Transcript for Up Next - Episode 9: Weaving a tapestry with Jazz Money
Courtney Ammenhauser: The Sydney Opera House acknowledges the Gadigal people, traditional custodians of Tubowgule, the land on which the Opera House stands. We honour the long Gadigal history of gathering and storytelling, and acknowledge the strength and resilience of First Nations people and communities past and present.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Hey I’m Courtney Ammenhauser and this is Up Next, your ticket to the most exciting artists and performers coming through the Sydney Opera House doors.
Jazz Money: I always really struggle to tell people what I do for work, because if I say I'm a poet, people will look at you like you just said, like I’m a wizard. Hahaha. It is such a weird thing to say. But if I say I'm an artist and people say “painting,” and then I go, “No, like mostly like poems.” Like, that's even worse!
Courtney Ammenhauser: Carve yourself into land… and hear the echo deep… of where your heart is buried.
I think this line perfectly encapsulates the poetry of award winning Wiradjuri artist Jazz Money. Their works delicately trace bodies… places… time… and the complex history of the continent… The poems are often interwoven with music and visuals, so they take on a really multidimensional feel.
Jazz first graced the Opera House stages in 2021. They performed their poetry for the audience at Badu Gili, an event which explored First Nations stories, accompanied by projections on the Opera House’s eastern sails. Jazz was invited back in 2022 to create a digital work for the house’s Shortwave digital commission series.
To anyone who’s read or seen Jazz’s work, it’s clear they’re defining a new path for many poets to come.
Jazz and I had a chat in the backstages of the Opera House. We spoke about their experience growing up as the weird kid in a small town, how to make poetry more accessible, and their views on everyday poetics.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Jazz money. Welcome back to the Open House.
Jazz Money: Thank you for having me.
Courtney Ammenhauser: It's so nice to have you here. So much of your work is about place. And I wanted to ask you about the place you grew up in and how you think it's informed you as a person.
Jazz Money: I do think deeply about place, and I think my relationship to place is... It's… I don't know, maybe a bit fragmented, perhaps because, like my ancestral homelands is Wiradjuri country and the Murrumbidgee River and my dad grew up around there. But I've never lived on Wiradjuri country. I grew up, in my little years, in Bundanoon in the state forest, and we lived on a kind of far out dirt road and my mum couldn't drive haha…
Courtney Ammenhauser: Amazing.
Jazz Money: Our closest neighbours were this Thai Buddhist monastery and that was kind of it. Like a lot of the time it was just me and my mum out in this like thousands of hectares bush. So it was kind of remote and it was really, really lovely. It was really beautiful. And then when I was, I don't know, ten-ish, we moved to the Mornington Peninsula to a town called Red Hill. It's very, very beautiful and bucolic and very weird in ways that I still struggle to kind of comprehend. Very much a European outpost. It's got rolling landscaped hills and a lot of when I was a kid, a lot of like hobby farmers. I found it had a bit of a sterility and I was kind of a weird kid and felt like just a bit out of place there. But I guess it kind of was fun because I shed any sense of like trying to fit in and really leant into being a weirdo because I was already a weirdo, you know, like it wasn't like I was going to impress any kids because I'd lost them from the moment I arrived, so I just like. “Okay, wear the weird clothes, listen to the weird music…”
Courtney Ammenhauser: Lean in.
Jazz Money: Yeah, use the big words, whatever it is. Just kind of be an outsider. So when I could, when I was like 17, I was very, very desperate to move to the city. And now I've been in cities for a while and I'm pretty desperate to go back to being a weirdo in the bush.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Hell yeah
Jazz Money: We were renters like my entire life. I continue to be a renter. And so we moved every year or two. And that meant that home was this very, uh, it wasn't a place so much as it was a feeling or it was a collection of memories held together that you could kind of transport with you. And so I think my relationship to kind of thinking deeply about place probably started at that young age of like, you know, you arrive somewhere new and you're like, I wonder what happened here? I wonder what the stories of this house are and the stories of this place are. And then I guess having that informed by like a First Nations understanding of place and time and thinking about ‘deep time’, you know, I have the words for right now, when I was little, I didn't. But understanding that so much has happened on any place, it informs my work because it's just such a rich place to begin any sort of inquiry into what this continent is and the people who live here.
