On stage Mace Francis is known for his irrepressible energy and wit. He is also a force to be reckoned with behind the scenes; the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra artistic director is the driving force behind the new King Street Pocket Jazz Festival opening next week. Mace is known as a composer, band leader, guitarist and trombone player. He built a Music Mill for his award winning PhD which in my book makes him an inventor as well!
What music gets your heart racing?
Big Bands, lots of horns, great grooves – music with intention, commitment and energy.
What calms you down?
Deep breaths, walking and quiet times… oh and Ella sings Cole Porter.
What do you sing along to?
I love singing along to the horn lines of classic big band recordings… pretending to be the lead trumpet player or lead alto player. I prefer to be an ensemble player than the singer.
How are you preparing for WAYJO’s King St Pocket Festival July 5-7?
The program has been organized and the bands are programmed. WAYJO has all three of its big bands performing throughout the festival and we are working on that material now. The Wednesday Night Orchestra will be premiering brand new works from local composers Tim Newhouse and Max Wickham as part of our composer in residence program. This is exciting new music that these amazing young people have created especially for this festival.
We will also be performing with a band made up of half WAYJO musicians and half musicians from the Showa University of Music in Tokyo… affectionately called SHOWAYJO. This is part of an exchange program we have with Showa University of Music and they are visiting at the same time as the festival. A busy, but rewarding week.
What do you hope the audience will experience at the festival?
The King Street Corner Pocket is a featured event as part of our 35th year celebration. It is a chance to see and hear ensembles made up of current and past members of WAYJO. It is a real celebration of what WAYJO has done for the WA jazz scene and to show off the wonderful musicians that have been involved over the years.
Audience members will be able to see a variety of bands and styles of jazz, all in a compact area around King St and The Maj. The weekend will be a buzz of activity and live jazz. I am really excited about it.
You have a soft spot for big bands – what is the attraction of a 10 or 20 piece jazz group?
It is the sound and feeling of that many people all feeling the time the same, pushing sound and energy out towards an audience. It is also the shared experience of making something special with a large group, especially when you are all friends. The opposite can also apply… the more people, the more you multiply mistakes, but that is why you rehearse.
Best big band piece we all need to listen to? (preferably one on youtube I can share with readers!)
Tough question… Bob Brookmeyer’s New Art Orchestra is the big band that actually changed my life and my perspective of what big bands were capable of. This was the composition, and album, that made me decide that I want to be a big band composer.
Composer Mark Applebaum says music should above all else be interesting. What do you think is the most important role of music?
For me the most important thing is that it feels good… or should I say makes me feel something. That could be a groove that makes me want to dance, rich dark harmony that makes me want to cry, lyrics that breaks my heart, a recording that sounds like I am in the room with the band or songs that remind me of a time and place.
Where did you learn the skills to be artistic director of a large organization like WAYJO?
I joined WAYJO as a musician in one of the bands in 2001. I got really involved in the organization, joining the board as the band rep and helping organize and run rehearsals. I really believed in the vision and purpose of the organization… still do. This then led to becoming the first Assistant Musical Director where I got to spend time in front of the band, rehearsing, conducting and planning concert programs. I was also composing for the band and travelling overseas to seek out other big bands from around the world.
In 2008 the previous artistic director left and I was offered the job and tried to continue the core purpose of what WAYJO is: rehearsing and performing the very best big band music available. Overtime I also added programs that I would have loved to have had the opportunity to participate in while I was in the band, like composer in residence, more guest artists, better gigs at better venues… from there things have just grown and grown.
We seem like a large organization because of all that we do, however there is only four staff members equaling about 2.5 full time positions.
Your reputation includes not just directing ensembles but performing on guitar, Music Mill and trombone… and I’m guessing you have a sizeable collection of bad trombone jokes?
I just love all things music and enjoy being involved in creating and making music. I studied guitar at high school and uni but then got happily distracted by composing and big bands.
I love the journey where my musical life has taken me including building the Music Mill, playing banjo to silent films in Canada, touring with my big band, performing in an elevator for 8 hours at the Geelong Art Gallery, playing with my very best friends, working with my musical heroes and planning programs for WAYJO.
RE trombone jokes… I am a trombone joke! Haha! Trombone is only a recent endeavor, starting just over three years ago. Not only do I play trombone, but it is a valve trombone which makes ‘real’ trombone players angry, which makes me love it even more Haha!
What is your most electric moment on the stage?
A few moments come to mind:
Performing ‘First Love Song’ with WAYJO and Jim McNeely (American pianist and composer). Jim was playing a cadenza in the middle of the composition and I had the realization that this is the guy that plays this cadenza on this composition on one of my favourite recordings: Bob Brookmeyer Arranger/Composer.
Playing a gig at The Ellington recently on trombone, performing the music from Art Pepper Plus 11, another one of my favourite albums. I realized that I was finally playing in a horn section and sanding next to one of my favourite musicians and best friends, trumpeter Ricki Mallet. A great moment!
What’s the thing you love most about your work?
I love that everyday is different, I get to work with my friends, I get to create things, I get to dream up projects, create my own destiny and I get to listen to music all the time.
What’s the state of the Perth jazz scene at the moment?
One of the things that makes a great scene is venues. Perth is lacking venues that will take the chance with musicians to build a night. There are great venues everywhere but the hire costs are often out of the range of many musicians.
What is your favourite place in Perth?
At the moment is it my apartment that I just bought in Mt Lawley. It is a beautiful art deco place and I just love it so much!
Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music?
At the moment it is running and learning Japanese. Both are going slowly but it is fun and a nice change, as everything else in my life is music related.