In conversation with… James Farrough, trombonist and co-director of Jazz Melbourne

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries: stellamusicwriter.wordpress.com)

I had the chance to speak to James Farrough, trombonist and co-director of emerging jazz arts organisation, Jazz Melbourne. James co-directs Jazz Melbourne with fellow musician Toshi Clinch, and together they run multiple youth Big Band programs, as well as numerous educational workshops with Australian and international jazz artists. It’s wonderful to see the vast range of opportunities they are offering to young and developing jazz musicians, out in the real world.

Jazz Melbourne have a number of events coming up: their major professional jazz ensemble, The Jazz Melbourne Orchestra, will be making their debut at Chapel Off Chapel presenting the music of Dizzy Gillespie. Performances on Feb 28th and 29th, tickets and more information can be found here.

Both Youth Studio Big Bands will be performing soon at the Paris Cat Jazz Club: Band 2 will be presenting a program of video game music arrangements on Feb 23rd and 26th, more information can be found on the Facebook event. Band 1 will be performing a selection of famous film music on March 6th and 7th, Facebook event.

If you enjoy what you read in the interview below, you can sign up to Jazz Melbourne’s newsletter by emailing info@jazzmelbourne.org


How did you find yourself playing trombone?

I started playing trombone because I was lucky enough to go to a primary school that had a fantastic instrumental band program. The director there at the time, Daniel Neal, was a fabulous teacher and he gave everyone the opportunity to start learning an instrument from grade three. So I began playing the trombone in the school band program when I was eight years old.

I initially applied to learn trumpet rather than trombone, as being a typical eight year old boy, I thought it was the coolest instrument of the symphonic band. For whatever reason I ended up being assigned the trombone instead, but I think I was so excited to start playing an instrument that I didn’t mind not getting my first pick (and now I know that trombone players are in fact the coolest people in any band).

Did you have a moment, or series of moments, when you realised you wanted to pursue music more seriously?

I don’t think there was a particular moment that made me decide to take on a career in music. I certainly enjoyed playing trombone from the beginning, but it wasn’t until year eleven, when I was really started to get into practicing and improving on my instrument, that I truly felt like I had a passion for music.

There have certainly been highlights throughout the years which have inspired me. My high school, Eltham High, had a great instrumental music program, so I got to compete in Generations in Jazz every year, and go on international band tours with the school which exposed me to some amazing music and performers. The Australian Youth Orchestra’s National Music Camp this year was also a fantastic experience. Two weeks of meeting amazing musicians from all around Australia, working with inspiring tutors, putting on stellar performances, all while having a great time!

Saxophonist Drew Zaremba (centre) after performing two shows with Youth Studio Big Band 1 in June 2019

Can you describe the inspiration behind establishing Jazz Melbourne?

Jazz Melbourne began as an idea I had with my friend and fellow musician Toshi Clinch. We wanted to create a high level youth Big Band program, where the best students from Melbourne’s high schools and universities could come together to put on performances in a professional setting.

A key element of the program was that the students would get to workshop and perform with professional jazz artists from Australia as well as overseas. One of the international artists we brought to Melbourne was Rich De Rosa, director of jazz composition and arranging at The University of North Texas. While he was here, he worked with our youth bands and ran a personal development session on jazz improvisation which was very popular.

From the success of that workshop, we started hosting more educational courses. As the number of events in our calendar started to grow, we decided that we should become an official entity: Jazz Melbourne. From there we got involved with Ignite Lab, a great entrepreneurship program run through the University of Melbourne. After receiving a grant through one of Ignite Lab’s programs we were able to have a number of consultations with industry professionals on running a successful business model.

What kind of programs do you offer through the company?

Youth Studio Big Band Program:

The Jazz Melbourne Youth Studio Big Band program brings together some of Melbourne’s highest-level jazz students to work on professional sets of music, alongside local and international jazz artists. Currently the program includes two 17-piece big bands which are comprised of students ranging from the age of 16 to 21. The youth bands feature students from a wide range of schools and institutions around Melbourne, who are selected through an audition process.

