WA News Celebrity Profiles Jazzing it Up
Jazzing it Up
Written by Mr Peter McClelland
Thursday, 28 April 2016


The Perth International Jazz Festival is a highlight on the music calendar. Its prime mover, WAAPA lecturer and jazz pianist Graham Wood, considers himself lucky to be still tinkling the ivories.

Jazz-Graham-Wood-PianoJazz pianist Graham Wood getting ready for the Perth International Jazz Festival“2013 was a bad year for me. I was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, an aggressive form of cancer more common in people over the age of 60. They removed half my liver, reconstructed my bile ducts and I spent a couple of months in hospital. And then it was another four months recuperating at home.”

“I’ll be an outpatient for many more years to come.”

“There’s no history of cancer in my family. The doctors told me I was just bloody unlucky and it was one of those things that life dishes up. It was a difficult time but I was looked after incredibly well at RPH.”

Occupational hazards

Graham’s PhD topic had a medical slant focusing on injuries linked with musical performance.

“I was interested in the pressures associated with playing a musical instrument and did some research on jazz pianists. It’s hardly surprising that problems such as tendonitis and thoracic outlet syndrome tend to crop up when you spend a lot of time sitting in a position that’s relatively unnatural.”

“When you’re playing piano the muscles in the hands and fingers are used in highly specific ways and it can be quite debilitating. Some people have to quit the instrument and that’s a real tragedy.”

When Graham’s not composing his own music he’s teaching others to do the same.

“I’ve taught jazz piano at WAAPA for quite a while and I’m Associate Dean of Teaching. It’s an interesting and enjoyable role that embraces not just music but also the broader curriculum. It’s interesting watching young students engage with new technology, it certainly gives them access to a mass of information.”

“Nonetheless, you have to live with music in an intimate way if you want to have any hope of mastering it. You can have 160,000 songs on your iPhone but from a deep listening perspective most people can only fully absorb three or four albums.”Jazz-sax

Jazz in the city

The month of June is particularly busy for Graham who, apart from his WAAPA duties, is the co-owner of Ellington’s Jazz Club and the brain-child behind the Perth International Jazz Festival. The funk and groove will embrace the city with performance spaces in Brookfield Place and Elizabeth Quay.

“We’re really focusing on appealing to a broad audience and some of the acts are just wonderful. The Yellowjackets from the USA are a well-known jazz fusion group; Hiatus Kaiyote is a neo-soul outfit popular with a younger crowd and Stu Hunter heads up a 10-piece band containing the crème de la crème of Sydney’s jazz musicians.”

“There’ll be more than 50 performances, many of them free to the public.”

Graham was a music student in the late 1980s through to the early ’90s and that’s reflected in his own jazz favourites.

“I’m always partial to some chilled-out Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, Keith Jarrett and Herbie Hancock. And if I had to pick a ‘Desert Island Disc’ it would probably be Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue.”

ED: The Perth International Jazz Festival runs June 3-5, 2016.