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by Tony Roma
posted 06/11/2017

Emma Stephenson Freedman Jazz Fellowship Winner

Freedman Jazz 2017 brought together the talents of three multi-talented musicians with their bands at the Sydney Opera House on Monday 30 October. The winner of the Freedman Jazz Fellowship 2017 was announced on the night. Intense competition for the $20,000 cash prize resulted in amazing performances from 15-member big band to quartet. A spirit of cooperation was also evident as musical colleagues supported one another in different roles  The result was an evening of diverse, engaging and highly successful performances.

Emma Stephenson, pianist and songwriter, who received the accolade of 2017 Freedman Jazz Fellow performed her original songs with Oli Nelson (bass), Nick Henderson (drums) and vocalist Kristin Berardi. Emma’s talents and potential as a creative artist  provided  a moving and memorable performance, demonstrating  her technical and compositional abilities and emotional depths.


Finalist Ellen Kirkwood, trumpeter and composer, presented excerpts of her new suite ‘A-Part’ performed by the Sirens Big Band with special guests Sandy Evans saxophone and Kristin Berardi, vocals.

Nick Garbett, trumpeter and composer, led the ever-popular band The Vampires, ably demonstrating his skills as an improviser and instrumentalist.

Former Freedman Fellow, guitarist Ben Hauptmann also performed a special trio set whilst the judges made their final deliberation.

The Judges:

The judges, distinguished jazz musician/composers Stu Hunter, pianist, Mike Nock ONZM pianist, composer and educator and Dr Phillip Johnston, saxophonist, selected the three finalists from a group of 16 national candidates nominated by outstanding musicians around Australia. Nominees were  judged in part on their proposed career enhancing project for which the prize money would be used.  The judges noted “The three finalists were of exceptional standard but each one brought a conceptual approach quite different from the others. Each put their concept to work in a distinctive and ambitious project. Together they painted a picture of the 21st century developments in jazz and Australia’s part in them. There was a new interest in using their music to comment on important social issues such as climate change and the refugee crisis.”

Stephenson’s performance at the Freedman Jazz Awards concert at the Sydney Opera House reflected an intriguing combination of qualities – a sophisticated command of melody/harmony/rhythm wedded to an emotionally engaging and accessible exploration of song form, beautifully delivered by vocalist Kristin Berardi. The diverse range of her project proposal was subtly expressed in the tightly-focused musicality of the performance with her Hieronymus Trio, which, while expressing  a panoply of sophisticated musical ideas, always served both the lyrical and musical story-telling embodied in her songs, reflecting a truly 21st century combination of art music and engagement with contemporary popular music.”

As noted by arts reviewer John Shand in the Sydney Morning Herald – “the Freedman Jazz 2017  concert transcended the format of competition to create an ambience where all the players are concerned firstly and above all with their music. We heard three widely different aspirations and musical styles and each finalist was confident in their personal voice. In our winner, Emma Stephenson, we have found a multi-talented  artist  who  is  creating her own  musical world, full of subtle strength, intriguing musical shaping, and emotional connection.”

Emma’s Proposal:

Emma Stephenson plans to devote most of her Freedman Fellowship to recording an album in New York comprising eight songs for piano trio and voice. The album will feature New York based vocalists including Australians Jo Lawry, Jane Irving and Liam Budge. She will also invest the award in her podcast ”Stuff You Can’t Say with Jazz Piano”, as well as piano lessons in New York and the development of an online distribution system for creative people to self-publish their own work on their own terms.

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