Jenter has a chat with internationally renown multi instrumentalist and Forestone artist Adam Simmons about where it all started and where it is all going. Covering everything from where he started, gear and how to choose an instrument to where music is going and the importance of teaching the next generation.
Where did it all start?
“Well, I blame my father, Paul Simmons - one of my earliest memories is my staring up the bell of my father’s soprano saxophone as he was playing. My childhood was full of music, whether it was Dad playing records to his mates or dragging us to rehearsals or my mother, Amy Simmons, improvising on piano.”
Starting on piano, with his mother’s help, he said he didn’t get far when it came to having to do two things at once. He started on the recorder a year before it was compulsory in primary school, “in hindsight I’m so glad for that, because I actually enjoyed it and it gave me a head start on everyone else.”
In Grade 3 Adam started mucking around on his Dad’s soprano saxophone , which he says “felt like a 'real' instrument compared to a recorder.” His parents took him for proper lessons and the teacher, Peter Russell (Ballarat), suggested Adam start on clarinet first. Which he did adding “saxophone was what I wanted to play, but I was happy to be guided. Exactly why I’m not sure, it could simply be I was brainwashed at an early age, or that I wanted to be like my father. I think I found it fairly easy in the beginning as I was a keen student. Getting to play recorder with a visiting band to our school when I was in Grade Two was pretty cool - Pick a bail of cotton - which my Dad had taught me.” Adam says although he didn’t remain diligent in his practice, it has always been something that he’s enjoyed.
How long have you been playing?
Starting on the recorder at the age of seven, progressing at eight years old to learning clarinet, eleven for saxophone, sixteen for flute and his latest passion shakuhachi when he was 31. Now approaching 49 would mean he has been playing for at least 40 years. He says “I’m still learning, but more aware of how to use what I’ve got.”
What is your main gig?
“Sheesh! That is never an easy one for me. It can vary so much from week to week, even gig to gig.”
Simply put the answer is jazz. Though when saying that he means it in a broad sense, “as a music that embraces diversity allows for individual expression while also requiring respect and space for each other in order to play together.” Having studied Improvisation at The Victorian College of the Arts many years ago, the skills he learnt there have served him well. Whether he’s played thrash, rock, funk, Persian, Indian, folk, techno, Chinese, classical, new music or experimental.
Adam is also teaching shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute) at The University of Melbourne, which has a tradition that connects with Zen Buddhism.
In recent years he has directed festivals including Festival of Slow Music and Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues. He is about to embark on a new project to look at how to develop the Victorian and Australian jazz scene, which is keeping him busy.
What gear do you play on?
Instrument = Ins. / Mouthpiece = Mp. / Reeds = R.
Sopranino = Ins. Yanagisawa /Mp. Vandoren and Selmer /R. Vandoren #4
Soprano = Ins. Inderbinen /Mp. Peter Ponzol M1 65 /R. Vandoren #4
Alto = Ins. Forestone RX Red Brass /Mp. Claude Lakey Apollo (metal) 7 /R. Vandoren V16 #
C Meldoy = Ins. Buescher Tru Tone /Mp. Morgan 6 R. Vandoren V16 (tenor) #5
Tenor = Ins. Forestone RX /Mp. Jody Jazz DV New York 8* /R. Vandoren V16 #5
Baritone = Ins. Keilwerth SX 90 /Mp. Lawton 7* /R.Vandoren (bass sax) #4
Adam adds that after a recent trip to Forestone Japan he is likely changing to Forestone traditional reeds for soprano through to baritone in size XH (with custom smoothing).
