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Monique diMattina

Monique diMattina        (Image supplied)


Ausjazz blog takes a look at how singer/songwriter Monique diMattina has taken some song ideas through customs, taken a flight overseas, and come home with a new album

It’s an intriguing and original way to record an album: Take an idea provided by someone else, spend 45 minutes writing lyrics and a melody, carry those ideas on a plane to New Orleans, team up with some fine musicians and lay down the tracks at Piety Street in the Bywater.

That’s how Monique diMattina made her fourth album, Nola’s Ark, on a pilgrimage to New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA to the locals) when she was 20 weeks pregnant.

The imaginative approach to song writing is not new for diMattina, who appears weekly on Tim Thorpe’s 3-RRR program Vital Bits for her Shaken Not Rehearsed segment, in which she writes and performs a song within an hour, based on listener’s requests.

The gestation of the second track on Nola’s Ark, Dig A Hole, is an example of how this creative and courageous process works.

First, there’s the challenge, issued by diMattina over the radio waves: “I’m here to write a song, every Sunday, so at 7.45 the challenge is out there. Call in and give me an idea and I’ll run off and write it.”

Then comes the idea.

A listener rings in: “I want to have my Saturday morning lovin’, but I’ve got to go out and dig trenches because of all the rain.

diMattina: “Oh, don’t you hate that.”

Listener: “I had to, yesterday.”

diMattina: “So you want your Saturday morning lovin’, you have to get out from under the doona, put on your … “

Listener: “Get the shovel out of the shed, and dig trenches down the side of the house so little rivers will escape my property.”

diMattina: “And who’re we talking to?”

Listener: “Greg

The delivery: In 39 minutes, diMattina has lyrics and a melody for Dig A Hole For Love.

It starts like this:

Come on babe hug me ‘coz I’m feeling all right

It’s warm under the covers gonna take you for a ride
She says “Hold on baby what you tryin to do?
you knooow I can’t stay and get hot with you –
cos the water’s risin, so quit your cryin and
Pick up a shovel dig a hole for love

This is a familiar routine for diMattina at 3RRR. On her website, she explains:

“Assuming I arrive on time, listeners call in 7.45am with a song idea. I hole myself up in Studio B, pray to the song gods, align my chakras with a complex ritual involving caffeine … and more caffeine … and receive whatever chaff they throw me.

“Some time just before 9am I play the fresh-born song live to air, coughing, spluttering, covered in vernix, but usually alive.”

Another caller, Rick, rang in after a Melbourne summer downpour wanting a song about the release of rain on the dry, dry earth. He had a property in Gippsland.

“I was struggling a bit, Tim,” diMattina says on air.

“It just felt like a bit of a boring song about rain and stuff and then I remembered the feeling, when I was living in Harlem when Obama came in, and Rick said, if release had a smell that the smell of the earth after rain would be it. And that started to strike a nerve with me, so that helped me along.”

The result was the song Bring On the Rain.

diMattina does not shy away from serious topics. Her song Godzilla is a response to a request from Steven, who had been watching footage of the devastation caused by 2011’s earthquake and tsunami on Japan and its nuclear reactors. He likened the images to Godzilla stomping across Japan.

As diMattina originally sang Godzilla on Triple R, she did without her piano “in solidarity with our friends in Japan”.

At Piety Street, the line-up for Nola’s Ark was diMattina on vocals, piano, Wurlitzer and Hammond organ, Leroy Jones on trumpet, Rex Gregory on clarinet, Loren Pickford on sax, June Yamagishi on guitars, Matt Perrine on acoustic bass and sousaphone, Eric Bolivar on drum, Richard Scott on accordion and Anthony Cuccia on percussion.

The talented ensemble is used to good effect on the five hastily written and four other originals, plus standards Young at Heart (Richards/Leigh), Let’s Do Something Bad (Matt Munisteri), I’ll Be Seeing You (Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal) and Numb Fumblin’ (Fats Waller).

