Piano fiend and enigmatic genius singer-songwriter, Hue Blanes, PBS Young Elder of Jazz 2017 and 2017 Green Room multiple nominee, has recently released his new single, ‘Fernando’ and sophomore album, ‘Holiday’ – a darkly wonderful song cycle full of modern poetry. Ahead of his Melbourne International Jazz Festival appearances, Hue took some time out to do a little Q&A with us.
What was your first piano?
That’s very personal but ok … a very old iron frame piano made in Berlin pre-world war 1. A Casio keyboard before that, with mini keys.
What do you use on stage generally?
Pianos, preferably old ones, Steingraeber or Richard lipp, Bosendorfer or Steinway but if not I try to use an anologue electric instrument as much as possible, like a Wurlitzer, Hammond organ or a Fender Rhodes. If not a Nord stage will always suffice.
Is it the same for recording?
Yes, except definitely no Nord unless you really don’t care about the authenticity of the sound. To me it is really obvious on a recording if the sound is a digital keyboard.
What’s your latest recording and when will you be back in the studio?
A Jazz trio recording with Ben Hanlon on Double Bass and Danny Farrugia on Drums recorded in February at Allan Eaton Sound studios. The engineer was Ross Cockle. He focuses on a natural sound when he records and the musicians are great at what they do so his job was super easy. Danny is a very focused, understated, musical player while Ben is a risk taker a searcher and is the furnace of the group . I mainly just listen to them when I play.
What gigs have you been playing lately?
I have been doing a lot of different gigs. Bach St. John’s passion- Singing Evangelist Beethoven spring sonata- piano w Dave Curro on the Violin Brahms cello sonata – with Ben Hanlon at a Bennetts Lane residency, with the trio in January and many more gigs.
Most memorable gig
Playing at the concerts I organise every solstice or equinox at my studio are always fun and challenging. I often get my friends, Kristian Winther, Sean Hennessy, Ioana Tache, Mark Gasser, Ben Hanlon and many more to play. The last concert was a standout. I played a Brahms sonata and a string quintet played Schubert and the Finnish composer, Olli mustonen piece ‘Toccata’.
Worst stage nightmare?
I was asked to open for an artist last year and no one including the artist and the fans knew that I was meant to be playing. They were expecting only the headliner. It was a real shambles as it was a new venue. Just before I got on, I was backstage and the headliner (who shall remain nameless) came up to me and said, “who are you”? I said, “Hue Blanes the support”, and he said, “support”? “I ain’t knowin’ there was a support? Tis some wild bill shit right here!” When the MC announced me, I’ve never heard such a muted response from a full house before. I had to play for 40 minutes, it was not fun. It was just like a movie.
Album that changed your life?
Keith Jarrett, Koln concert Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Brown and snoopy More recently I’ve been getting into the Brad Mehldau Trio recordings with Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy 1997, 1999, 2001
What gigs are coming up in the next few months?
I have the premiere of my composition, “Things that have been said” in June at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and a residency in May at the Jazz Lab. Most importantly I’m touring my new album ‘Holiday’ nationally.
A piano tip for the kids?
Take your time. The tortoise wins the race in the end. Or maybe the hare loses and the tortoise stays where he is. Either way I’ve seen a lot of musicians burn out and most of them were at a higher standard than me at the time. Play what you want but practice what you don’t want.