Michael Pignéguy

2 Shows

Michael Pignéguy is a gifted drummer, composer, band-leader, arranger and producer.
He performs & records alongside a variety of other skilled, international musicians & vocalists as either,
THE AWAKENINGS ENSEMBLE (World, Arabic, Latin & Jazz)
The Michael Pignéguy Sextet (Jazz)
The Michael Pignéguy Quartet (Jazz)
& other extended orchestral versions of the Jazz formats

Where many artists are wary of straying too far from home, both literally and figuratively, Michael Pignéguy (pronounced Pin-ay-gee) has had the pluck to investigate all sorts of music beyond his beloved jazz roots and to base himself in somewhere as improbable and exotic as Doha, Qatar. It was in this region he based himself for over a decade (2006-2018), before recently returning to Australia.

As far as it is in kilometres it is even further in cultural terms from where he was born (Sydney, Australia), grew up (New Zealand) and studied and forged a career (Perth, Australia). Taking up the piano by the age of four and the drums at nine, he knew music would be the focus of his life from early on. His father’s record collection ranged from Bach to the Beatles to Dave Brubeck. Hearing the latter’s band perform live played a crucial part in piquing his desire to be a drummer.

Around the age of 11 Michael attended a jazz camp and subsequently sat in with a school band he encountered there. This was the light-switch moment for him when he discovered what an adrenaline hit performing could actually be. By the next year he was involved in youth orchestras in Auckland (New Zealand), and subsequently undertook private study with teachers who turned him on to such great jazz drummers as Roy Haynes, who is still a particular favourite. Other influences included Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Peter Erskine (of Steely Dan and Weather Report fame), with whom he would later study in LA. Leading New Zealand drummer and educator Frank Gibson Junior also played a pivotal role in shaping Michael’s musical development in jazz.

After a year at Auckland University beginning a classically-based academic degree, Michael attended the Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) from 1989-1992 and, although he had begun composing at school, this was when his interest in composition really flourished. After WAAPA he stayed in Perth and formed the Michael Pignéguy Quartet, which quite soon expanded to a sextet to offer him a broader palette as a composer. He cites Branford Marsalis and John Scofield as influences upon his writing, and says that even as his compositions have moved away from straight-ahead jazz, improvisation has remained vital to his
compositional conception.

His first large-scale work was the CY O’Connor Jazz Suite, a four-movement work for 27 players commissioned for the opening of the 2003 Fremantle (Western Australia) International Jazz Festival, the subject being an historical figure whose engineering projects had profoundly affected the region. Michael set about catching the lilt of O’Connor’s Irish heritage while also representing in music the more concrete nature of his achievements for Western Australia. Another balance to strike was that between strong ensemble sections and other parts to catalyse improvisation. Meeting such challenges again and again has defined Michael as a composer, the next example Jazz Meets Mozart, commissioned to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. He found this cross-genre project both taxing and satisfying. Especially rewarding was his ability to draw exceptional contributions from players who were being taken out of their comfort zones in this cross-genre project.

Michael was then commissioned to write When Worlds Collide for his sextet plus the Western Australia Youth Orchestra, which provided his first opportunity to arrange music for a full symphony orchestra. He had studied arranging as well as composition at WAPPA, and subsequently analysed scores ranging from Bartok to West Side Story to prepare himself for the task, as well as being mentored by the award winning Australian composer James Ledger (Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Australian String Quartet).

In 2004 he published a beginners’ book called 21st Century Drumming, and the following year he arranged a Ben Folds song when the singer collaborated with the WA Symphony Orchestra. This led to further work arranging for popular Australian artists such as Tim Rogers, Tex Perkins, Augie March and Kate Ceberano. Over the years he would also work with the renowned French composer Michel Legrand, rising US trumpeter Dominick Farinacci and all Australian State Orchestras + the Qatar Philharmonic & in the U.S. – Boston Pops, Nashville, Houston, Philadelphia Chamber, Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Baltimore Symphony Orchestras.

Despite so much going on in Perth, Michael and his wife moved to Abu Dhabi in August 2006, looking for a change. There was no jazz scene in Abu Dhabi other than some hotel gigs at that time, but Michael became involved with the UAE Philharmonic Orchestra, and revisited Jazz Meets Mozart for full orchestra in 2007. It turned out to be quite fortuitous timing with the country beginning to focus more and more on the arts. The Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation’s annual festivals (which featured an eclectic selection of Arabic artists) were augmented with the creation of Abu Dhabi Classics, which brought big names in the classical world to the Emirate, while outdoor events programmed by leading organisations such as WOMAD started to become routine.

After three years in Abu Dhabi they moved to Dubai and then Doha, where they remained until 2018. Michael had had his interest in Arabic music piqued in the UAE, and in Doha he found the Qatar Music Academy had both Western and Arabic departments, and his freelance teaching work there brought him into contact with exceptional players of diverse interests. Michael soon came into contact with head of the Arab department, Issa Boulos, so he discovered a handy local resource to help him arrive at a deeper understanding of how different aspects of Arabic music worked. In rhythmic terms this music has now joined Latin music as being an especially strong influence upon his work.

Michael was also attracted by the softness of Arabic music, a quality reflected in his ongoing cross-cultural project, “the Awakenings Ensemble”, the gestation of which also lies in a desire for broad compositional colour options, especially from the percussion. Earlier in the new millennium he co-formed another project, “Salamander”, with renowned bass player Pete Jeavons, that had electronic beats and percussion as well as live drums. The Awakenings Ensemble, formed in 2011, picked up on that while also including horns, vocals and exotic textures. The first album, Speak, was recorded in Doha, Dubai, Perth and Melbourne, and includes musicians from across the world. Michael has always been interested in marrying idioms, as proved by anything from Jazz Meets Mozart to the pop projects, and the Awakenings Ensemble is just the latest step on that long road. An important collaborator in this area has been Perth producer and photographer, Trilby Temperley, who was the first person to challenge Michael’s more traditional notions of composition in the mid ’90s. Their completely different approaches to creating music have acted as catalysts to their respective areas of endeavour ever since.

Michael’s diversity, as well as his training and experience in jazz, made him an obvious focus for collaboration when Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) opened its second performance venue, this time in Doha. Since its opening just over five years ago Michael has featured numerous times in both straight-ahead jazz formats such as his quartet, as well as in large ensemble configurations and with The Awakenings Ensemble which included Arab artists in the performances. Highlights of these live outings have included trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, pianists Takeshi Ohbayashi and Richard Johnson, and acoustic bassists Matthew Rybicki and Jonathan Michel.
He has also recorded at JALC with a number of visiting artists including Matthew Jodrell (trumpet), Philip Kuehn (acoustic bass), Chris Pattishall (piano) and Dominick Farinacci.

While Michael loves working as a composer, arranger or producer, he says the performance element of playing the drums remains closest to being his raison d’etre. It’s easy to hear why.

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