If it seems surprising that songs written on the run could work so well when taken into a New Orleans studio with musicians new to the composer, it’s worth taking on board diMattina’s long affection for the music from NOLA.

In her album notes, she writes that all her life she has “loved and lived off the sounds and spirits of this swamp, that cross time, swim seas, pump blood for dancing, singing, crying winging, for suffering, truth, for soothing, sneaky grooves that move and woo”.

It would be interesting to know whether the five people who rang in with their ideas to Triple R are aware that they inspired a song that would be recorded overseas. And diMattina’s approach to composing raises the possibility of jazz fans turning up at gigs with a riff or two they want turned into a tune to be played on the night.

If instrumental “jazz karaoke” does take off, you heard it here first.



Nola’s Ark is being launched on Friday 24 May at Chapel Off Chapel as part of a Stonnington Jazz concert with singer/pianist, Kate Kelsey-Sugg.

Joining Monique will be six Australian musicians who are guaranteed to help her launch the album with verve and panache: Eamon McNelis (trumpet, vocals), Stephen Grant (accordion), Paul Williamson (saxophone), Doug de Vries (guitar), Howard Cairns (sousaphone, bass) and Tony Floyd (drums).

Monique diMattina studied at the VCA in the mid 90s, then studied and worked in the US. Her earlier albums are Senses (2007 Elwood Records), Welcome Stranger (2010 Head Records) and Sun Signs (2011 Head Records).

Nola’s Ark is released on Jazzhead.

Monique diMattina has some of her Triple R songs on her website.

Monique diMattina

Monique diMattina       (Image supplied)


Andrea Keller

Andrea Keller (Image supplied)


Andrea Keller talks about her new album, Family Portraits, which she launches on Friday 24 May at The Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre

The lives of those who we have loved and lost return to us in fragments.

A photograph, a smell or a familiar location may bring to mind a parent or grandparent. Unconsciously we may pay homage in our sayings, our favourite recipes or our ways of behaving.

But can we recall the sound of their voices? And what if we never had the opportunity to hear the voices of those who have gone before?

When pianist and composer Andrea Keller remembers her father and the one grandparent she knew, she hears “the sounds of their voices in my head: the timbre, the pitch, certain pronunciations and sounds of words they repeatedly used”.

“It’s part of how I feel connected to them,” says Keller, who refers to her latest album, Family Portraits, as an aural family tree. It is a collection of 11 pieces dedicated to her ancestors and loved ones.

Without Voice is dedicated to Jan and Ruzena Werner, and Vladimir Keller, who she did not have the chance to meet. Keller says it conveys “a sense of absence” rather than regret: “I miss knowing what their voices sounded like.”

Andrea Keller’s parents, both World War II babies, escaped from former Czechoslovakia to Australia in 1968. As children they were forced to leave their homes with no more than 50kg per family, escaping camps and living in hiding. They both lost their fathers at young ages and knew little if anything about their families beyond parents and siblings.

“I grew up loving hearing their stories, but had a sense that there was so much about me entwined in the history of my ancestors that I knew nothing about, and so I felt large pieces of me were missing,” Keller recalls.

“As kids we weren’t allowed to visit Czechoslovakia because of the political situation and the fact that our parents had escaped. So I had no chance to meet the few living relatives I had over there. There were efforts at contact through gifts and photos sent in the mail, and broken, difficult and brief phone calls once a year. I was envious of my friends who had large extended families, with enormous support networks and opportunities for connecting with cousins and grandparents.

In 2002, after winning the inaugural Freedman Foundation Jazz Fellowship enabled her to live in Prague for six months, Keller met and had regular contact with her paternal grandmother, Zdenjka Kellerova.

“That was a really priceless experience for me. I loved simply hanging out with her at her flat. We had some trouble communicating, but that was half the fun! We both really cherished the opportunities to be together.”

Keller’s longing to know more about her heritage led her to ask her grandmother to share all she knew about her past.

