14 August, 2019
Vocalist Michelle Nicolle may be an old hand at bringing jazz music to life on the stage – but her voice is as fresh as ever. So is her inexhaustible love for what she does. Michelle has toured with her quartet for over two decades all over Australia and the world, performing on stages and in festivals from Tokyo to Siberia.
The Michelle Nicolle Quartet will celebrate 21 years together in a special concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre. They’ll be taking a joyful walk down their musical memory lane, playing favourites from their records and many years of touring together.
We caught up with Michelle ahead of the celebrations to talk inspiration, friendship and longevity in music.
Book tickets to Michelle Nicolle Quartet 21st Birthday here
Friday 23 August
8pm, (1hr duration)
Primrose Potter Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre
Tell us a bit about yourself: what do you do and what do you love about it?
I sing jazz for a living and love improvising my way through beautiful stories and melodies and harmony. The best bit about it is that I get to do it with my best mates, and sometimes new friends.
21 is a big birthday! What can you tell us about the upcoming show?
21 years together is quite a milestone and it deserves a party. We’re celebrating all year, but the really special space of the MRC will be like all of our Mum’s hiring the local hall and baking cakes! We want to enjoy our longevity and share the cheer with our loyal punters - just minus the keg!
How do you decide what to include in a retrospective?
Our first album was released in 1998, and over the years we’ve built a huge repertoire, but for this concert we’ll be playing a least one track from each of the 8 CDs. Perhaps some tunes that even I have forgotten!
Has the Michelle Nicole Quartet had the same line up for all 21 years? What is it like to work together over two decades?
We’re counting the 21 Years since our incredible guitarist, Geoff Hughes joined me and drummer, Ronny Ferella and bassist Howard Cairns. Our current bass player has been with us since 2005, and he was a young guy then! Having such continuity in a band is a luxury in the jazz world. We’ve been lucky enough to tour to various places around the world glamorously, but most of our gigs are old-school road-trips and 3-star motels, with me driving the van! Playing music together for so long is one thing, but hanging out as mates between gigs, in the van, over post-gig kebabs is the best bit. It sounds pretty mushy, but these guys are part of my family!
What do you love about jazz?
Jazz is a very big word, but to me, it’s freedom through improvisation - I love the group conversation that happens in every song I sing.
What do you love about Melbourne’s jazz community?
I’ve been a part of this since moving here from Adelaide in 1995. Over the years I’ve played with and hung out with so many great players and singers, but I guess the community becomes clear when we’re gathered at an event that’s a non-gig. So many musician weddings, fund-raisers for mates going through tough times and, sadly, memorial services. Being with each other ‘off the stand’ is when you feel the connection we all have, and it’s really beautiful.
Plus the unsung heroes of the ‘jazz community’ who create opportunities for musicians to play and come together. The musician-run organisations such as Lebowski’s, Small Space Music, All In Melbourne, Make It Up Club, to name a few.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far? What’s been the funniest?
Singing in Siberia at the Asia Pacific Festival with an all Russian band to an all Russian-speaking concert hall audience, and having punters come up to me at the end crying - in Russian!
Perhaps the funniest moment was about 20 years ago at the Borders Jazz club in Albury/Wodonga. I was feeling suddenly very unwell in the middle of a song and I managed to casually walk off the stage during the guitar solo, weave through the audience, found the bathroom, met a couple of lovely ladies who were “loving the show”, was violently ill, cleaned myself up, and made it back on stage for the ‘head out’.
Where do you go when you want to be inspired musically?
I am lucky that I get to travel overseas a bit, so get to see lots of brilliant gigs, but I absolutely get inspired when I hear my mates (who also happen to be among the best in the world!!) play their own gigs and music. Very often it’s at the gorgeous venue, The Brunswick Green - where I have been lucky enough to play every Thursday for 12 years, and where lots of creative music happens other nights. Its owner, Paul Postema, is a true old-school patron of the arts and he and his daughter, Marrit, have built a generous, warm and open house for musicians and punters alike.
What are your desert island albums?
Sarah Vaughan Live at Mister Kelly’s, John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, Prince’s Purple Rain
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve seen/heard in a while?
Amazing Grace - the film of the live recording of Aretha Franklin’s iconic gospel album.
Where can people find you online?