Courtney Ammenhauser: I feel that urge to want to run away to the bush as well. I feel like maybe there's a turning point in your life where you like it's time to go back. Do you think that's a thing?
Jazz Money: For me, I always felt like it was going to be finite because I feel so much better in the countryside. Even if you're like at a distance from some things. I don't know. I just I feel grounded in a way that I really struggle to access in a city, even a city as beautiful as Sydney, where you can really locate yourself because country is so like, so present here, even with sort of all the crazy overlay of what this city is, it's very inescapable country in the way that it sort of like rises up and everything is so fecund and alive. And if you want to get somewhere, you have to dodge like a or navigate in some way a harbour or a river or a block of sandstone or a great big tree. And I love that about this city, that it really does feel like the colonial relationship to place could really just kind of crumble. But even still, I want to get a bit further away from it.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Yeah, I guess as well, ‘place’ is usually seen as quite a tangible thing and poetry, people kind of see that as a bit more intangible. How do you bring the two together in the work that you do?
Jazz Money: I think poetry is great because it can hold so much complexity and it can make things that feel intangible, touchable, and it can make things that are very solid feel somehow ephemeral. But in the poetry that I write and kind of increasingly make, I feel like I make poetry now in different ways because I operate in a three dimensional space and make art with poetry as well. And it's such a lovely invitation when thinking about place, right? Because you can kind of start with place, which is very solid, and you can kind of, with your imagination, sort of interrogate so many different parts and bring that into poetry. And that to me is like such a delightful opportunity to get to think more closely about places that I have a relationship to and also to invite other folk into that relationship and to have their own more nuanced relationships, perhaps with a place.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Yeah, absolutely. I want to talk about the beginning of your career because you started out in film, right? Can you talk to me about that transition from film into poetry, or what kind of was the catalyst that got you writing?
Jazz Money: Yeah, I don't think about it so much as a transition, as much as like these kind of many, many threads of many, many different parts of life just sort of tracking along parallel. And sometimes they sort of interweave and sometimes they get back on to their own sort of part of the tapestry. So when I moved to Melbourne, to Naarm, when I was like a teenager, I went to film school because I knew I was really compelled to like work in story in some way. But I got there and realised I was like a kid from the bush and I really didn't know what to say and I really couldn't afford to go to film school. And make the sort of films I wanted to make. So I sort of kicked around and worked adjacent to the industry for a while and also studied a Bachelor of Arts. After a period, I guess I was living overseas for the first time in my early twenties and having a bit of a like crisis of identity as you do and just tried to figure out like what was going on. I felt really homesick in this way that I had really not anticipated and felt very at odds with the way I was living my life and the sort of relationships I was in. And I started writing and I thought it would be like writing a journal, but it was kind of weird poetry. And I eventually came back to Australia and sort of realised that there is this really, really abundant, beautiful poetry community here and it has like these overwhelmingly strong queer First Nations sort of component to it of amazing legacy of femme writers and matriarchs who have been writing in this space. So I came back to Australia and I was still writing poetry, very much for me and working in film. And I was really lucky to work as a videographer at a contemporary art museum in Sydney, in the arts adjacent to film and writing poetry. And at some point they all just sort of merged.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Different pieces of the tapestry that you talked about. Yeah, coming together.
Jazz Money: Yeah. So they still bubble up in different ways. Like I still don't want to ever not be an arts worker. I love being an arts worker, but at the moment I make a bit more than I do arts work, but I think they kind of weave in and out.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Yeah, you can contain multitudes.
Jazz Money: Exactly.
Courtney Ammenhauser: And you describe yourself as a poet, an artist, an arts worker. Sometimes people might see poetry or art as kind of inaccessible art forms if they're, you know, maybe not in the scene or aren't kind of familiar with it or don't know people in that space. What do you think needs to shift to make the artform seem more accessible?
Jazz Money: That's exactly how I felt when I was kind of growing up. Poetry was like this very elite, weird thing, the domain of dead white European men.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Totally.