Each band has five unique projects throughout the year, with each project including five rehearsals and two performances. This format creates a short time frame for the students to learn the required pieces, which lies between a normal school scenario and a professional scenario. Additionally, various projects feature local and international artists working with the bands.

Youth Studio Big Band 1 rehearsing Disney’s ‘Zero to Hero’ for their upcoming concerts of film music, 6th and 7th March at the Paris Cat Jazz Club.

Not So Big Band Program:

The Not So Big Band program is a scholarship program that features the top four students from the Youth Studio Big Band program, working alongside industry professionals in one small-group ensemble. Every month they play a different themed concert and to date have performed 12 different themes from Disney to Broadway, Classic Rock to Film Scores, and many more. In the summer of 2018/2019 the band recorded their debut album “The Hills are Alive”.

Educative Workshops/Courses:

Jazz Melbourne runs a number of different single workshops and short courses, ranging from Sibelius notation program workshops, big band arranging courses, music business skills workshops, to jazz improvisation workshops. A number of these are run by Jazz Melbourne’s staff, but we also aim to bring in high quality artists to share their knowledge in workshop settings. To keep up to date on the workshops running in 2020, sign up to our mailing list or follow our website to keep in the loop.

Jazz Melbourne Orchestra:

Like the Jazz at Lincoln Centre structure, Jazz Melbourne has aspired to create a world class professional big band ensemble that will regularly perform new and classic big band repertoire here in Melbourne. We are very excited to announce that the inaugural performance of the Jazz Melbourne Orchestra will be on February 28th and 29th, feat. Matt Jodrell playing the music of Dizzy Gillespie. The orchestra is made up of some of Melbourne’s finest jazz musicians including Ross Irwin, Nick Mulder, Rob Simone, and many more. Don’t miss the biggest big band event of the year: Jazz Melbourne Orchestra plays: Gillespiana!

What are some things you have learnt through running and organising the company?

One of the major things I’ve learnt through the process of starting up and co-directing Jazz Melbourne is to not be afraid of asking questions, no matter how silly they seem. When Toshi and I began the process of setting up Jazz Melbourne, there were so many logistical issues that we had had no idea how to deal with. But rather than be embarrassed or try to avoid the issues, we were honest about what we did and didn’t know and asked for help. We didn’t encounter a single person who snubbed us for our limited knowledge. Everyone we talked to was very generous with their support, which is a testament to the supportive arts network we have here in Melbourne.

I’ve also gained a new appreciation for the management teams of the music programs I’ve previously been a part of. It might seem obvious to us as musicians (and decent people!) that it’s important to be punctual, communicate absences and return release forms. But after working as the main manager for a youth band program and professional jazz ensemble, I’ve really come to understand how much of a nightmare it can be when people aren’t on top of these issues. I think musicians need to understand that if they are turning up late, or not communicating clearly with the management team, it doesn’t just affect the ensemble, but your employability in the eyes of the management. It’s something we’re told about in classes, but it doesn’t seem to carry the same weight until you’ve been on the other end.

Any projects coming up?

One of our first ambitions for Jazz Melbourne was to create a professional big band to eventually be similar in stature to the MSO. We are starting this process with the inaugural performance of the Jazz Melbourne Orchestra at the end of February. (More information can be found on Jazz Melbourne website here)

What do you love about the jazz scene in Melbourne?

I have found it really heart-warming to see how supportive most of the professional jazz community is towards younger players. From my own experience, as well as through watching professionals work with our youth programs, I’ve found that Melbourne’s professional jazz musicians are ecstatic to hear young players play great music, which shows how genuine their love for music really is. Most of the great players have had great teachers who guided them. I think it’s so important to continue to foster positive relationships between students and professionals, not only for the current generation of students, but to help maintain a tradition that can be carried on when these students become teachers themselves.

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