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GEMMA FARRELL QUINTET Top of their game


Since making their debut performance in 2015, local saxophonist Gemma Farrell and her main original jazz project, The Gemma Farrell Quintet (GFQ) have lit up stages at the Perth International Jazz Festival, King Street Corner Pocket Jazz Festival, In the Pines, Perth Festival and more. Their debut album Organised Chaos was featured on RTRFM and ABC Jazz as the local feature album, while they were also nominated for Best Jazz Act at the 2018 WAM awards. Now the five-piece are ready to rip the lid off their second record The View From The Top with a launch show at Lyrics Underground this Saturday, May 14. BRAYDEN EDWARDS caught up with Gemma Farrell to find out how the new album came together and what we can look forward to on the night.

Congrats on releasing your second album The View From the Top! How does it feel to finally be revealing this new music to the world?

Amazing! We’ve been playing some of these tunes since just after the first release in 2019 so it’s great to have them recorded. I’m really happy with the final product. There’s been a team of people working on it, musicians as well as engineer Kieran Kenderresy and Paul Große-Schönepauk mastering, Annie Mitchell on design, Josie Nolan on photography, Mark Turner on video and Dixie Battersby on promo and I feel like everyone has done an amazing job.

How does this new album compare to your first? What’s one thing that’s the same and one thing that’s different?

I think stylistically it’s similar, but I feel like we’ve grown a lot as a band and play a lot better together. Kate, Ryan and I in particular have been playing together for a long time, but also Sam and Dan who did the 2019 tour with us and have done every gig since, musically we know each other really well now.

How did you go about capturing your ideas on record?

We recorded the album over two days, six tunes per day, and did no more than four takes per tune and took the best bits of each song. We also recorded to click so that it would be easier to paste those best bits together.

Who have you enlisted to bring this music to life? And how did that shape the sound of the release?

Sam Hadlow trombone, Dan Garner guitar, Kate Pass Bass and Ryan Daunt drums. I feel very lucky to have this team. Both musically and personally it’s a great fit which is so important.

Do you remember when you first got into jazz music? Who were the artists that inspired you in the beginning? And do you still value their impact on your life today?

I think the first jazz musician I was exposed to was Branford Marsalis when he came to Perth for the Perth Arts Festival. There are many “famous” saxophonists who have had an influence on my playing but I think I’ve been the most influenced by local musicians and my teachers. I finished my undergraduate degree in Brisbane and my teacher there was Graeme Norris. He was the best teacher I’ve ever had. Sandy Evans is also a hero of mine and encouraged me to keep going when I was close to quitting.

I love the artwork for the new album too! Who is it by, and does it represent a message that you are expressing through this record?

The artwork is by Annie Mitchell who is also a great vocalist as well as a graphic designer. The View From The Top implies that the view of some of the most successful people is not always how things are. Annie represented this on the cover with Perth City and the decide between the rich and the poor, but the tune was inspired with some of the more successful jazz musicians not being in tune with some of the issues facing the music industry especially in terms of diversity.

Congratulations on being nominated for the Women in Music Awards this year. Tell us about the work you do for the Young Women in Jazz program and Artemis Orchestra…How long have you been doing this for and what have you found to be most rewarding aspect of being part of such an initiative?

The Young Women in Jazz Program was founded by Sandy Evans and SIMA in Sydney. In 2013 I moved back to Perth from my studies in Amsterdam, and WAYJO and SIMA were talking about bringing the program to WA. I was a guest artist at the Sydney course in 2009 and so Sandy recommended me to WAYJO to run it in Perth as I was familiar with it. We started running the course here in 2014 and we’re currently running it for the eighth time (we had to cancel in 2020). The program is a judgement-free space for female-identifying students to learn about improvisation and try things out.

Jazz is a very male dominated industry and if you’re one of only three girls in your school jazz band, that can be really daunting. In YWIJ we encourage the students to try things and not be afraid of making mistakes, it’s how they learn. At the end of the course the students perform four tunes at a professional venue to their teachers, friends and family and it’s always so rewarding to see how far they’ve come. The Artemis Orchestra was formed in 2017 in response to the #metoo era.

I wanted to create a similar environment like YWIJ but for female, non-binary and transgender professional musicians. We exclusively perform the music of Australian people of marginalised genders and last year we launched our debut album to a sold out audience.

I guess we can expect to hear a lot of the new album at your upcoming launch show at Lyrics Underground on Saturday? What else can we look forward to experiencing on the night?

As well as the tunes on the album, I’ll be playing a tune on the Electric Wind Instrument (EWI) a synthesizer for saxophonists and the subject of my PhD, so that’s a bit of a sign of things to come for the group. We’ll also be supported by the Holly Forster Quintet. Holly’s dad was one of my saxophone teachers and I taught Holly briefly, plus she’s in the Artemis orchestra. She’s sounding great so that will be fantastic to hear her play.

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