Eb Picc Clarinet = Ins. La Fleur /Mp. not sure no name /R. Gonzalez 2.5
Clarinet (Bb)= Ins. Leblanc /Mp. Vandoren B45 /R. Vandoren #2.5 or #3
Alto Clarinet = Ins. Vito /Mp. Selmer D /R. Vandoren 3
Bass Clarinet = Ins. Selmer Privilege /Mp. Vandoren B46/B50 /R. Vandoren ZZ (Tenor) - #3
Contra Alto Clarinet = Ins. Selmer Bundy /Mp. Forbes /R. Vandoren #4
Contra Bass Clarinet = Ins. Leblanc (paperclip) /Mp. Leblanc /R. Vandoren #4
Piccolo = Ins. Emerson
C Flute = Ins. Temby Artist
Alto Flute = Ins. Temby
Bass Flute = Ins. Emerson
What makes any particular instrument the right one for you?
“The sound and the way it blows, but that is also dependent on the mouthpiece and reed (assuming sax or clarinet). The ergonomics is important but I feel that you will get used to an instrument fairly quickly, but if the sound is not there to begin with, it is unlikely to develop. I’ve had to make a call on a number of occasions between different instruments and in each case, despite my bias towards one instrument or another, its appearance, history or price, I’ve gone with whatever helps me sound the best.”
But what about the sound? Adam said he requires a large dynamic range, meaning good response which includes playing at pianissimo and still maintaining a rich and full tone. “Imagine an opera tenor voice or a beautiful cello sound, that kind of strength is what I’m after - even on sopranino sax!” He also needs the instrument to be flexible. “Some instruments have a good sound, but are hard work to alter. I require a horn and setup that is malleable in order to maximise the possible range of expression. I used to think loud and brash was good, but then I realised the brashness or brightness was probably at the expense of the body or roundness of tone, and ultimately more one-dimensional. I feel it is easier to make a warm horn sound brighter than the other way around.”
What do we need to do as players, to ensure the baton is passed on? Yes pun intended!
“We need to share.
This can be a quick chat with someone at the end of a gig who wants to know how you did that thing! It can be in a formal way through teaching or workshops. It can be leading bands and inviting younger, emerging players in. It might just be doing a concert, but making sure it is a welcoming environment and not an exclusive, impenetrable one.
In learning the shakuhachi it was made clear to me that in order to 'know' a piece, it needs to be transmitted. The two modes of transmission are through teaching or performing the piece. In both instances it is necessary to share something with another. The importance of this is to realise only through passing something on, do we actually come to know that thing.
Though as an older man that is hopefully not too old yet, nor quite ready to pass the baton on, I would suggest that even the baton needs to be shared. I look back at my youthful arrogance when I finished at VCA and then my reflection almost 10 years later and I know I was not as ready as I would have liked to think, but certain things I pushed through regardless have helped set me up in ways that have only become apparent years later. Pushing ahead as well as being given opportunities as a younger man were invaluable to my development, but I know I’m not ready to give it all up now as it feels I am maturing as an artist. At times finding ways to give agency and opportunity to younger, emerging artists can be hugely rewarding for all concerned.
I must admit, this sense of intergenerational sharing is much more pronounced in the musical communities I work in. Playing jazz, improvised, experimental music or even folk and world music, tends to be with a wider range of ages and people, where as rock/pop/indie music can tend towards the younger due to the required image. As I observed this during my mid 20’s it made me happy to think I was in a community that valued older artists and that I could potentially have a long career where I could still be pushing myself as an artist into new territory. A few of my most memorable experiences have been performances by artists in their 70’s, having spent probably 50 or more years working on their art but are still exploring and pushing themselves and their audiences.
So yeah, I think it is sharing. Not needing to have the baton or to give it away, but instead to allow others to experience it as well as showing what can be done with it. For those who are younger, don’t be in too much of a hurry, observe and learn while you can, but be ready to grab it when the opportunity arises!”
Adam will be performing in the up coming Melbourne International Saxophone Festival
The Art of Sounds
Saturday 29 June, 2:00pm - 2:45pm
Hanson Dyer Hall
As part of the Yanagisawa, Eltham Woodwind & Brass Concert Series at the 2019 Melbourne International Saxophone Festival
Facebook event - https://www.facebook.com/events/2323423481058552/