Shirazz Q & A
By Crimson Cat
You each look young in a sense that you were definitely born after the 1920s and 1930s. How did you get into the traditional jazz music from that era?
It was forced upon us by an over-zealous music teacher in high school. Adrian and I (Matt) went to school together and had a music teacher who managed to turn any topic – whether it was baroque counterpoint, 20th century art music or even the finer points of Gregorian chant technique – into a winding monologue on traditional jazz. Some of his enthusiasm must have rubbed off, though. We’re still into trad jazz!
So Matt Dixon formed the band in 2009. How did you each meet and how long have you all known each other?
After high school Adrian and I have played with a number of groups. You tend to meet people along the way. We met Eli (bass) through the Engineering Music Society stage band and Mike Di Cecco (drums) through my involvement with (funk and dancehall outfit) Baron Samadhi. I went through a stage where I half-jokingly announced at parties that I was looking for a banjo player. I quit this habit after it actually worked, and a friend gave me Michael Hanley’s number. Hanley joined us on banjo and also recommended Travis Woods (trumpet).
Who came up with the band name Shirazz and where does it stem from?
I can’t remember how we came up with the name, but this in itself suggests that probably a fair amount of the red stuff was consumed. We added an extra z as a reference to our music. You know, because jazz has two z’s too. Clever, isn’t it.
When and where was your big break?
I don’t know if you’d call it a big break, but we were certainly very well received at the recent Moe Jazz Festival. We played to standing ovations and sold out of CDs and since then have had requests for bookings from jazz clubs and festivals across Victoria and interstate. With a busy calendar for the rest of the year it looks like people are starting to get addicted to Shirazz.
This year, Shirazz actually recruited a new trumpet player (Travis Woods) and a new drummer (Michael Di Cecco). How was this for the band?
Business as usual! Last year (2009) we recruited a new banjo player, trumpeter, drummer, trumpeter (another one) and drummer (another one). Already this year we’ve had two new drummers, plus deps on banjo, drums and bass. Shirazz seems to be a revolving door of musicians coming and going. But this line-up looks set to stay for a while at least. Travis and Michael are new to trad jazz but have taken to it well, and we’re glad to have them on board.
As well as covers, Shirazz also has original songs. Who would be the song writer of the group?
I do most of the composing and arranging, though Michael Hanley has written a couple of songs as well. The original songs I write have Aeolian themes like “why I keep stuffing up dates” and “why this girl doesn’t want to date me” and such. Michael’s avoided such clichés by avoiding lyrics.
Which song represents the band the most?
We’ve just finished filming a video clip at Red Bennies for The Window. It’s an original song I wrote (theme is “please go on a date with me”) and we had dancers from the Brat Pack and acrobats from NICA and a technical team from Swinburne Uni to help us out. It’s going to be our signature tune for some time now, until we can get around to filming another clip. The video hasn’t been edited yet, but when it’s released, it’ll be viewable on our website (www.shirazz.com.au). The song will be on our new album, which we’ll launch later this year.
Shirazz played at Federation Square as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, how was the band feeling before and after the gig? Did anyone have any stage fright?
Stage fright was the least of our worries at that gig. Outdoor gigs are fine when it’s sunny and still, but we were greeted with a tropical-style downpour and blustery conditions which would make a more sensible band pack up and go home. With a tarpaulin covering the drum kit and our audience reduced to just the keenest of fans we waited it out and grabbed every 5-minute break in the weather to play a quick song. It was an inauspicious start, but we’ve learnt from it, and always pack a towel now.
You’ve got upcoming gigs all around Victoria after Red Bennies. Any plans to perform interstate?
We’ve been in conversation with a few interstate jazz clubs and jazz festivals, but at this stage we’re not able to give any details. We’re also going to be playing on the state border later in the year when we play on a riverboat on the Murray at Echuca. Details haven’t been finalized about this yet, but when they are they’ll be posted (alongside all our gigs) on our website and on facebook. We’re also planning ahead to doing a US tour in a couple of years. Readers who want to be informed about any and all of our gigs should join our emailing list (visit www.shirazz.com.au) or become a fan on facebook.
What other artists or bands are you listening to at the moment?
Shirazz is heavily influenced by bands such as Louis Armstrong, Kenny Ball, the Dutch Swing College Band and the New Melbourne Jazz Band. I also steal some arrangements from Harry Connick Jr, who does some real hot New Orleans stuff.
Stonnington Jazz presents Shirazz on Thursday 20th May