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Emma Pask: Expect the unexpected

Jacqui Douglas

The mercury is falling in the nation’s capital.

Like most Canberrans, I’m soaking up the last of the summer sunshine, and steeling my resolve to keep the heater off until ANZAC Day. Fortunately, autumn brings a host of spicy acts to Canberra stages to help ease the transition, including acclaimed jazz songbird Emma Pask.

Emma’s talent was unearthed by Australian jazz legend James Morrison when she was just 16 years old. Since then, Emma has performed across continents, to audiences in the tens of thousands and with symphony orchestras. A prolific writer, Emma has released six records since her self-titled debut in 1999.

I caught up with Emma ahead of her upcoming Canberra gig to talk inspiration, improvisation and independence.

Emma’s advice to young musicians? “Ears open and eyes open.” Emma’s love of jazz finds a strong foundation in iconic voices like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

However, she attributes artistic development to the diverse musical networks that stretched her horizons.

Emma’s affinity with Latin Jazz in particular could only grow wider and deeper through travel and exposure to the influences of the region – including her South American husband’s love of Latin dance! Young players seeking similar growth should develop an insatiable thirst for the best of a rich collection of sounds.

Personally, I love the thrill and mystery of live improvisation and Emma was quick to assure me that she finds it just as exhilarating as a performer. For Emma, improvising is “riding by the seat of your pants”. The material is fresh every time, a process equal parts “exciting and terrifying.” 

I was also fascinated to learn that Emma had independently produced two of her records, one of which was shortlisted for an ARIA award. A testament to hard work, Emma’s independent enterprises were completely self-funded. She described the process as organic, and loved the “complete control” it gave her over the timing and direction of the work.

When I asked Emma to reflect on her musical experience on Canberra, one of her most treasured memories was John Farnham’s historic Australia Day performance. Emma respects him as one of the great Australian voices, and a shining example of artistic professionalism. She also reflected fondly on past performances at Floriade, the Press Club, The Street’s Capital Jazz Project and the Canberra edition of Jazz in the Vines.

So what can we expect of Emma’s upcoming Street Theatre performance? In typical jazz fashion, we can expect the unexpected although Emma cautions that the audiences should dress for all weather, as Emma’s seasoned trio prepares to deliver intense swing, soulful ballads and raucous blues. This is not a gig to be missed, rain or shine.

the essentials

What: Emma Pask
When: Friday 31 March from 8pm
Where: The Street Theatre, Childers Street, Canberra City West
Tickets and more information:

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Jacqui Douglas

Jacqui briefly entertained the notion of becoming a drummer. Fortunately, singing, writing and drinking coffee generally required less coordination. Best known as one-third of vocal trio Kaleid, Jacqui loves all things live music and dreams of opening her own venue. Her New Year’s resolution? Talk less, and say more. More about the Author