Nice Work If You Can Get It - jazz quintet
If elegant golden-era jazz is your kind of music, you'd love 'Nice Work If You Can Get It' for your next function or event. This professional jazz quintet featuring piano, double bass, drums and tenor sax , combined with singer Neille Williams' gorgeous smoky vocals, will add that special touch of class and magic to your function. Perfect to sip cocktails to - or dance to a lively swing tune or bossanova number! Check out our video and see what we do - and why we're the perfect choice for your next event!
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Want to know how I became a singer? Check out this story - a very personal memoir and small snapshot of my life.
A Melody Undone
If a life could be sung full-throated, in a magnificent hall, to a throng of ardent fans, it would not be my life or my song. My admirers were imaginary friends, my voice, a small peep in a clamorous world that squashed me underfoot. I was so poor that my mother and two sisters lived in a public housing commission home on the outskirts of south-western Sydney, and that’s no place for a girl with a heart that beats in time with a metronome to grow up.
Or is it?
There’s one thing I know, and that is that each of us must sing our own song with our truest voice, and that no song is exactly like another. I came into the world gift-wrapped in a special melody, but for the most part of my childhood, the notes of it were torn off me every time I stood up to perform it. But that beautiful song, just like me, has stood the test of time. And what a roaring symphony it has become.
My earliest memories of music were of my father playing gigs as a professional jazz piano player when I was barely six years old. My mother and he had parted ways long before, but he still took his three daughters, trailing like baby ducklings, along to his weekend gigs. We’d sit up in the sound and lighting booth and watch the spectacle from afar, and I suppose my infatuation with singing started then and there. It was the rustle of a tulle gown, or the swish of a feathery headdress; each singer in that exquisite moment of performance held the beating heart of every single person in that room - they were spectacular, extraordinary. It was a spotlight I’d never experienced before, especially since I was an identical twin who existed as part of a set; I never had a moment to bask in that was truly my own.
I was drawn to the sound of musical notes and melodies as much as a person could possibly be. Primary school brought the recorder into my life, in high school, it was the clarinet and saxophone. The school band consisted of six underprivileged kids like me who mucked it out in a graffitied portable classroom with instruments held together by tape and the occasional elastic band. My sister played the drums and as she rat-tat-tatted I tootle-ootle-ooed on my clarinet like I’d found the end of the rainbow and there was a huge pot of gold waiting for me. To me, there was no joy like music, and no other way to believe that I could create beautiful things from something threadbare and forlorn. Of course, it was a metaphor for my life as well as myself, but it was so many years later that I realised this.
As this seed of musical talent grew within me, I advanced to better bands and greater performance opportunities. The divide between the wealthier kids and the poorer ones was glaring and painful, not something I’d really understood up to this point. All the other players in my clarinet section attended private lessons with a professional tutor and played on fine, sparkling instruments. I taught myself the first two registers of the clarinet from an old orange ‘Learning Unlimited’ band method book with tedious songs and fingering charts you had to squint at and shine a light on to read. The other kids were beautifully dressed, with haircuts that made their faces handsome, carrying leather satchels that held all their various musical knick-knacks. Their parents picked them up in shiny cars that drove off towards the nicer suburbs. I stood on the corner after rehearsal with my sister, looking out for my mother in our beat-up Kingswood, clutching my school clarinet in its shabby case with the broken latch to my chest to shield me from the surging wind.
In my final year of school, as I sat my formal music exams, I had so many things against me it was a major (or minor!) miracle that I could still spot that fantastical rainbow in the distance, receding fast. For instance, my completely disengaged and inexperienced music teacher had inadvertently taught me the wrong syllabus; she had to hastily fill in the gaps in my knowledge at the eleventh hour so I could actually qualify for the exams. During the aural component, a lawn mower started up just outside the door, making it difficult to hear the pitches, intervals and rhythms clearly. All this as well as another nasty music teacher telling me in year 9 that I had no talent and would never excel at music; she also urged me to give up playing. I willed myself on in the face of this, telling myself that it didn’t matter if I wasn’t very good - I would do it just because I loved it. In the mind of a teenage girl more pumpkin than Cinderella, one who tried her very best at everything and wanted someone – anyone – to say that she was good at something, this was a trauma hard to bury. It was also a raw lesson in how life dished out its servings to those who offered out their plates; some would be piled high with desserts, and some, like myself, would wait for the scraps left behind by those who’d already had their fill.
To be granted a place to study at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music the year after school finished was as surreal a moment as I have ever truly experienced. In so many ways, my presence there was a sacrilege. I was like a fly that had buzzed itself into a picnic, continually swatted at and shooed away. On enrolment day, I stood dressed in my dowdy clothes amongst the exquisite creatures that were to be my peers there – then ticked the box that would allow my student fees to be paid back with interest over a number of years. Everybody else I could see came with cheques or cash to pay up front and they carried themselves as though it was their birthright to be there. Not so far away, my twin sister was experiencing that very same thing as she joined the Sydney University queues to enrol in her Economics/Law degree. We had overshot our expected marks by a long way; even more than that, it would be the first time that each of us would take on the world as a single person rather than together, as a set of twins. In the sonata of my life, this would be some kind of rapid and dizzying development section, the exposition written on scraps of manuscript so beat-up they might have been composed a century before. There was no glittering diamond of a theme buried in my sonata yet, but the orchestration was well underway - tremolo strings soaring upward, perhaps the heartbeat of a timpani in accompaniment. The notes were like stars on a canvas-sky searching for a way to come together – but often when I reached out to grasp them, they scattered away. I could hear them so clearly but I couldn’t yet weave them together.
To play music exquisitely is to live inside a melody. To turn it upside down, inside out and wrong way ‘round, and learn its contours intimately and full-bloodedly. To be the person I was born to be, I needed to do this to my own self. No part of crumpling yourself up into a tight ball then smoothing yourself back out is easy, but I learnt that I was more flexible than I thought I could be - and more resilient. I discovered it felt good to fold around people in a kind-hearted way, and that I could stretch myself out then catch and reflect other people’s light back at them. It was an awakening to realise that this was at the core of me, one who could reshape and reform, not in ruse or escape, but in the realising of almost limitless potential of what I could be, and what others could be. I had my imagination, therefore...I had everything.
To look back on my life as a professional musician and singer now, is to be almost deafened by the lushness of my own symphony. I am not talking in egotistical terms of my own prowess or career achievements but in the sheer effort it took for me to carve out this place for myself in the world. As I open my mouth to sing, wearing a shimmering dress and pretty shoes, with my hair done and make-up lovingly applied, I stand bathed in the spotlight, but it is not this luminescence that lights me up the most – it is the radiance of someone who knows their voice will be heard and that she has the very right to stand here on this stage and sing to you. My life has become that of one who continually creates things of beauty and clarity to give to the world, moments of exquisite tenderness, peace and pleasure. I imagine the blossoms that could grow on the barest tree in winter, and I know it can be true because I grew them on me, the barest, slenderest stick of them all.
My melody is far from complete. Sometimes it retrogrades, and parts of it may decrescendo and fade, only to be rewritten in more lustrous penmanship. I sing on and it vibrates with me, others adding their own harmonies and chords, and it feels good to be a part of this ever-growing symphony. My melody can never be undone again because so many people have heard it, learnt it and sung along with it. And in doing so, they celebrate me, the girl who imagined a rainbow and brought it to life, who adds her treasure to the pot of gold at its end, so that another with a metronome-heart may someday glimpse it and keep reaching.
- Neille Williams