As Nic Vardanega launches his first CD Inverno, we chat to him about his music and inspiration.
JK: How did you first get interested in music and start playing the guitar?
NV: My mother is a music educator so from a very young age I was exposed to a lot of music, particularly her collection of Sting albums! I started keyboard classes when I was four but really had no interest in it at all. It wasn’t until I was seven, when a friend of mine who was a little older than me started learning to play guitar, that I thought I should do the same and give it a go.
JK: What is about the guitar in jazz that captures your imagination?
NV: I guess I’m amazed at how versatile the guitar can be in jazz. Its function can be anything from a front line horn-like instrument through to having a rhythmic and/or harmonic role. The timbres and textures you can achieve are limitless and can often take you in another direction towards a different soundscape.
JK: Who are the jazz guitarists who have really inspired you?
NV: Originally it was guitarists like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green that really got the ball rolling for me in terms of checking out jazz guitar. I’m also really influenced by Jim Hall and Peter Bernstein for their class and understatement as well as Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell for their more modern approach to the guitar.
These days I find myself checking out a lot of the current crop of guitarists in New York City. Guys like Mike Moreno, Lage Lund and Jonathan Kreisberg, whom I’ve been lucky to study with during my visits there.
JK: When did you first start playing professionally and tell us about who you have played with?
NV: I started playing professionally when I was around sixteen, both with older musicians on the northern beaches of Sydney and in a jazz group formed with a bunch of my musical mates from school. As we were all interested in trying to play jazz, we would rehearse every Saturday in the drummer’s garage learning new tunes and then managed to get a few local gigs.
When I was in my third year at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music I got the chance to play in Mike Nock’s Trio-plus group, which was a fantastic learning experience playing with such an established figure on the international and Australian jazz scene. I’ve also played a lot with a great young pianist Francesca Prihasti who leads her own quartet. I was lucky enough to be a part of her debut recording last year, which took place in New York with an amazing local rhythm section consisting of Marco Panascia on bass and Ulysses Owens Jr. on drums.
JK: When did your interest in composing start?
NV: I’ve always been interesting in composing and have had the goal for a long time to play and record music that is my own. Many of the musicians that I admire have a great collection of their own compositions and I’ve seen it as an effective way of taking all your influences and inspiration and converting it into your own sound and style. It has only been the last few years that composing has become a bigger component of my practicing, as I feel more confident in both my aesthetic and what I’m trying to achieve as a composer.
JK: How do you see this progressing in the future?
NV: I definitely intend to continue writing and developing myself as a composer. I think it’s important for a musician to keep documenting themselves on recordings with both where their playing and writings at. I’m also really into studying the jazz tradition and playing the compositions of my peers and others as I feel that keeps giving me fresh ideas and ways to explore composing.
JK: Tell us about the recording of your album Inverno which took place in the Blue Mountains?
NV: With this record I wanted to focus on capturing pure acoustic sound sources and Craig Field’s Underwood Studios had an amazing Steinway grand piano which I thought would really compliment the sound of the tunes on the album and also Steve’s playing. The quality of the piano in a studio is always a key factor any time you decide to record a group with piano! We recorded the tunes over two days and then I added some acoustic overdubs a few weeks later to give a little more production and texture to some of the songs.
JK: The album has a distinct theme and narrative. Tell us the story behind that?
NV: I’ve always been interested with concept, especially with recordings that have a consistent theme and identifiable aesthetic. After writing, playing the music live and then recording, I realised the tunes shared a common thread and that as a program they complimented each other well. A lot of the songs are inspired by my Italian heritage and time I’ve spent in that area of the world as well the acoustic sound sources I’m attracted to. As a result I think the theme and narrative of the record appeared naturally and the fact that we recorded the album in the middle of winter in the Blue Mountains was a fitting vibe for the record.
JK: What are you plans for the next three or four years?
NV: Now that I have a recording under my belt, I hope to get my music out there and have opportunities to play to a wider audience across Australia and then hopefully abroad. I also have plans to make another record in the not too distant future. Apart from that, my main priority is to simply keep improving as a musician and writer so I can keep making better music!
Performance dates 2015
April 7 – Newcastle (Newcastle Improvised Music Association)
April 9 – Canberra (Smith’s Alternative)
April 14 – Sydney (Foundry 616 – Jazzgroove Association)