Classical pianist Dr Yoko Clinch of Roleystone Animal Hospital and Veterinary Rehabilitation Services in Kelmscott, WA, just couldn’t resist the siren call of jazz.
“I grew up in Canada and started piano lessons when I was four years old. I studied classical piano until I was in Year 9 at high school and was on the verge of beginning to perform. Then my friends encouraged me to join the jazz band and Jazz Career Preparation Program and everything changed. My mother had dreams of me becoming a classical pianist but I chose to dump classical music, embrace the dark side and play jazz. That act of rebellion against my mother’s wishes certainly added to the appeal. I really clicked with the Count Basie style of big band jazz. I found other artists I enjoyed and learned by listening to records while playing along.
“I visited Australia in 1999, married an Australian and moved here for good. In 2000, I started studying veterinary science at Perth’s Murdoch University. After graduation, I worked in South Australia for two years and then moved back to Perth. One day, I was reading the weekend paper and there was an ad asking for someone to play jazz piano in a Count Basie/Duke Ellington style. I was all over that so I went to the audition and in 2007, I joined the Oz Big Band. The band celebrated its 35th anniversary this year.
“There’s 19 people in the band and we have a regular Friday night two-set gig at the Mustang bar in Northbridge. There’s a fairly big swing dance scene in Perth so our gigs have a packed dance floor and a really great vibe. There’s a couple of other clubs where we play jazz for dancers, and others where we play for people who like to sit down and listen. We’ve also played in Melbourne and Canberra at their Lindy Hop Festivals.
“For such a big band, our membership is fairly static. It’s pretty hard to join so once you’re in, you tend to stay. The turnover might be one or two people per year and once a spot becomes available, there’s always plenty of musicians trying out for that spot.
“There’s a real rush when you’re playing a live gig and the whole band is locked into the groove. There’s an energy you get from the crowd, particularly when the swing dancers are really into it, that’s just incredible. It’s easy to imagine what it would have been like in the ’20s and ’30s, touring around in a big jazz band. It’s also a good way to unplug from the day-to-day stuff in your life. You simply can’t think about work when you’re playing jazz.”