Jess Green in Conversation with Peter Wockner
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Vocalist and guitarist Jess Green is now firmly part of a youthful emerging Sydney community, largely cultivated by the Jazzgroove Association, who just want to play music without labels. In this excerpt from a conversation with jazz writer and broadcaster Peter Wockner, she shares the effect her travels from London to sub-Saharan Togo [Togolese Republic] had on her writing.
Jess: Well, this is a long conversation. The transition between the two was pretty sudden, but probably less startling than if I had gone straight from Canberra. At least in London there is already a strong West African community―as well as everyone else under the sun! And there is generally more diversity of culture. Ultimately, what happened to my musical brain in Africa can’t be compared with much of what I experienced in Europe.
Music is everything to everyone in Togo and Ghana. I gained a lot of sense of grounding from playing there. I think in terms of composition there was certainly a lot of direct influence from rhythm and texture, but more importantly some aesthetic ideas in terms of sense of place, both geographically and musically.
But when you follow the passion of jazz and its roots you often question yourself: ‘Is this right for me to be following this essentially American, essentially West African (if you want to go right back) tradition?’ You can get stuck sometimes, thinking, ‘Where do I belong?’ If you are a sensitive person, you can feel like that you are imposing yourself on this great rich tradition, which has nothing to do with where you come from. Thankfully, the way I felt afterwards was the reverse of that―music is everybody’s thing. While I was there I had enough musical situations in which I felt accepted, not just the parasite coming to suck off some culture.
Peter: That’s sometimes how it comes across. Dee Dee Bridgewater recorded an album in Mali a couple of years ago. There’s the idea of transporting yourself there, taking up the local vibe and taking it back to sell it.
Jess: Yeah, and it’s a worthwhile discussion because of the huge disparity between most Western countries and where the music comes from. You could spend years somewhere and really not get to the bottom of why the music is as it is. But I think if you are open enough you will experience the feeling; in any cultural expedition there is the underlying humanness of what is going on. ‘We’re both human beings, and I understand what you’re saying and that’s acceptable. Even though I didn’t grow up here, I can understand what you’re saying.‘