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Features/Music

Jazz sideman steps out front

5 January 2021

A debut album by guitarist Dan Garner announces the arrival of a new jazz front man on the Perth scene. Ara Jansen reports.

When jazz guitarist Dan Garner started playing, he was determined to get as much experience he could performing in other bands. Now he’s channeled everything he’s learnt into his debut album, East of the West.

It’s official, Garner has moved from side man to take his place as front man and shifted his focus to original music.

Taking inspiration from artists such Pat Metheny, Kurt Rosenwinkel and Christian Scott, Garner has also integrated the spirit of folk, blues, country and classic rock into his music and used the songs to communicate stories of his past and the small Wheatbelt town he grew up in.  

“As a creative person, you do want to do your own thing,” says the affable Garner. “My music is always high energy and I like to think it’s like a conversation between instruments with a lot of interaction. Melody is also always important.”

East of the West contains six instrumental songs which were recorded last June with Garner’s quintet, featuring Matt Smith (trumpet), Liam Hickey (drums), Alistair Peel (bass) and Tim Voutas (piano). The album was recorded, mixed and mastered by Brodie Stewart.  

Cover art for Dan Garner’s debut album ‘East of the West’. Image supplied

“The instrumental freedom is what I have been working on for quite a while. I feel like you can listen to it with an open mind and just let something happen. Just as people can get direction from someone singing and telling stories, listening to music without words just feels like a whole different world. When you’re presented with a different perspective, it makes you think about things and possibly changing your own perspective.”

The album tracks offer a varied listening experience from the bubbly joyfulness of the opening track “Wyalkatchem” through to the more broody and harmonically dense first single “Ennui” and closing with a hint of rock guitar in the title track.

While it is Garner’s own album and his band to lead, the album sounds very much like a collaborative endeavour. All the instruments are given space to breathe and play, rather than the guitar stealing the limelight and always taking the lead. It’s a feeling the guitarist confirms because he wanted each musician to bring the best of their ideas to his songs.

“It did feel like a group effort,” Garner says. “I think it would have been silly to not allow other people to have input, especially since they all have experience recording. Yes, it’s my album and my songs and I do want people to listen to me, but it’s really about the music. It was the first time I had been in charge of a recording session, so I also had to check my ego which wasn’t always easy, and serve the song.”

Hailing from the small Wheatbelt town of Wyalkatchem, as a kid there was always music at home. Garner’s nan was always singing church songs and his mum was a music teacher. His mum’s acoustic guitar because his first instrument, which led him to learning the classic rock and Aussie country playing on the radio.

Garner and his brother’s band played covers at wild B&S balls when they headed home from boarding school for the holidays, well before they were of drinking age.

For a long time, music and playing the guitar was just a hobby. When Garner’s music teacher suggested he investigate jazz, at first he wasn’t interested, mainly, he admits, because of lack of exposure.

“I didn’t understand it at first but once I started to, I thought it was great. Then I realised you can do so much different stuff with it.”

A workshop hosted by a vocalist who spoke passionately about making music for a living and as a career, planted a seed in 16-year-old Garner’s head. Soon after he dove guitar-first into the world of jazz.

“At school I had a conversation with my literature teacher who said, ‘It seems like you don’t want to be in this class’. I said all I wanted to do was play guitar. She said she could respect that, as long as I did what I needed to do to make it viable. She was a really understanding and very experienced teacher who was quite progressive about it in an all-boys Catholic school.

“Music is the only environment I have ever been in where everyone has been completely supportive for me. When I went to WAAPA I felt like everyone wanted to be there and they were all different, different ages and had different opinions. I think that was because in high school sport wasn’t my main focus and that was considered a bit strange.”

Garner graduated from WAAPA with a Jazz Performance degree in 2016. Since then, he has regularly featured in jazz groups such as the Gemma Farrell Quintet and Mace Francis’ The 950 Local/Express. He’s played the International Jazz Festival (2015 and 2020), The King St Corner Pocket Festival (2018 and 2019) and plays regularly with Queency as well as a host of other local contemporary artists.

Garner launches East of the West on 10 January 2021 at The Goodwill Club, downstairs at The Rechabite.  

Pictured top: Guitarist Dan Garner takes his place as a jazz front man. Photo supplied

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Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

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