Joe joins Australian jazz ranks

Joe with his award
Joe O'Connor at the National Jazz Awards. This image first appeared on

Pianist, composer and improviser Joseph O’Connor has joined the ranks of the who’s who in Australian jazz following his success at the 2013 National Jazz Awards at Wangaratta.

The 24-year-old Queensland Conservatorium Griffith Universitygraduate floored the judges to take out first prize of $10,000, a studio recording session for ABC Jazz and an invitation to perform at next year’s Stonnington Jazz Festival.

The award follows a spate of success for the emerging musician who by his own admission “fell into playing jazz”.

“There wasn’t ever a single moment where I instantly knew I would be a professional musician,” he says.

“But as I look back on my childhood it was infused with the sounds of jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

“In primary school I started playing in the school’s big band and it seemed to take hold from there, progressing in a very organic way.

“High school also had moments of clarity for me as a musician. I heard Keith Jarrett’s standards trio for the first time then and it opened up new ways of viewing jazz vocabulary and improvisation.”

It is this progressive approach, coupled with an intense focus on originality that characterises Joe’s compositions and performances, which steered his way to success at the National Awards.

2013 was the Year of the Piano at the Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival where the awards were presented this month, and Joe noted the company of his fellow musicians as the clear highlight.

“Hearing such exceptional players who are each extremely varied in their approaches, was an experience I will keep with me for some time to come.”

Joe joins celebrated artists Barney McAll, Mark Fitzgibbon, Matt McMahon, James Muller, Steve Magnusson, Julien Wilson, Scott Tinkler, Phil Slater, Tim Firth, Michelle Nicolle and fellow Con alumni Kristin Berardi who have all been awarded the same honour at Australia’s most prestigious jazz performance competition.

He graduated from the Queensland Conservatorium in 2010 after completing a Bachelor of Music with First Class Honours majoring in advanced performance and was awarded the Conservatorium Medal as the highest achieving student of his year.

It was during his time at the Con that he explored the realms of classical music, jazz and percussion, and was introduced to Dr Stephen Newcomb, who now leads the jazz department.

“I remember thinking what an incredibly high standard he set on stage on a weekly basis and this in no small way helped shaped my direction as a performer.”

“Being exposed to such an array of music and spending time with talented peers also helped me develop as an individual and mature my appreciation and passion for music as a whole.”

Next year looks set to be just as busy for Joe, who is now based in Melbourne. He will continue his PhD in musical performance to research early American modernist composer Ruth Crawford Seeger’s approach to jazz composition and improvisation, while also developing new music for jazz piano trio and quintet.

Plans are also underway for him to co-direct the second incarnation of the Bennett’s Lane Big Band with saxophonist Tom Noonan.