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Musician Jeff Usher

Jeff Usher is an Australian Jazz musician that cannot see. He has kindly answered some questions for us.

What inspires your music?

All sorts of things inspire my art. As a jazz pianist and composer, I am very influenced by my favourite jazz musicians �composers John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk and Wayne Shorter, or pianists McCoy Tyner and Herbie Hancock. But more than this, I am inspired by the world around me and my own experience and attitude to life and try to reflect those things in my music. I also sing and write lyrics, and so I see myself as a storyteller. All of my music, whether vocal or instrumental, is meant as storytelling.

What are your favorite places to travel as a musician?

I have been to a lot of places around Australia and to other countries, and I guess they have all inspired me one way or another. A few years ago, I composed a couple of pieces, Sun Flight and Mysterious River, which were inspired by my visits to Papua New Guinea in the 1970s. A lot of my music is inspired by the rhythm of trains. I love trains, and have spent a lot of time travelling by train.

How do you prepare for your performances?

These days, I don't do a lot of preparation, especially not for playing my own compositions. I may do a bit of practice, and I am always on the lookout for a new compositional idea, but otherwise I just turn up and play.

Does experiencing a disability create difficulties for you on the road or on the stage? How do you overcome them?

Occasionally I have had major difficulties. For many years nobody would hire me because I cannot read music (being totally blind I cannot read sheet music). The fact that I am good at memorising music eventually convinced other musicians to consider me, but this problem has and still does affect my academic career. However, this difficulty also led me to form my own bands playing my music my way, or to play a lot of solo gigs. Generally I haven't had too many problems leading my own groups locally or on the road.

Do you think that journalists do a good job covering artists with disabilities? If not how can they improve?

My only complaint is that journalists often tend to get buzzed out by the artist overcoming his or her disability and forget to talk extensively about the music. My music is my first priority, not the fact that I can't see. Even when composing Kathleen's Theme in 2011, I was writing a song dedicated to my high-school music teacher and the part she played in my development as a musician. I didn't even mention my blindness in the song, although she became my teacher because she knew Braille and we were both at a school for the blind. What was important to me was telling about our friendship and our love of great music. No journalist has written about this song as yet, but I hope that when they do, they will concentrate upon how I play and sing the song.

Do you have any ambitions as an artist? What are they?

My ambition has always been to play and write music which satisfies me as an artist and hopefully inspires the people who hear it. That is all I can do as I see it. I have composed more than 280 pieces. Hopefully I can compose many more. I have also just submitted my PhD thesis in music composition at University of Queensland. Hopefully this will lead to more work as a music academic.



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