A Touch Of Jazz #5 – Nic Jeffries
This week on A Touch Of Jazz we caught up with one of Sydney’s premier jazz musicians and teachers Nicholas (Nic) Jeffries. As a student Nic performed at the HSC’s Encore concert, before going on to study jazz at the Conservatorium of Music. Since then, Nic has performed all around Australia and through numerous countries, taught at many schools around Sydney, performed with jazz personalities such as James Morrison and Dane Barlow, before releasing his debut album in 2009.
How long have you been around the Sydney Jazz scene?
I’ve been playing on the Sydney Jazz scene since I was about 16 years old! So I guess about 14 years. My first gig was at that age in the old Soup Plus Jazz Club. Not many younger players now remember that place but it was such a happening joint! It was on George St. near Georges Camera House, just up from where the Apple Store is now. You’d walk down a dodgy set of stairs into this place that made you feel like you were in the 1920’s! It was always such a great vibe down there. I used to go there as a youngster, aged about 13 or 14, and watch players like James & John Morrison, Don Burrows, Mike Nock, Dale Barlow, The Moods Band, Galapogas Duck and heaps of others! It was one of my favourite places… I also used to go and watch singers like Vince Jones & Darren Percival a lot when I was younger which was great for me as a young male singer. Actually, there was another venue called The Harbourside Brasserie where I used to watch Vince Jones. That place was down on pier one, I used to dress in a suit and sneak around through the back entry from the wharf side because I was under 18! Ha ha…
When I left school, I went to study jazz saxophone at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where I met lots of amazing young players and formed a lot of the musical relationships I maintain now!
Tell us a bit about your current roles and which bands you are currently playing as a part of?
I’m so lucky to perform a wide range of styles and in so many different situations. In recent years, I’ve been performing as a vocalist with James Morrison in a number of his bands, which has been a real treat for me. He was an idol from when I was very young.
I’ve also been working with Steve Clisby since he has left the Voice. I’m singing backing vocals for him, as well as playing saxophone and 2nd Keyboards. It’s a demanding, but rewarding job, and I’m looking forward to touring with him from September this year.
As well as those two, I’m regularly performing under my own name and as an MD for a number of people. I’ve even MD’d a band for JAMIE OLIVER’S cooking shows here in Australia.
You do teaching as well as playing live often, how do you balance the two and which area of being a musician are you most passionate about?
I’ve always been an educator as well as a performer. I feel this is SO IMPORTANT to pass on skills and lessons learned to the younger generation. I’ve actually taught since I was 16, however I really only feel like I’ve been doing a good job of it in the last 5 years or so. I’m enjoying teaching now MORE THAN EVER! I’m currently lecturing in contemporary vocal at The Australian Institute of Music, and giving vocal workshops that I have designed myself all over the country! I also work regularly with HSC students on achieving excellence through their performance program (which you would know, being an old student of mine!). Lots of my students have been nominated for and even recently taken part in the NSW department of education Encore Concert for the top HSC performances in the state.
It can be hard balancing teaching and performing. I would have to say that playing and performing is definitely my priority on the calendar, but I feel that this actually makes me a better teacher. It means that I’m actually teaching as a real industry professional, which is so rare these days. Lots of teachers aren’t necessarily out there practicing what they preach, however that’s not the case with me. I’m just as busy in both areas, which I’m always so happy about. I definitely have a passion for both though!
How do you market yourself and how important is self-promotion of yourself and your bands in general?
You know what…? Marketing, promotion and business are what they DON’T teach you when you do a music degree. It’s skimmed over, and I feel it’s one of the most IMPORTANT things you need to know about being a musician. You can be an incredibly talented musician, and end up working the rest of your life in a coffee shop. Which is fine… If that’s what you want. However, half the time it’s because of a lack of skill in self-promotion and management.
Everything I’ve learnt in this regard, I’ve just had to learn on the job. I think I’ve become quite good at it, as I’m often asked: “who does your marketing?” Or “I’m seeing you everywhere!”… It’s always nice to be able to answer with, “I do!”. However, it’s an area I’m continually learning and improving on.
What are your thoughts about the jazz scene in Sydney at the moment? Do you think its in a state of transition or is it emerging new through young talent?
We have some INCREDIBLE talent here in Sydney. I can say this having travelled the world looking for inspiration. We all look to go elsewhere, and think things will be different elsewhere, but the reality is - we DO have it all here. Whether I’m a part of the hard core “Jazz scene” here remains in question, but I will say this: There is something for EVERYONE here. I’m lucky to be involved in a few different scenes which keeps me incredibly busy and in a lot of different peoples faces, and I LOVE it. I love the scene here, and the people that make up what it is.
Who are your biggest influences, who do you look up to?
As a vocalist, I would have to say my two biggest inspirations are Stevie Wonder & Donny Hathaway. But then I’m also hugely into this new guy about called “Gregory Porter”. He made me realise that what I was doing was OK. For years I’ve felt a bit lost between the worlds of being a soul singer and my love of Jazz harmony and interaction. However, the first time I heard Gregory I thought, ‘Oh, ok. What I’m doing is alright!”… It’s changed my thinking.
Who are your favourite live acts going around at the moment?
I’m loving Gregory Porter as I mentioned earlier, but also this guy Allen Stone! Have you heard of him? He was out here in Australia recently for the Byron Bay Blues Festival, and I went to see him for a side show at the Metro Theatre in Sydney. He’s been out here before, however this was hands down the best live vocal performance I’ve ever seen! And I’ve seen Stevie Wonder live!!! Incredible. Also, I’m very pleased for one of my favourite Sydney Band’s UNCLE JED who won Australia’s Got Talent last year. They were one of my favourite acts getting around Sydney for a long time, and I’m very glad to get the opportunity to play with them from time to time… Actually, we have a video together on you tube:
What are the most exciting things you’ve got coming up on your calendar?
I’ve got some GREAT things in the pipeline, including recording some tracks to contribute towards a new album; I can’t WAIT to share these with the world. It will be the first time I’ve recorded and released original material - and I’m 30! Oh well, better late than never. I’ll also be touring Europe in late September/Early October for a couple of weeks, and then I’m back to tour Australia with Steve Clisby! Exciting times ahead… People can catch me before I leave for Europe at The Sound Lounge for the Sydney Improvised Music Association on Saturday 13th September! That one will be with my dear friends Marcello Maio (Piano & Accordion), Alex Boneham (Double Bass) & Cameron Reid (Drums). I’m also at The Dome Bar & Lounge, Surry Hills sooner on 3rd July with Tim Fisher (Piano); Phil Stack (Double Bass) & Cameron Reid (Drums). Some fun public gigs for people to come and check out! Hopefully I’ll have some new music released by the end of the year in time for Christmas.
To see more check out Nic’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/nicjjeffries?fref=ts
Or his Youtube channel: www.youtube.com/channel
By Zanda Wilson