Many aspiring young Australian musicians, across a wide variety of genres, dream about making it big in the USA. Some set off on an odyssey that involves courting various agents and record companies and exposing their talents on the small club circuit. Every now and then one of them gets that lucky break but many others return to Australia with their plans for international recognition dashed.
For young jazz musicians, the American pilgrimage is also appealing, but one city stands out as the preferred destination. New York has long been the jazz capital of the world, home to numerous well-known musicians, recording studios, jazz clubs and educational facilities.
From the 60s and 70s onwards there are numerous stories of Australian jazz musicians chancing their luck in the Big Apple with many arriving with only limited financial resources. Scuffling to survive they sometimes reverted to busking or washing dishes, as they sought to establish themselves in perhaps the most competitive jazz environment in the world.
These days the romantic notion of arriving in New York without some kind of bankroll to survive seems to have long disappeared. Some Australian musicians are lucky to win scholarships or jazz fellowships that enable them to study and play in the US. Others save for years to pay their way in a city notorious for chewing up your dollar.
Pianist Francesca Prihasti and guitarist Nic Vardanega are two young musicians currently living and working in New York, after first meeting at the Sydney Conservatorium jazz studies course in 2009. By 2011 they had played their first gig together at Glebe’s Coulbourne Avenue, with the musical partnership soon developing into a romantic one.
In 2016 Francesca and Nic married and not long after made the bold decision to relocate to New York. As Nic notes:
“We had already done three trips together to New York City and found we really loved it and were inspired by the scene. We felt the time was right to give it a try and so we made plans to get married first, then move over soon after. Being a couple certainly helps in pooling expenses and with experience you soon learn little ways to live in New York while stretching your dollar further. It has definitely been a great exercise in developing frugal habits and prioritising the essential things.”
Both Francesca and Nic have pursued their own careers in New York with Francesca selected as an artist to represent the New York University jazz department with performances and masterclasses in Costa Rica with the East Eleventh Collective. Nevertheless, they have still found time to combine their musical talents as they both explain.
“In the past year or so we have actually been billing some gigs as the Prihasti/Vardanega Quartet, essentially co-leading one band that dovetails compositions from both us into the one set and occasionally featuring a special guest. We both have our own plans for future projects but will of course call on the services of one another and collaborate when necessary!”
So what has the rather bold gamble of following in the tracks of many other Australian jazz musicians taught them. Francesca and Nic are both very positive.
“From this experience of moving to New York, we have learned to not think too far ahead. When we first arrived, there were doubts whether we could last the first six months financially but now almost three years on, we find ourselves still here and inspired by more possibilities for us career-wise in New York. For now, it is wise to embrace our journey one day at a time and see what unfolds.”
Both Francesca and Nic have released their own new albums this year. Francesca’s album Adriana is dedicated to her late mother and is her third album to date, featuring some of New York’s finest musicians. Nic’s album Point In Time is the follow-up release to his 2014 debut, Inverno and has already attracted some great reviews. Both albums are available at iTunes and CD Baby. The good news is that Francesca and Nic will be back in Sydney, for a visit, around the middle of this year to play a number of club shows.