Jazz Money: It was very much something that had nothing to do with my life as an adult, sort of entering that space for the first time and realising it's a really, really beautiful community. It seems solitary, but it's really very much a community and I love that about poetry, but in terms of kind of destabilising its image, I wonder how it begins… Right? The relationship that every part of this continent has to orality, to story, to protest, to poetry, is like it's embedded. And I think encouraging an understanding of that, encouraging an understanding that we actually all operate in a space of poetics, we are all trying to communicate ourselves as best we can to one another. And we're all trying to do our best at bringing the things that we've learnt into our future and trying to navigate that future ethically and with all these complexities of self. That's what poetry is to me. It is a very queer, weird, squishy, marginal space. And it's also a very, like, robust thing that you can kind of like stand on and like fight with. The page can be really intimidating. And it's really not a neutral space. Like the way that we access words and written language is so loaded in what language you're able to read and write and use and speak in and the fluency that you bring to that space and the way that you feel comfortable with words. And I think sort of poetry is a great tool for destabilising those things, but it is often portrayed and it's often understood as elite. And so, yeah, returning, returning to this idea of poetry as ‘play’, that's something that I often try to bring up if I'm ever like teaching a workshop because I really disliked in school the rules. There were so many rules.
Courtney Ammenhauser: For writing.
Jazz Money: For writing and like where… I still don't know where, like where you're really meant to put an apostrophe. Like, I can kind of guess, but I really don't know. And I felt like I was always in trouble for that. And it meant that writing wasn't fun. Yeah. And now I get to write all the time and it really brings me joy, I really still love and find great pleasure in writing and even writing poetry. And I think it's because it is a form of play. And that's what I love when other people experience that you can really express yourself and you can really, you know, make imagination happen on the page or in your mouth or in whatever way that you want to express it.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Jazz You had the opportunity to perform at the Opera House for the first time in 2021 at Badu Gili. Did you ever think that that would happen to perform at the Opera House?
Jazz Money: No. I mean, the Opera House is one of those places that, I don't know, exists in the imagination of any young person on this continent in a way that I think is hard to kind of overstate. And I was thinking about that coming here today to come yarn with you guys that like the idea of being familiar to the Opera House would have blown my mind as a young person. And like it, and it still does. Yeah, it's like approaching those sails. It still stirs something in me.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Totally.
Jazz Money: It's so iconic, and I've just spent the better part of the last six months overseas and the Opera House is something that you can say anywhere in the world, really, and it conjures an image, I mean, at least in this sort of places I went. So, yeah, performing at Badu Gili was really amazing. Two nights just on the precipice of another COVID lockdown. I think it was really like we didn't know how precious it was until a week later when we couldn't leave the house again. And I remember when I was first contacted about doing it, it was to do an hour long performance and I thought, Wow, these guys don't know what an hour of poetry will do to a crowd. That is hard. It's a big ask of an audience.
Jazz Money: And so I was incredibly lucky to perform alongside the beautiful Wiradjuri guitarist and singer songwriter Zeppelin Hamilton, who is now a dear friend. So that's kind of how we met. I had this great opportunity to perform at the Opera House and didn't want to do it alone. And we'd sort of been in peripheral circles for a while and I was just able to call him up and be like, “Do you want to just, I don't know, jam alongside me?” And it was so incredible and so beautiful. And that's been the start of a really, like, delightful relationship and friendship. So. So many things came out of that performance, not least of all fulfilling like some sort of… not my childhood fantasy, because I never would have dreamt of that. But definitely…
Courtney Ammenhauser: Of performing at the Opera House?
Jazz Money: Yes. If I had had a big enough imagination to imagine I could perform at the Opera House, it would have been a childhood fantasy.
Courtney Ammenhauser: I'm just picturing you in the state forest or down on… is it Red Hill?
Jazz Money: Yeah.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Just like leaning into your weirdness, as you said, not thinking about the Opera house. Thinking about something else.
Jazz Money: Yeah, basically.
Courtney Ammenhauser:How do you think that that performance shaped the work that you're making now or have made since?
Jazz Money: Yeah. So that performance, like I said, really relied on collaboration, which is something that as a filmmaker and as an arts worker, are very, very near to the way that I work. And obviously as a person, being a person in community and being a person in a multitude of communities, working with other people is just normal. And so as a writer, it's like this kind of strange thing because writing is kind of by nature, solitary. Yeah, and reading is in many ways solitary. But there is this place in between that is so rich for collaboration. And that performance at Badu Gili was a sort of great insight into that, in the way that collaboration can be brought to, for me, to my writing practice. And it has informed a lot of things going forward. Zeppelin and I have worked together a lot since then and I've worked with other musical people and music in other ways has come into my practice and that all sort of very much began at Badu Gilli. I just remember being backstage and kind of having a freak out, like in the Opera House green room with a grand piano in there like this and being like “am I a rock dog?” I never thought I would be a rock dog, I'm a poet! And this weird gateway drug.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Here's my writer.
