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Byron Shire
May 8, 2021

Interview with Vince Jones

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Vince Jones and the Astral Orchestra perform songs from Van Morrison’s classic albums at Lismore City Hall

Vince Jones presents: Van Morrison’s Masterpieces

Lismore City Hall  |  Friday 10 May  |  7.30pm  |  $69–74

When The Beatles stopped touring and progressed to psychedelic rock and Dylan left folk and went electric, Van Morrison hired some of New York’s finest jazz musicians and recorded two of the classic albums of that golden era – Astral Weeks and Moondance. Both albums had an enormous impact on aspiring musicians and singers around the world. Australian jazz legend Vince Jones was one of them.

Now Jones, a remarkable jazz interpreter, has invited a selection of Australia’s finest jazz/rock musicians to form The Astral Orchestra. His music director Matt McMahon joins him in this homage to Van’s extraordinary repertoire; his most acclaimed album, the magical Astral Weeks – a poetic, mercurial blend of jazz, folk, and blues – and most commercially successful, the wonderful soul/jazz-influenced Moondance.

How do you become a ‘remarkable jazz interpreter’?

As a young boy I remember my dad listening to and playing almost every standard piece of music ever written. He would listen to any version of these songs that he could get his hands on. In the house we listened to Duke Ellington, Dizzy, Sarah Vaughn, Ella, Carmen McCrae, and any other jazz musicians with records available. In high school I discovered Miles Davis and John Coltrane; their music was mindblowingly difficult to get into at first. I started to memorise their solos and sing along with them; I would transcribe their solos on the ballads mainly. I don’t think there is a better way to understand a song than transcribing the solos of a master musician; this helps you get inside a song, which will in time assist you to develop your own interpretation of a song. As they say you are what you eat and you are what you listen to.

What happens to you when you get inside a song?

I have a Doctor Jekyll and a Mister Hyde inside me. In my everyday life I’m a normal person, a Doctor Jekyll , but when I’m singing I become Mister Hyde and anything can happen. I listen back to my live recordings and can’t believe I sang that song in that way.

I did cultivate this state; it was intentional, it helps me to let loose. So to answer your question – I don’t know what happens when I get into a song. Actually I prefer not to think about it while performing, just enjoy the moment.

Tell me about your 18th album A Personal Selection. What were some of the songs you selected and why?

I was asked by the record company to put a collection of songs together and I thought about which songs I would enjoy playing live again at gigs. A jazz musician sees their work as a verb and not a noun as other fields of art see their work. We travel and perform for you live; for us music is a physical experience. I’ve performed over 5,000 gigs and spent over nine years in a hotel room. I don’t regret a minute of performing live. The songs drive the project and I will enjoy singing those songs again. I have another recording of all original songs that I will release at the end of the year, so more touring in the future.

And the Van Morrison masterpieces? What is it about his work that you find so exciting?

I grew up on Astral Weeks and Moondance as did all my friends. I was drawn to Astral Weeks because I loved Richard Davis on the bass; I’d heard him on a record with Miles Davis and recognised that same beauty on Van’s record that he created with Miles. Astral Weeks is so evocative where Moondance is more specific yet both are beautifully creative. I love music that has many influences in it; folk, jazz, and soul music are always there in Van’s music.

How do you approach interpreting his pieces – Moondance must be a challenge – to keep what it is but also find new places?

A challenge it certainly is! We try to open the songs up with the arrangements. I’m surrounded by some great musicians who can improvise beautifully. We also try to be as respectful as we can with the songs and melodies, yet we also try to breathe a new feel into them.

Tell me a little about what audiences should expect from The Van Morrison Masterpieces concert with the Astral Orchestra?

They will hear the music of Van’s two special recordings played by some great Australian musicians pouring their hearts out to make the music sound as beautiful as it should be.

The Van Morrison Masterpieces concert brings together Vince Jones (vocal, trumpet) with the eight-piece Astral Orchestra comprising acclaimed Australian instrumentalists Matt McMahon (piano & musical director), Ben Hauptman (guitar), Ben Robertson (double & electric bass), James Hauptman (drums), Paul Cutlan (saxophone & flute), Phil Slater (trumpet), Eugenie Costello (violin), and Stephanie Zarka (violin).

Performing at Lismore City Hall on Friday 10 May at 7.30pm. Tix are $69–74 at lismorecityhallcom.au

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