Where Are They Now? Meet Alumni, Angus Murrell!

The Jazz Music Institute was founded in 1996 and has been a higher education tertiary institution since 2009.

In the following blog series of ‘Where Are They Now?’, we talk to some of our alumni who we haven’t heard from in quite some time! We find out where life has taken them since graduation, and how studying at JMI benefited them throughout their career and life.

For this particular blog, we were lucky to chat with JMI alumni Angus Murrell who one of the very first students to enrol in JMI’s Bachelor program in 2008 and graduated in 2011 with our first ever graduating cohort! Read on for the full interview.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you play?

After I left high school, I taught myself to play the bass guitar and joined the punk rock band The Disables in 2004. I had a lot of great experiences with the band, but was increasingly more interested jazz. I’d wanted to play piano since I was a little boy, and thought “it’s now or never.” I enrolled at Jazzworx in 2008 as a very new piano player and completed an Advanced Diploma of Music. When the transition from Jazzworx to JMI came, and the Bachelor of Music in Jazz Performance was offered for the first time, I decided to stay for a few more semesters. I graduated in 2011 with the first JMI Bachelor of Music (Performance) cohort. I also play guitar and write arrangements for other instruments.

What have you been doing since graduating from JMI?

As I was graduating, I was lucky enough to land a regular gig playing piano at the CBD restaurant Malt Dining. I played for two hours every Friday night for over 7 years, and from that gig, I picked up a lot of side-gigs playing weddings, corporate events, and birthdays. That gig gave me the opportunity to come into my own as a pianist and arranger. JMI had armed me with the skill set of everything I would need to get me by, both musically and in a business sense, but I just needed the time to put it into action.

For a few years, I was teaching piano at Albany Creek Music and privately from home, then went back to university to complete a Graduate Diploma in Education (Prep-7) at QUT Kelvin Grove in 2014. I’m currently a full-time generalist primary school teacher, living in Tieri, Central Queensland. It gives me a stable income in these difficult times.

In 2018, I released an EP of original folk music called “Summertime Muse” under the name Angus Blaikie. It was a collection of pastoral folk songs I’d begun writing before I attended JMI and was influenced by Leonard Cohen and Nick Drake. I wrote all the songs (except one punk rock cover, reinterpreted as a folk tune), played nylon-string guitar, sang, and arranged all the songs with a huge debt of gratitude to my JMI peer Cameron Bower. He engineered, mixed, co-produced and reinvigorated some of the songs with fresh arrangement ideas after I’d become a slave to my demos. The EP has its rough edges, but I’m proud of what we achieved together on such a small budget.

What has been one of your biggest musical highlights in your career thus far?

Getting to tour Japan with The Disables in 2018 was one of the most enjoyable experiences for me in my punk band, but on a more personal level, I’d say that hearing an arrangement of mine come to life would be a standout moment. I have a video of a string trio sight-reading one of my favourite parts in “Summertime Muse,” which still gives me such a thrill to see and hear.

What are your future goals in music?

Full-time teaching is really a six day a week job, so I only get to play music on weekends and holidays now.

I have my second EP “No Nest for a Nighthawk” in the pipeline. This is the piano-based album you would’ve expected a graduate from JMI to create, but work, life and money get in the way after study, so it’s not always feasible to do what you’d like to. I have some rough demos up on Soundcloud of “In Silent Rapture” and “No Nest For a Nighthawk.”

Lastly, I’d love to buy a drumkit!

How has studying at JMI helped you to get where you are?

My time at JMI is a period I look back upon fondly.

I really felt at home – like I’d found “my people,” or found my place in the world. It allowed me to explore music on a deeper level, I gained insights from lots of great teachers, and made plenty of friends that have since helped me on my musical journey outside of study. JMI answered a lot of questions that had built up in my mind as a self-taught musician, taught me the fundamentals of musical theory in a palatable way, and lastly, taught me the discipline of how to practice more effectively.

I remember reading Dave Liebman’s article “Jazz Education In The Century Of Change: Beyond The Music” just as I was leaving JMI and found it help me to take stock of what I had acquired. The article eloquently communicates the benefits of a Jazz Education, and how the skills are transferrable to other non-musical realms of life and work. I still look at life through a jazz lens, and perform my job as a Primary School Teacher, or create detailed oil paintings, with many of the processes learned from studying jazz deeply.

My heart is really in composing and arranging, and with some guidance from my JMI Arranging teacher Brad Esbensen, I joined the Music Arrangers Guild of Australia (MAGA) in 2011. Knowing how to notate music accurately, with appropriate dynamic and expression markings is something that I’ll have for life, and helps me in all my projects, from Jazz to Punk Rock.

What advice would you have for someone thinking about studying music and especially jazz?

Just do it, it’ll nourish you for the rest of your life.

I was initially deterred to start playing piano from scratch at 24, because there was a prevailing rhetoric that “you have to start piano when you’re six years old.” It’s simply not true, as adults have different motivations and wisdom to six-year-olds. Whilst it’s unrealistic for late starters to reach an Oscar Peterson level of virtuosity, you can learn his repertoire and transcribe some songs and still get so much out of it. Have fun with it and enjoy hitting your goals by sticking with it over a lifetime.

Any advice for current students as they complete their Bachelor?

Manage your time wisely and write detailed notes – it’ll help you in the short-term, and your future-self will thank you immensely! What I mean is, have a practice plan and fill it out, and take notes during lessons. You can’t possibly remember all the crucial points and finer details your instrumental teacher suggested in a 30–60-minute lesson. I have four years of practice plans that I still revisit for technique, voicings and repertoire etc.

When you’re transcribing songs or learning repertoire from print music, write chord symbols and roman numerals, give details about chord voicings (when it matters) and notate fingerings of difficult passages.

13 years after graduating from JMI, I’m still going back to the repertoire I learned and am thankful I wrote notes all over my Real Books!

Lastly, be kind to yourself and others. Impostor syndrome and fear of failure are normal feelings, so try not to let those feelings bring you down.

What musicians have you been listening to lately?

Any music links of yours we can listen to?

  • Angus Blaikie’s “Summertime Muse” EP [listen below].
  • Angus Blaikie piano arrangement of John Barry’s “I Had a Farm in Africa.”
  • I play bass in the punk rock band The Disables. Our cover of Pink Floyd’s “On the Turning Away” would be a good entry point if you think ‘punk’ isn’t usually your thing.

Get in touch