ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
The Canberra Times
Thursday May6th 2005
A Highly Talented Five
Paul Dion talks to Seth Jordan about his quintet and his belief that there’s more to jazz than standards.
Australian reed player and pianist Paul Dion may not be a household jazz name, but he has more than paid his musical dues as a dependable sideman and session player. The 54 year-old Jindabyne resident now fronts his own quintet, with some of Canberra’s most talented young jazz musicians.
The Paul Dion Quintet will be one of the featured groups at this weekend’s 2005 Thredbo Jazz Festival.
“For me it all began back in 1964 when I bought a clarinet from a Catholic priest out in the wheat belt of Western Australia,” Dion recalls. “I started out playing in country woolsheds, and then when I was 16 a neighbour in Perth heard me practising and dobbed me in for the TV show Showcase, which was sort of the Australian Idol of the day.
“Later on I ended up in Melbourne, where I got taken under the wing of a jazz giant named Frank Smith, who gave me free lessons and pointed me in the right direction. I started doing recording work with big bands and international performers in Melbourne and Sydney, working with trumpeter Billy Burton, and backing artists like Shirley Bassey, Rolf Harris and Frank Ifield.”
Like all working musicians in those days, Dion had to be versatile to make a decent living. “I was what you call a reed man,” he explains. “Besides the clarinet I had moved on to the saxophone and then…flute. Back then, to work in session situations or backing bands you needed to have all three under your belt. In the ‘70s I took up piano too because the industry was changing, the big bands were becoming smaller.”
Dion’s jazz credentials also include a memorable ‘80s trio with gifted guitarist Ike Issacs and bassist Ed Gaston, occasionally augmented by well-known jazz guitarist George Golla.
“I also worked classically and did a fair bit of…working in orchestras for big musical shows like Disney on Parade. When I turned 30 I heard Pavarotti and decided to take up singing. I ended up in the chorus of The Australian Opera for five years in the early ‘90s, which was pretty exciting.”
Dion’s own quintet has a number of recent graduates from the ANU School of Music and he greatly admires their playing abilities.
“These guys are really fantastic,” he says. “I got to know them in Canberra and they’re all musically excellent. Their level of dedication and expertise is on a par with the best. What impresses me most about all of them is their keenness. They have an enthusiasm that I’ve previously only seen in European players.
“James Luke on bass got his honours degree in 2001. He has very broad musical interests and plays all the strings. Our drummer Ben Braithwaite is professional now and he’s also interested in traditional rhythms from places like Ghana. Saxophonist Neil Rosendahl is just fabulous. He’s currently finishing off his Bachelor of Music honours and he love the sound of players like Coltrane and Henderson. He’s got his sights on heading overseas next year and picking up lessons from some of the greats there. Charlie Meadows finished his Bachelor of Music degree here in Canberra and is now studying in Sydney for his master’s. He’s a very high standard guitarist and already has his own trio.”
With young musicians of this quality, Dion isn’t afraid to challenge listeners with new works. “It’s always been a bit of thorn in my side that the jazz industry in Australia tends to keep re-creating what’s gone before. The standard tunes keep getting played over and over again, and while there’s nothing wrong with them, I think the chance to present new music is very important. Most of what the quintet plays are my pieces, but the others also contribute some of theirs. By putting new material forward I feel like we’re adding to the jazz repertoire … Our music isn’t necessarily way out there, it’s still very tuneful and quite accessible for listeners, but it is new music.”
* The 2005 Thredbo Jazz Festival runs from today to Sunday, with performances by Mary Stallings (US), Wanderlust, Errol Buddle, E-Type Jazz, the George Washingmachine Trio, Paul Furness and many more.