But the idea of Family Portraits came much later, in February 2010, when Keller and husband Michael Meagher took their children to the Czech Republic to see Zdenjka Kellerova .

“At the time there were a lot of things that seemed to be telling us not to go, but somehow we made the trip happen. Fortune was truly smiling on us, because as we flew back home to Australia, my grandmother passed away in her sleep.

“Instantly I knew I wanted to write music that could somehow keep her spirit alive for my children and theirs. It saddened me to think that after the deaths of all of us who knew her, there would be no memory of her left in this world, bar a few unnamed photographs. The writing of the music is my small offering of gratitude to her and an acknowledgement of her contribution to my life.”

Liner notes on Family Portraits tell a little about the origin of each of the pieces, which are dedicated to Zdenjka, daughter Eve, father Erik, brother Peter, sons Jim and Luc, husband Michael, mother Rita, grandfather Jan and to the three grandparents never met. Paper Sandals, written for Keller’s mother, is as delicate as the footwear Rita Keller spent days constructing with cardboard, needle and thread after being deported to Germany.

Keller describes Belonging, written as part of a larger work entitled Place, as “a self portrait … that embodies my own sense of identity and belonging”.

Keller says her musical portraits are ethereal representations of the person or of a memory.

“In some pieces I focused on depicting a specific story and the music is … a musical representation of actual events, but in others it’s a mirror of the person’s general character — the qualities that define them to me. In others still, it’s more about my feelings towards the person. These pieces are generally an enormous mish-mash of emotions.”

The composer finds communicating through music “extremely freeing” and offering “an unending horizon of possibilities” limited only by her music vocabulary and skills, which she is always working to expand.

“I think I’m drawn to communicate through music because I don’t feel I’m that good at communicating with people through words and dialogue. I get a greater sense of satisfaction communicating through music. I have freedom to express myself however I wish and, yes, it seems more private because of the personal nature of musical language. People can draw their own conclusions based on their own experiences in life, and I like this element to it.

“In conversation I feel frustrated if I’m misunderstood, if someone has a contrary interpretation of what I’ve tried to express, but in music, I celebrate the different interpretations. My hope is to make people feel; feel something the music has given them an opportunity to experience; feel something they’d like to feel more of. The specifics aren’t that important to me.”

Asked how the recollection of love, humour and sadness is translated into music, Keller says that most of the time music and all art is expressing these sorts of emotions, which are imbued through the process of creation.

“I don’t know how to explain the translation except that it’s through intention. There is an element of magic and there are quite possibly involuntary effects, but most importantly there is the intention for expression.”

In Family Portraits, Keller performs solo, but uses a Boss RC50 loop station, Line 6 delay pedal and minimal preparations (temporary alterations) to the piano to broaden her musical palette.

“At times, the music I’m striving to create can’t be realised on an acoustic piano alone. With Incomparable (the tune I use the Line 6 delay pedal on), I had in my mind a sound from the piano that I could not find a way to make with my hands, feet and the acoustic instrument alone.

“I am drawn to texture in music, art and life. In the context of solo piano, texture has definite limits. So the use of the loop station was purely a way of reaching a musical vision I had in terms of playing ‘solo’.”

The mechanics of how Keller uses these devices may not be important to an audience or listeners to the album. At times she improvises over pre-composed lines that loop; at others loops are improvised from the start.

“I may just have a key centre, a general sequence of events preplanned, and perhaps a mood I’m aiming to convey. So in many ways the music can be unpredictable.”

The effect of listening to Family Portraits is unpredictable. It could take you anywhere, possibly on a journey that loops back into the lives of people you knew and those you have yet to discover. Privileged to be invited to share in Keller’s family, we may be drawn to explore our own family trees.


Andrea Keller

Andrea Keller (Image supplied)

Andrea Keller’s album launch is at 7pm Friday 24 May at the Melbourne Recital Centre Salon

Family Portraits is released on Jazzhead Records