An interview with Francesca Prihasti for Jazz Australia.
Like many young jazz musicians you have made the pilgrimage to New York.
JA: How have you found the journey so far and what kind of opportunities has the jazz scene there provided for you?
FP: The journey so far has been great and the jazz scene here has provided so many learning opportunities which is crucial for my growth as a musician.
It is also very humbling and inspiring to see so many people here with the craftsman mindset, taking their craft and being the best at it and contribute their uniqueness to it.
The scene here in New York grounds me in reality which is to realize that there’s so much and endless knowledge to gain and explore in music (and outside music). For me I feel that it’s crucial to maintain an open mind and to constantly seek connections between knowledge and ideas.
JA: You graduated from New York University in 2018 with a Master Of Music. Who were some of the musicians you studied with?
FP: I studied with Kevin Hays, Peter Bernstein, Drew Gress, Alan Broadbent, Ari Hoenig, and Alan Ferber.
JA: What is the live music scene like in New York these days. Do you often get the chance to play in local clubs etc.?
FP: The live music scene in New York is very vibrant. The beauty of it is that you can find and observe the niche within the scene that resonates to your interest.
Yes, I get the chance to play as a sidewoman for some of my friends’ project, as well as co-leading my group with my husband Nic Vardanega, playing our originals at local clubs.
JA: In 2017 you represented the jazz department of the New York University in Costa Rica. Tell us about that project.
FP: My husband, 3 other close friends and myself formed a band called The East Eleventh Collective. It’s a five piece band (drums, bass, guitar, piano and violin). We went to Costa Rica and did some performances and masterclasses in venues and institutes / colleges in San Jose and Manuel Antonio.
Before I went on tour with the East 11th Collective, I wrote a piece called “Verano” which means summer in Spanish and I premiered this piece with the collective in Costa Rica. Later on, I included this piece on my album with a larger septet format.
JA: You have just released your third album which is a tribute to your late mother Ratna Adriana. Tell us about the experience of expressing your emotions in music
FP: It is of course difficult when going through the loss of a loved one but on the other side, I found this resiliency inside me to help see the reality for what it is. The truth is…the world does not stop even for the grieving person and life must go on. That was why I chose to use this project to transform my grief.
JA: The album was recorded in New York in May of last year. Tell us about the process and some of the musicians who accompanied you.
FP: I’ve done two quartet albums and I wanted to experiment with different sounds, textures and arrangements so I decided to add melodic instruments like trombone, alto /soprano and trumpet / flugelhorn. I also use the guitar as part of the horn section. So piano was the only chordal instrument in there where I can experiment with the harmony.
By arranging for the horns, I learned how to balance the use of unison, counter lines, backgrounds, and also to think of harmonic movement not only vertically but also horizontally (as a melodic phrases, which I often use for the counter lines).
The process was easy due to the fact that I already had connections with the musicians who played with me. It makes such a big difference when you actually know them personally. I studied private lessons and composition with Drew Gress and Alan Ferber. I had done a few live performances with Dave Pietro in New York and Costa Rica with the East 11th Collective. I took ensemble class and learned from Mike Rodriguez while I was still at NYU. Josh Roberts is a good friend of mine and we did many gigs together in a group that I co led with Nic Vardanega (my husband).
JA: Your husband is Australian guitarist Nic Vardanega, who also plays on your album. How did you meet and do you regularly exchange musical ideas?
FP: We studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music together (2009-2012) for the Bachelor degree in jazz performance, so that’s how we met. Yes we do regularly exchange musical ideas, co leading a group and playing each other’s compositions as well as recommending each other records to listen to.
JA: You are a real international musician, originally from Indonesia, graduating from the Sydney Conservatorium and now resident in New York. Where do you call home?
FP: I call all three places home in different ways. I appreciate the richness of knowing the people and culture in more than one place. Indonesia is my home country and origin. Australia is like my second home. I have a lot of fond memories and history in both countries. I love New York because I feel that since i moved here I’ve grown personally and musically. I learned how to live frugally here where I can find both comforts and challenges. It makes me happy to have that kind of balance and flow here in New York
JA: What are your plans for the future as regards recording and performing
FP: I simply would like to keep going, keep creating music, keep playing with other people, and keep practising…I believe that practise grounds you in reality. It makes you aware of your limitations and to work on it. The main thing is to keep going without expecting things to happen and let things unfold organically. For me music is more like a craft than career or job. It requires dedication and constant improvement of the skills you have.