On the Couch with Adam Simmons

Adam Simmons - photo by Mark ChewWho is Adam Simmons?
In recent times I have simply described myself as a storyteller, through music. For me this connects to my forebears – both my grandfathers were preachers for the church, while my father may not be as religious, he definitely has an evangelical passion for art, life and justice. But a more detailed description might tell of my Sri Lankan heritage via my mother’s family and that I am multi-instrumentalist playing saxophones, flutes, clarinets, fujara and shakuhachi, I am a composer, a festival director, visual artist, educator, vegetarian, husband and father

What would you do differently to what you do now?
It may sound cliché, but I am content with what I do now. I slowly moved in the direction of exploring and developing my own music and working with other great artists, which is more or less what I’m doing, so I wouldn’t change that. Though, if I’m honest… time management – that would be good to have developed when I was much younger!

Who inspires you and why?
Given the current project, I am thinking a lot about Auguste Rodin and his notions about the “usefulness of the artist”. When I first read Rodin on Art as a young student, his statements about the subject helped validate my choice to pursue music as a career. Many years later and having witnessed the way that the world has changed, including appreciation of the arts, his words seem even more relevant today than they were 100 years ago. It is simple, but his statement calling “useful anything that gives us happiness” is a powerful one.

What would you do to make a difference in the world?
Well… firstly, there are a couple of people that should be immediately removed from their positions of power – that would be a start! I am dismayed by the current state politics both here and internationally. It feels the imbalance between the haves and the have-nots is totally out of whack. But broadly speaking, we need to understand that working together brings shared benefits for all. This is local, national and global. If I could help people to listen better, that’s what I would do. And in fact, that’s what I attempt to do via music, even if just on a small scale. I guess it’s like me finally realising after about 25 years of playing, that there is no arcane knowledge or secret button on my instrument, it just comes down to putting in the time to practice – if I could help people understand they can make a difference, then we would affect change together.

Favourite holiday destination and why?
Oooh, there are too many to choose from. But if I think of places where I enjoy for an actual holiday then I can’t go past Le Vallon Dore just south of Noumea, New Caledonia. The bungalows are just metres from the very gentle lapping waves, the food has always been scrumptious with a mix of French, Italian and local, and I have a little pagoda that I can practice shakuhachi while watching the ocean and my kids swim in the pool. The bakery nearby makes the best chocolate croissants. And it is run by people that have become my extended family. For me, a holiday anywhere is great, but what makes me return are the people.

When friends come to town, what attraction would you take them to, and why?
Marios Cafe in Fitzroy. Without a doubt. For me, Melbourne is about the people and their culture, rather than large icons such as Sydney have. It is a place that exemplifies the character of Melbourne in its feel, its staff, its food, its art and of course, its coffee.

What are you currently reading?
I was reading The Hyperion Omnibus by Dan Simmons (no relation), which is a fantastic sci-fi tale of epic proportions. But having finished that I’m delving into A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari – I’m only just getting into these philosophical ideas but in some research work I’ve been doing into social networks of musicians with Prof John Fitzgerald, it is extremely helpful in offering a theoretical base to my more intuitive understandings gleaned from my practice over the years.

What are you currently listening to?
I’ve been listening to Robert Wyatt a lot recently, especially his album, Old Rottenhat. I’m not sure if I’ll get around to it, but for a while now I’ve thought I would like to explore some of his tunes – beautiful curious and interesting melodies, peculiar forms and poetically political messages.

Happiness is?
According to Rodin, it is given to us by useful things – art is definitely one of those, and I mean that in the broad sense of the word. But it’s how art is useful that brings happiness and I feel that it comes through the way it connects community together and helps us to appreciate and understand different perspectives. Something that has informed my approach to finding happiness is what John Fowles wrote about love in his book, The Aristos: Love is a giving without return.

What does the future hold for you?
This year is shaping up to have some interesting things. The launch of The Usefulness of Art initiative this year with concerts at fortyfivedownstairs in March, August and November, promises to be a consolidation of various aspects of my work and I look forward to seeing how it develops with collaborations planned for next year also.

My trio, Origami has a couple of projects underway including exploring old Australian folk songs and another collaboration with Wang Zheng Ting who plays Chinese sheng. And then there will be the regular mix of teaching shakuhachi, learning African drumming, doing various festivals and gigs with other artists such as The Pearly Shells, Nick Tsiavos Ensemble and Pugsley Buzzard.

There are a couple of other things in the pipeline that could be significant, but it’s a bit early to say anything… if only I really tell you for certain what the future holds!

Adam will be presenting Concerto for Piano and Toy Band featuring the Adam Simmons Creative Music Ensemble and Michael Kieran Harvey (piano soloist) at fortyfivedownstairs: 2 – 5 March 2017. For more information, visit: www.fortyfivedownstairs.com or www.adamsimmons.com for details.

Image: Adam Simmons – photo by Mark Chew