could be achieved on an instrument.

Q: What is your greatest musical achievement to date? What are your current/future projects?

Since relocating to Sydney eight years ago, I've been fortunate enough to establish Spyglass Gypsies - a gypsy jazz group that has been performing for the past six years around the country.  We currently have funding through the Australian Arts Council, have toured nationally and have been lucky enough to perform at many major festivals and with several international artists including guitar luminary Hank Marvin, Dutch guitar virtuoso Lollo Meier and most recently with Portuguese Fado singer Ana Moura, in a sold-out show at Sydney's Enmore Theatre. 

Currently we are working on our second album of original music, which features influences from Gypsy Swing, Fado, Rumba and Musette. We hope to bring the group to New Zealand in 2017, so keep an eye out for us
 www.facebook.com/spyglassgypsies

Q: What is your fondest memory of Jazz school? 

Some of my fondest memories of Jazz school are of discovering new music either during ensemble rehearsals or when trawling through the extensive jazz school library.  Others include time spent performing with fellow students either on gigs or during rehearsal time, especially the early days when improvising was still a largely undiscovered skill and the moments of real expression and communication were rare and often unexpected.  I think ultimately the fondest memory is of when I realised that here was a genre of music I totally connected with, even though I didn't understand a lot of it yet. 

Here's a few quotes:  

Bob - 'Well I guess you could play Stella in 3/4, but you know it'll sound bad…'

Simon Lean - 'That's a nice new guitar.'

Me - 'Yea, I got it to play gypsy jazz on'

Simon -  'Oh, sorry to hear that' 

Harry Harrison - 'She had a vibrato that would take the air out of a sponge cake'

Sam Blakelock - graduate profile

09 May 2016
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Q: Who are you? Where are you? What year did you graduate?

I'm Sam Blakelock, I graduated in 2011 with a double major in Jazz Guitar and Jazz Arranging. I have been living in NYC for 3 years, studying my Master of Music at Queens College and now playing around on off-broadway, hotels, and with whoever else calls me. 

Q: What is your instrument and when and why did you start playing?

I started out wanting to be Jack Johnson. I loved writing songs, strumming chords and recording music. I was fortunate to have Harry Harrison (Ara Music Arts teacher) teach me at my high school. Harry helped me discover jazz and encouraged me to attend jazz school.

Q: How did Jazz school influence you and your playing? Tutors? Gigs? Workshops? 

My favourite part of jazz school was listening to students older than me perform. They pushed me to improve (fast) and inspired me. There we so many killing musicians one to four years above me, and I would walk past those two pictures on the stairs everyday of the "Jazz School All Stars" and think, "Damn, I got a lot of practicing to do."

Connecting with other musicians and performing around town was a big plus. The teachers were awesome of course, and it’s always a thrill attending workshops from visiting artists. I remember being so inspired (and equally intimidated) when David Berkman gave his workshops. I was lucky to spend 18 months over here in NYC learning from David who has had an enormous impact on my music.

Q: What is your greatest musical achievement to date? What are your current/future projects?

I tweeted Snarky Puppy and convinced Jazz School to fly Michael League over to Christchurch for workshops. Mike's a super lovely guy and It was in incredible honour to perform him in Christchurch. I'm very thankful to have been able to stay in touch with him in NYC. I have performed with Perez Hitlon for six months in an off-broadway show Full House the Musical Parody, MD'd cruise ship bands, played live on Brooklyn BRICtv, and performed at Brooklyn Bowl.

Q: What is your fondest memory of Jazz school (Ara Music Arts)? 

I can't decide between

A) Heating up my pasta in the microwave everyday for 4 years.

B) Sleeping behind a piano over night

C) Late night jams in the auditorium

I'm going to go with:

D) Meeting so many amazing musicians and making life long friends.