Name: Jeremy Rose
Nationality: Australian
Occupation: Saxophonist, composer, label owner at Earshift
Current release: Jeremy Rose's Disruption! - The Voice of Drums is out via Earshift.

If you enjoyed this interview with Jeremy Rose and would like to know more about his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

When did you first start getting interested in musical improvisation?  

Improvisation has been always been a part of my musical development. I started music lessons on piano and shortly after began improvising with the pieces I learnt, creating my own versions and pulling the pieces apart.

That’s what draws me to music, and improvisation in particular – the ability to be directly invovled in the creative process in real time.

Which artists, approaches, albums or performances involving prominent use of improvisation captured your imagination in the beginning?

When I was young, my parents played Miles Davis‘ Round Midnight a lot and it spurred my imagination in many ways.

I also recall listening a lot to music by Malian singer and multi-instrumentalist Ali Farke Toure, bassist Charlie Haden, saxophonist Jan Garbarek, and many other artists, via my parents cassette collection, and later on CD.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to improvisation? Do you see yourself as part of a tradition or historic lineage?

My concept of improvisation is grounded in the idea of instantaneous composition - at any given moment it’s important to consider what is the most remarkable thing that I could be doing to serve the music best. I need to be true to myself and listen to what my inner ear and instincts tell me to do.

I don’t subscribe to any historic lineage per se but am informed by the legacies of my teachers and mentors within the Sydney and Australian improvising community, notably artists such as Simon Barker, Sandy Evans, Phil Slater and Mike Nock.

What was your own learning curve / creative development like when it comes to improvisation - what were challenges and breakthroughs?

I was immersed in a diverse improvisation development through my undergraduate studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and time spent studying, performing and collaborating in London, Oslo, Berlin and New York. Every place and scene has its own set of cultural paradigms. My experiences in these various places, as well as my own hometown, make me the player that I am today.

I would say that my time in Oslo was parituclarly important for me. I treated it like a six month residency, working on my practice and composition almost everyday. My experience working with the artists and teachers there also gave me a certain level of confidence to pursue my own voice and compositional ideas.

Tell me about your instrument and/or tools, please. How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results and your own performance?  

Well of course, I love the saxophone. I love the physicality of it, the tone it makes and the way it feels to create music through it. The instrument has its own set of physical challenges, but in general it’s very rewarding to play and freely express ideas on it.

I still try to practice everyday and am still drawn to the warmth of the tone and its singing quality. I try to bring this out in my performances through the use of extemporaneous lyricism in my free improvisations.

Can you talk about a work, event or performance in your career that's particularly dear to you? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

The premiere of Disruption! The Voice of Drums at the 2021 Sydney Festival was recent a career highlight. The work features a collaboration between myself and two drummers, Chloe Kim and Simon Barker, alongside a 6 piece electroacoustic ensemble, The Earshift Orchestra. The performance was incredibly moving, with powerful performances from everyone and an ecstatic audience. The performance followed a period of lockdown due to the pandemic, so it was a celebration of community along with the musical aspect.

The project was initiated in 2018 when I decided to form a collaboration with both Simon and Chloe, two musicians that I deeply admire and respect. I took music from their respective solo drum recordings and arranged it for the Earshift Orchestra. It was challenging arranging music for solo drums – I didn’t want to take away the focus from their parts, so I created layers of sounds, rhythms and melodies to juxtapose and contrast with what they are doing.

I was pleased that the performance of this work received recognition at the APRA AMCOS Art Music Awards for Jazz Performance of the Year too.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your collaborations? Do you feel as though you are able to express yourself more fully in solo mode or, conversely, through the interaction with other musicians? Are you “gaining” or “sacrificing” something in a collaboration?

That’s an interesting question. I try to treat every partnership with a level of respect, trust and openness. We collaborate so that we can both teach our collaborators about our own processes to music, whilst at the same time try to learn from others, so it’s a two way street.

Solo performing is an exciting proposition and something that I want to explore more of, such as my recent performance at Pheonix Central Park, but I prefer performing with others.

Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?

I’m interested in the pursuit of extemporaneous lyricism. My co-led project Vazesh, showcase this idea to a certain extent.

The pieces are fully improvised and often engage forms of minimalism – melodic riffs are continually transformed, developed and evolved. It’s a highly enjoyable group to work with as we can pursue any musical idea without having to adhere to schematic design of compositions.

When you're improvising, does it actually feel like you're inventing something on the spot – or are you inventively re-arranging patterns from preparations, practise or previous performances?

I believe that when we improvise, we generally use some sort of referent as inspiration, whether it is concious or unconscious. Even if that is untraceable to an external listener, I generally feel inspired when I think about a particularl musical experience, something that I heard in the past, or something that I practiced.

Personally I avoid using patterns and lines but it provide stimulus to bounce off of.

To you, are there rules in improvisation? If so, what kind of rules are these?

I don’t like to think of any set rules, however every context and collaboration has its own set of musical parameters that have been set in place since the formation of the group.

For example, my co-led band The Vampires, work within a certain stylistic parameter, however we like to challenge the boundaries of this as much as possible. Another group of mine, Project Infinity, has even less boundaries, but we try to create long form pieces that have a certain pacing to them – that could be said to be a parameter unto itself. And another project, Visions of Nar, works within more structured compositions but has no bass, and so there are certain liberties we can take with that group.

Like they say – rules are also meant to be broken too, and that’s a beautiful thing about working in this type of music.

In a live situation, decisions between creatives often work without words. How does this process work – and how does it change your performance compared to a solo performance?

It’s intuitive. You simply allow space for others to make a contribution and you respond to it, or you bravely put forth a new idea yourself. Jeff Pressing’s summation of improvisation is apt here: you can either continue what you’re doing or change, that’s it.

Musical leadership roles within an improvised ensemble need to be dynamic – you need to know when to act, when to react and when to stay out of it.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? In which way is it different between your solo work and collaborations?

For me, I like to pursue a state of flow when I’m being creative. I love the idea of mindfulness, complete immersion and losing a sense of self.

I’ve written about this topic in my published research on the music of The Necks, if you’re interested.

[Read our Tony Buck of The Necks interview]
[Read our SPILL interview about improvisation which features Tony Buck of The Necks]

In a way, improvisations remind us of the transitory nature of life. What, do you feel, can music and improvisation express and reveal about life and death?

Improvisation presents a model for a way of life – acceptance, flow, mindfulness, change and adaption. Many concepts we should embrace into our everyday lives.

Music has the potential to heighten our experiences – when we are down it can cheer us up and provide solitude, and when we are up it can make our experience even more enjoyable.

It’s something that I can’t live without and feel so priviledged to be able to share my love of it with the world.