Coffee Conversations: Ben Hanlon

Coffee Conversations with Ben Hanlon

#CoffeeConversations: Melbourne bassist Ben Hanlon talks collaborating with James Sherlock, the differences between classical and jazz, his love for his home city and more in the lead up to his concert Ben Hanlon & James Sherlock Duo on Tuesday 4 April in the Salon.

Not only does Ben Hanlon love music, he loves Melbourne, and is grateful to be doing what he loves in one of the most colourful music scenes in the world. Whether he’s playing orchestral scores with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra or gigging around Melbourne’s jazz venues with groups like The Hue Blanes Trio, the double bass was a natural fit for Ben and so too, is working with one of his musical heroes, James Sherlock.

“Growing up in Melbourne, I had a couple of James Sherlock’s early albums and really liked his playing so I went to a few of his gigs and was inspired. When I moved back to Australia from LA I focussed on my new job with the MSO, A few years ago I started getting back into jazz. I got a call from a friend to do a gig with James Sherlock at Uptown Jazz Cafe, I was thrilled and terrified. I can’t have played too badly ‘cause we’re still playing together”

Playing and teaching diverse music almost every night of the week, it may not be surprising to learn that performing orchestral music differs greatly to the varying styles of jazz (free form, traditional, contemporary and new wave just to name a few), but Ben finds that there are also some unexpected similarities:

“A major difference between orchestral and jazz is that in the orchestra, everything I do is with seven other people playing the same instrument and the same part. In a jazz band, usually I’m responsible for my part alone, and there’s a lot of freedom and responsibility that comes with that.

“Classical music and jazz seek to create a similar experience – they’re about connecting with our audiences and making really moving and interesting music. But these experiences come from different approaches. With classical music, you get the music well in advance, every note is written out and you have to do your very best to learn the repertoire in the appropriate style. The roadmap is written and you follow it in the live performance.

“With jazz you do a large amount of preparation, but it’s more about preparing to react in the moment – generally there’s no written music in front of you so you need to know the standard tunes while being spontaneous and creative to get a musical idea to work.”

When it comes to favouring one style of music and performance over another, Ben maintains it’s an equal playing field between orchestral music and jazz, however both have their own respective moments of pressure:

“I love playing classical and jazz equally, but the challenge of jazz tends to be that there are moments where you feel you don’t know what’s going on. When this happens there’s this exhilarating feeling, your ears kick in, you listen to what your band mates are doing and often these moments lead to the most interesting music. In contrast, the pressure with classical music comes from having to play the really difficult passages while executing your ideal interpretation.”

It’s his colleagues and counterparts that play a vital role in making Melbourne’s music scene so great. Having travelled across America, Europe and Asia for study and touring, Ben finds Melbourne’s music scene hard to compare. “I think we’re really lucky. We have so many exceptional musicians in Melbourne, in the jazz world people like Eugene Ball, James Sherlock, Danny Fisher, Ben Robertson, Sam Anning and Marty Holoubek are so good at what they do you’re guaranteed a great experience. Melbourne’s music scene has a real community feel. There’s a genuine feeling of wanting to hear each other’s projects and work together to push each other to get better and I love that.”

Fast Facts about Ben Hanlon:

1. Ben is a Mad AFL Melbourne Demons fan.
2. Ben performed a solo on David Hirschfelder’s score for 2016 film The Dressmaker starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth.
3. Ben can often be found at the pub with his trivia team
4. Ben’s love for Melbourne is tattooed across his arm. Artwork includes a Melbourne tram, Hamer Hall, the Skipping Girl Vinegar sign, the Melbourne Cricket Ground and more.
5. The last book Ben read was The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Upcoming Event Details

Ben Hanlon & James Sherlock Duo
Tuesday 4 April 7pm, Salon