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July 16, 2020
Culture

Scoring the city with jazz musician Django Rowe

The 27-year-old musician only has two albums released under his own name, but his guitar can be heard on some of Adelaide’s most interesting albums and lineups.

  • Words: Angela Skujins
  • Pictures: Nate Schilling

At the beginning of this year, in a time before COVID, Django Rowe speaks to CityMag with eloquence and ease, and with a gruffness in his voice reminiscent of late nights, whiskey and shouting in pubs.

Remarks

This year’s Adelaide Guitar Festival will be all online.

The Django Rowe Quintet performances will roll out over the next couple of months. Keep your eyes peeled on the Festival’s FB page.

Connect:
Bandcamp

The Elder Conservatorium graduate has released two albums: Cauldron (2019) and To Be Born (2017), which both mix Australiana, folk and modern jazz, anchored compositionally to an angsty guitar.

He has also played alongside Adelaide musician Timberwolf for single ‘Winnie Blues’ and Max Savage on the album True Believers. He’s not the star of these works, but a strong musical support.

Just as he presents himself in conversation with CityMag, Django’s every strum and pluck of his guitar is considered. His proficiency hints at a precociousness with the instrument – as if he learned to play even before could walk.

“Ever since I was young, I’ve been hooked on [the guitar],” Django tells us.

“I can’t explain it but it’s always had a magnetism for me.

“I also grew up predominantly listening to rock and blues, and guitar is the main voice of that music… But above all, it is a vehicle for expression. For me, I feel like I can say or express what I really want with the instrument.”

The Django Rowe Quintet, one of Django’s many bands, is billed to perform for the online Adelaide Guitar Festival’s Backstage Sessions, which will roll out over the next couple of months via Facebook.

These 15-minute Baskstage Session gigs span rock, jazz, blues, classical and experimental music, filmed in an empty Adelaide Festival Centre. Django’s videos are live performances of three songs; two are already released tracks, ‘Distant Darkness’ and ‘Fog’ from Cauldron, and a new song called ‘Bloom’.


 


‘Bloom’ features Sharon Grigoryan on cello and musician Jason McMahon on saxophone, and it’s a free-time piece, Django says, which means it doesn’t have a time signature, or keep to a prescriptive beat. There’s also some cool bright spots of improvisation – a key feature of this version of jazz.

“I’ve always been attracted to improvised music,” he says, “but I also love the fresh sound of folk music. I try to blend both of those sounds with a bit of a dark edge.

“I like improvising [because] it’s a conversation that you have on stage with your other musicians.

“It’s also something experienced at the same time that it’s created. I think that’s just absolutely fascinating that we can play this music, like, right on the edge.”

Django says the Adelaide jazz scene is small, but this doesn’t determine its worth. There are pockets in the city where people are enthusiastically pushing the envelope musically.

The Wheatsheaf Hotel is one of them, hosting a monthly showcase by not-for-profit organisation COMA (Creative Original Music Adelaide), highlighting electronic and acoustic sounds from all corners of Adelaide.

There’s also the Grace Emily, which has started featuring performances by Django and an all-star band of experimental musicians – Ross McHenry, Josh Baldwin and Brenton Foster – every Wednesday night.

“What I like about Adelaide is there are some places where you have the opportunity to be really creative, and sort of step outside of sort of classic boundaries of a genre,” Django says.

“I think there’s definitely a sound that comes with a city; however, I wouldn’t really know how to describe what Adelaide’s is.”

A musical identity springs from a city through its musicians taking to stages week after week, folding their own influences and the collective dynamics of each band member over and over again, until, gradually but surely, something truly new emerges.

Perhaps it’s hard to see from Django’s perspective on stage, but the sound of Adelaide – whatever that is, or becomes – Django is a meaningful part of it.

Find Django and his quintet in the Adelaide Guitar Festival’s Backstage Sessions, released via the festival’s Facebook page.

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