Young jazz musicians star in soirées

Callum Watson with his grand piano at home in Torquay. (Rebecca Hosking) 227791_01

By Luke Voogt

Performance postponed until further notice. Article written prior to Victoria’s new five-day lockdown.

Torquay piano prodigy Callum Watson will join Geelong’s most promising young jazz musicians and industry veterans for a series of garden soirées beginning tomorrow.

“It’s my first gig with a crowd for almost 12 months,” the 23-year-old told the Independent.

“I’m really excited to be playing with so many talented jazz musicians.”

Watson hoped the Geelong Jazz Soirées, a combined concert and livestream series at Geelong Botanic Gardens, would reveal some “hidden-secrets” of local jazz to Geelong and the world.

“It’s got a big focus on Geelong people that might have been struggling through COVID a bit, but have great promise,” he said.

“Hopefully people find something new and interesting that they want to continue to support.”

Watson is no stranger to international exposure, having represented Australia at the 25th Young Composers Meeting in the Netherlands in February 2019.

The annual event features the world’s most promising jazz and classical composers, and was the latest milestone in Watson’s musical journey, which he began by learning piano at age five.

His interest in music then took off in grade 4, after he discovered jazz.

“I’ve always liked the nice melodies that jazz tunes have – they’re really catchy – and the opportunity to be creative with music,” he said.

“Jazz is all about creating melodies.”

In grade 6 his parents took him to perform at Torquay Cowrie Market.

“I just wanted to further my music and bring it to an audience that might appreciate it,” he said.

“It was fantastic. I got really big crowds and they were generous with their donations.

“They seemed to want me back, which was good. The funny thing is now I’m one of the co-ordinators of the Cowrie market.”

As he grew older, he began creating and improvising his own tunes on the piano.

“That probably gave me a sixth sense for composing,” he said.

At age 16 he studied jazz at The Julliard School in New York City.

Then, in his last year of high school, he topped the state in composition in VCE music, earning a place at Monash University, and a grand piano from his parents.

“I got a scholarship so they made a bit of an investment, which was nice of them,” he said.

“I also had a few opportunities with the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

“I’ve found myself organising a lot of gigs, like this one, which have kind of built a jazz scene – especially in Geelong.”

In early 2020 Watson had been preparing to visit Germany and the Netherlands for composing gigs and concerts.

“But COVID got in the way,” he said.

“Since then it’s been pretty slim pickings – just to keep everyone sane I’ve been doing a free Thursday night jazz session on Facebook.”

He also composed tunes with European artists online.

“But it’s not the same,” he said.

Watson’s latest live music project features up-and-coming vocalists Lucy Head, from Moriac, and Colac’s Michelle Benjamin – previously from Geelong.

Belmont and Bellarine bassists Rob Gador and Zac Barter and Grovedale saxophonist Michael Tinta will also join the four-concert series.

Bass veterans Sean Loughran (Geelong) and Evan Jones (Aireys Inlet), and Melbourne saxophonist and 2019 Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year nominee Flora Carbo round out the list of talented musicians.

The series, supported by a state government grant, has about 50 in-person tickets available per concert, according to Watson.

“We’ve managed to get the stage at the botanic gardens for a very small crowd but the focus is obviously still on the live stream,” he said.

The Geelong Jazz Soirées begin at 2pm tomorrow.