Jazz Money: Yeah, exactly.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Zeppelin also helped you with your other work in shortwave, right? For people listening who don't know what shortwave is, it's a series of digital commissions. Can you tell us about All the homelands, the piece that you had in shortwave?
Jazz Money: Yeah. It felt really somehow part of a journey, when the opportunity to make another work for the Opera House came up. It was important to me to do that with Zeppelin again, because we'd sort of started this journey together and I really loved working with him and it felt like another step in this, in this kind of dance. And that work was, I am trying to remember, it sits in that haze of COVID times…
Courtney Ammenhauser: Oh yeah.
Jazz Money: I think I was contacted to make it in a lockdown and we thought the lockdown would end, but the lockdown never really ended. And so it was a work kind of thinking about place, like you like you opened this yarn with. At the time I was like really stuck in a city and I wanted to not be here. I wanted to connect with homelands and how do we bring Homeland with us, even when you're in a small apartment in the inner city and kind of thinking about how we are all the legacy of our homelands, no matter who we are, and we're all the legacy of this deep care and ancestral guidance and just so much abundance, such an abundance of love for any one of us to exist. We have thousands of ancestors that have had to make the decision to love and survive. And that's kind of where that work came from, thinking about those kind of great legacies and making it in my backyard, as scrappy as that was, I didn't have a heap of options. And I'm very fond of that work. I then got to send it over to Zeppelin. He worked with me and brought such a tenderness to the piece.
Courtney Ammenhauser: How did it feel to bring those two areas of your practice of film and poetry together in weaving them in this… the tapestry again that we keep going back to? I just keep seeing this image of the different things that you do for work. What was that like of them merging again?
Jazz Money: I love when I get to work with those two mediums. I think they're really similar. Personally. The thing that I really love in film is editing, which is not a super sexy thing to say, like you don't often hear a filmmaker being like, I love editing.
Courtney Ammenhauser: I love sitting behind the computer and zooming really closely.
Jazz Money: But I do, and that's awesome. And I think it is like a form of poetry, right? Because you're bringing together a known set of images or a known language, and you put together those images or those words in surprising or similar or complementary or contrasting - to bring it back to like VCE or HSC or whatever - ways. And you create new knowledge by those pairings and you create a new way of understanding in that third space. I could talk about it for ages, but you can bring depth in so many different ways. That's what I think, that's what I hope.
Courtney Ammenhauser: We've been talking a lot about collaboration and how poetry can be seen as solitary. Can you talk to me more about, yeah, that experience of collaboration and what it does for you as an artist in your work?
Jazz Money: I think collaboration creates space for a new way of working that wasn't possible in isolation or was impossible as an individual. I've been really lucky lately to get to collaborate and work in ways that I really couldn't have anticipated. I recently wrote a piece, wrote a poem that then got turned into a musical piece that was sung as the Sydney World Pride anthem, with around 400 queer choralers from around the world. I wrote the lyrics and then sent them to a beautiful composer called Joe Twist, who arranged and composed my poem into something epic, something so far beyond what I could have ever done. And it accesses people in this way that I have never done before because suddenly the words are set to music and they can carry with people in a way that a poem kind of can be an earworm, but you can't hum a poem and know what the words are in the same way, you know. So it's this great connector and it just fills me with joy to be able to work like that. And that is one way of working in collaboration.
I've also been thinking a lot about architectural spaces, and that's another really different way of working. Yeah, I've been thinking about the way that poetry and story and narrative can be embedded in architectural ways. That is really exciting for me. It's really exciting to be able to think on a scale and think in terms of longevity and embeddedness. That is kind of rare for a poet to be able to think of it that way. But those sorts of collaborations, those conversations that you get to have, to me, when I get to work with someone else and it starts with a really just deep yarn about what we're bringing to the space and what we want to... where we've come from and where we're going. And often, if you want to write a poem about something like that, you get these little insights into someone's world that can create the scaffold for… I mean, some of my favourite pieces that I've written have started as conversations with friends. Gosh, I wouldn't want to do it alone.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Yeah. I'm interested to know more about the work that you've got coming up. Is there anything that you'd like to share about what's next for Jazz?
