24 November 2023

ARIA Award and all that jazz for former Wollongong musician's band The Vampires

| Kellie O'Brien
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The Vampires ARIA Award

The Vampires, featuring former Wollongong musician Nick Garbett (second from right), won their first ARIA Award for Best Jazz Album. Photo: Supplied.

Former Wollongong musician Nick Garbett was on a flight when he heard his band The Vampires had won Best Jazz Album at the ARIA Awards this month.

Partway through its Australian tour for the album Nightjar, which won the peak Australian music industry accolade on 15 November, Nick said he was surprised by the win.

“I was actually on my way to Melbourne and Jeremy the saxophone player texted me the little winning ARIA logo just before we were about to take off, and it blew my mind,” Nick said.

“It was a surprise – none of us expected it.

“We were quietly hopeful but one of our heroes and mentors Mike Nock was also nominated and he’s an incredible piano player, so I was hoping he would get it. And if not, maybe we’d get it.”

The Sydney quartet, which also includes former Bowral boy Alex Masso, has been nominated previously for its album The Vampires Meet Lionel Loueke featuring internationally renowned guitarist Lionel Loueke, received critical acclaim and was the first instrumental jazz group to be shortlisted for the Australian Music Prize.

However, the ARIA Award win for Nightjar was a special win, thanks in part to collaborating on the album with renowned pianist, keyboard player and member of the legendary improvised minimalism trio The Necks, Chris Abrahams.

“The band’s been together a long time, so our sound has developed and matured,” Nick said.

“We were using more electronic effects and production methods and exploring that world, which opened up the sound.

“Then definitely the collaboration with Chris really worked.

“We wanted to incorporate Chris’s approach to music, which is quite open, ambient and atmospheric, we wanted to incorporate not as many notes and more space, and just quality of sound as well.

“He’s amazing and he brought such a fresh approach to the music – he’s taught us a lot.

“When he’s with us, he’s just part of the band.”

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Nick’s love for jazz was sparked by his father, a big jazz and blues fan, who encouraged Nick and his sister to play the piano from an early age.

“I grew up listening to it through him and then while I was at Wollongong High School (of Performing Arts), a piano player named Nick Southcott, he was teaching at the Wollongong Conservatorium (WollCon), and he put together a jazz combo,” he said.

“Myself and Alan Hicks, who is a good friend, a musician and filmmaker, we joined that band and that’s where it started. We were about 16 or 17.

“Then Eric Dunan came to WollCon just after that band started and the whole jazz program exploded there, thanks to Eric.”

Nick would later teach trumpet for 10 years at WollCon, after completing his studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.

It was at the Sydney Conservatorium that the earliest formation of The Vampires happened, when the members joined Nick to perform one of his final recitals, South Coasting, which would go on to become the title track of their debut album in 2007.

“There was myself, Alex Masso, Jeremy (Rose), and the original bass player Mike Majkowski – that’s how the band started,” he said.

“Then we started off doing very small regional tours, mostly going out west to places like Orange and Cowra.”

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During the past 16 years, the band has returned to the Illawarra many times during national tours, including performing a sold-out gig in Wollongong last month as part of the album tour.

“It was great. We always have a good show in Wollongong these days – it’s home ground,” he said.

“There’s a big appetite for this kind of music in the Illawarra and that’s been cultivated by people like Eric Dunan.”

With early planning started for a possible European tour next year, the ARIA win is expected to open more doors for a band that’s already had some great career highlights.

“I think the two albums we’ve made with Lionel and Chris would definitely be highlights,” he said.

“They’re our favourite albums and just the journey working with both of those musicians was great because they’re both incredible.”

The Illawarra was also represented at the ARIA Awards with Kiama band Pacific Avenue nominated for Michael Gudinski Breakthrough Artist.

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