Jazz with a heart

• Gemma Farrell

Hamilton Hill’s Gemma Farrell has been nominated for a humanitarian award for her tireless efforts for women and non-binary performers in jazz.

Farrell has been running the Young Women in Jazz Program since 2014, and at the height of the #metoo movement in 2017 formed The Artemis Orchestra, a welcoming home for non-binary and transgender professional musicians.

“The Young Women in Jazz Program is a judgement free space for female identifying students to learn about improvisation and try things out,” she says.

“Jazz is a very male dominated industry and if you’re one of only three girls in your school jazz band, that can be really daunting. 

“In YWIJ we encourage the students to try things and not be afraid of making mistakes, it’s how they learn. 

“With The Artemis Orchestra, I wanted to create a similar environment like YWIJ but for female, non-binary and transgender professional musicians.

“We exclusively perform the music of Australian people of marginalised genders and last year we launched our debut album to a sold-out audience.”

Farrell’s efforts have seen her shortlisted in the humanitarian category in the Australian Women in Music Awards, and she’ll travel to the glitzy awards ceremony in Brisbane on May 18.

When Farrell’s not busy helping others, she’s doing what she loves best – playing jazz.

Her Gemma Farrell Quintet recently put the finishing touches to their second album The View from the Top; the title track a cute pop at the music industry.

“I was frustrated with the opinion of people who were successful in the jazz scene, thinking there is no problem with the gender gap,” the saxophonist says. “I spent a lot of time thinking about this issue and trying to make sure women are getting gigs and being thought of for things.”

Similar in style to their debut album, The View from the Top features contemporary jazz with some funkiness and a few quieter tunes. Farrell says she didn’t experience second-album syndrome.

“It didn’t feel difficult at all. I started working on these 12 tunes straight after Organised Chaos and once we had 12 unrecorded charts I started planning the recording,” she says.

“I think the main difference is that we’ve been playing together longer, and we know each other better musically and personally,” 

Farrell says the live music scene is slowly getting back to normal after covid restrictions recently eased: “Things are getting better, but it’s still difficult. Venues like to book artists that do well in pre-sales, but audiences are reluctant to buy tickets because they worry that they might get covid themselves, or the show may be cancelled due to the artists getting covid,” she says. “Rehearsing is very fulfilling as well, but to me performing live gives me a goal to aim towards, as well as the enjoyment.

“When people have told me that they’ve enjoyed my music, that makes all the hard work worth it”

The Gemma Farrell Quintet will play a special launch gig for The View From The Top, with the Holly Forster Quintet supporting, at Lyric Lane’s Underground in Maylands next Saturday (May 14). Tix at oztix.com.au

Hamilton Hill muso Gemma Farrell (above) and with her quintet (left).

By STEPHEN POLLOCK

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