Gold Coast events company Artemus Events continues to bring the musical goods to the intimate, concert-style space at Dust Temple Currumbin with their latest world music event featuring jazz and improvisation champions Rhiannon (vocals) and Laurence Hobgood (piano). Renowned in worldwide jazz circles for their engaging live shows and virtuosic talents, the two of them are set to present ‘The Two of Us’ to an eager crowd on 10 August. We shot them some questions ahead of the show.
In your experience, how do people tend to find their path to improvisation? It must take a great deal of bravery!
Laurence: Loaded question — most importantly there’s usually some form of intuitive impetus, i.e. it’s just something they instinctively want to do. But discerning a successful “angle of approach” to improvisation is a much thornier issue. It does take bravery as you suggest — but frequently it’s a different bravery than you might think; it’s the bravery required to slow down both your expectations and your modus operandi so as to figure some things out that may be both out of your comfort zone and not immediately gratifying.
Rhiannon: People often begin improvising very young and then don’t have access to study. If they maintain their music studies, at some point they realize that there is a piece missing. I often have singers come to study with me who are deeply on their music path but understand they left behind that primal piece of improvising. Often they come because they feel something missing with only repertoire. It is a huge revelation to realize that improvisation can open new pathways for them. Other singers come who have always loved to improvise and don’t have a career in music but have this longing to be around others who treasure the spirit of music that is often revealed in improvisation. They are brave but they also come from every possible walk of life and to find one another gives them courage.
How did your collaboration come about?
Rhiannon: I was very aware of Laurence during his years with Kurt and was able to hire him for a couple of gigs during those years. It was thrilling to work with him because of his huge technical skills as a writer and arranger. When we spent time together, I realized his tender side and now the relationship has much more depth which makes our collaboration rich.
Laurence: I first met Rhiannon back when I worked with Kurt Elling, I think around 1999 or so. Then a few years ago she reached out about trying some duo explorations and we discovered a real kindred spirit energy — Rhiannon is able to conceive melodic ideas spontaneously like no singer I’ve ever known. We sometimes invent about half of what we’re playing right there on the spot — it’s rare for any musician to be able to do that in as beguiling a way as Rhiannon does it.
What is unique about this current collaboration? What about it fills your soul?
Laurence: Expanding on the last response — we invent songs “on the spot”. It’s like cavorting through a musical theme park with someone who’s as familiar with all the “rides” as you are. How could that not fill your soul?
Rhiannon: We use improvisation as the core element of our performances. We have also added about 10 songs we both love which we can use during the evenings. We never know when or which ones we will use so we keep the improvisational element but we have song form to anchor parts of the evening. No matter what I sing, I am aware that Laurence is right there. I think he feels the same about me. We protect and care for one another. We also challenge one another to reach, to go further. It is a beautiful relationship.
Are you willing to share an experience in your life that was healed by music?
Rhiannon: These healing experiences are daily for me. I have no separation between music as healing and music as performance, music as teaching and music as deeply personal growth. I grew up singing on our family farm. I spent lots of time alone singing as loud, as much and as freely as I could imagine. What a blessing! It instilled in me the awareness that music is part of life.
Laurence: My brother was in a coma from having suffered a major stroke; after I arrived at the hospital my nephew brought in a terrible little Casio keyboard — I think 28 little mini-keys? — and I started playing. Just about fifteen minutes later my brother started “waking up” — within another half hour he was squeezing the doctor’s hand, one squeeze for yes, two for no, letting us know he was still in there. It was a deeply profound experience.
What is your favourite part about performing?
Laurence: Well, the actual interactive constructing of ideas is a blast — you study your whole life to be able to do it at a high level so it’s undeniably fun. But as I’ve gotten older and more in touch with music’s effect on the human spirit and psyche the energy of sharing music with listeners has become much more primary in importance. Music does heal.
Rhiannon: I like the adventure of creating in the midst of a crowd of people who are all part of the music. I am aware of the circle in the room Me and Laurence are one part of the circle, the audience is the other half. The energy moves both ways. Life performance is thrilling in that way, especially when improvising because the audience is aware of the thrill and danger, the presence of the invention. We all go on this journey together.
Is there anything that you’d like people to know about your upcoming performance on the Gold Coast?
Rhiannon: We are so happy to be in Australia for the first time together. These gigs will be improvised with song form threaded all throughout.
Laurence: I frequently find myself observing to folks that “music is the universal language” may be the oldest cliché in the world — but people rarely stop to think about what that implies. It IS a language, and like verbal/spoken language there’s a range of adeptness with vocabulary, with dialect and style. Musically, Rhiannon is the equivalent of a poet laureate — her spontaneous melodic sense is unparalleled in my experience. And her humanity and compassion are deeply evident in her “musicking” (a term I’ve adopted from people smarter than myself.) As an improvising pianist I’ve never met anyone else who could interact at this level — it’s a true joy!
Catch Rhiannon and Lauren Hobgood’s show ‘The Two Of Us’ at Dust Temple Currumbin on Saturday 10 August. It will be a performance like no other. Tickets via artemus.com.au.