Jazz Money: Yeah, I feel like a bunch of stuff. Been working on a feature film, which is hopefully coming towards its final form. It's a commission from the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, and the work is about archives and very much the problem of archives. The problem of archives from a First Nations perspective as this place where gaze is really controlled and thinking about how we reclaim gaze and how our bodies themselves are the truest archive. It's not a thing that sits on a shelf, it's a thing that we live and breathe and cinema sound and film archives are these really strange place that capture the residue of the body that existed, not the body itself. And how can we return dignity to people whose images were often taken without the right consent and not taken in the right ways, and then put in, you know, burned onto discs and put in shelves and sit there as these living things that are not cared for. So that's what the film is about. Oh, yes, totally straightforward. But it's all made of archival footage. So that's one project that I'm really excited to see realised.
And I've been working on another book called The Fire Inside. It's another poetry collection. It's got some good stuff in it! It’s a bit fire! Nah that’s so naff.
Courtney Ammenhauser: I love it.
Jazz Money: And also talking again about Zeppelin and that sort of collaboration. So Zeppelin's band Velvet Trip have an album coming out and I've worked with them to put a poem in with one of their songs. So that's just like another lovely part of that dance that's ongoing.
Courtney Ammenhauser: The next step.
Jazz Money: Yeah, that's a couple of things. There’s a bunch of other stuff.
Courtney Ammenhauser: I feel like you got heaps on there.
Jazz Money: Yeah, a lot of pies or pies. But that's yum.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Delicious. I like pies. And this show is called Up Next. And we're always curious about the future of music, arts and culture. And we love to get our guests to let us know who they think are ones to watch. And so I'm keen to hear from you. Who do you think is up next in poetry and art in Australia?
Jazz Money: I was thinking about this on the way over because obviously you want to come with a kind of robust answer. But I was also thinking it's this kind of funny premise, right, of talking about up next, because so many people are doing so much incredible work in their communities and creating poetry, and creating art, and creating things that don't get the recognition that perhaps they deserve or they don't seek recognition in the way that we have kind of commercialised or bring value to it in a way that can feel very hierarchical. So I wanted to start with that as a caveat. Not to yuck the yum of the show title at all, because I do also want to give a shout out to a bunch of people that I think are really incredible.
I'm always excited when I see some names, you know, pop up and when they've done something new. I know that Mykaela Saunders has a collection coming out this year. Mykaela won the David Unaipon award last year and is about to release their first short story collection. So that's exciting. Sara Saleh is also releasing their debut poetry collection, which will be great. I think people like Maya Hodge and Dakota Feirer and Jasmin McGaughey, all those people, when they've got new writing up, I want to read it instantly. They're such beautiful poets and writers and activists and thinkers. Running water community press in Mparntwe are just doing the most incredible work. You know, I think that that desert context is something that it's so powerful and often sort of sidelined, by the way that we kind of prioritise the coastal voice.
‘This Mob’ down in Naarm make incredible art and are really based around a community practice. And I also wanted to talk about my little brother Elijah Money, who is an incredible drag performer and performs with people like Stone Motherless Cold and Cerulean, and he's part of an incredible First Nations drag community that I think are great. So yeah. Up next from my perspective these are all great folk.
Courtney Ammenhauser: Definitely some people to put on your radar and get excited about. Jazz money, thank you so much for coming on Up Next.
Jazz Money: Thank you so much for having me. And I can't wait to see what's up next.
Courtney Ammenhauser: You’re hearing a grab from poet, filmmaker and artist Jazz Money’s Shortwave digital work All A Homeland. If you want to check out the full video, head to stream.sydneyoperahouse.com/shortwave.
I’m Courtney Ammenhauser and this has been Up Next, a podcast from the Sydney Opera House.
From Audiocraft, the show is produced by Bernadette Phương Nam Nguyễn mixed by Glen Morrow, executive producer is Selena Shannon.
From Sydney Opera House, Head of Digital Programming is Stuart Buchanan, and Digital Programming Coordinator is Georgia D’Souza.
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