That unwillingness to relaxation on his laurels and the relentless urge to push musical boundaries is mirrored within the geographic trajectory of a profession that noticed him go away New Zealand for Australia, then on to Europe, adopted by a prolonged stint within the US earlier than returning to Sydney within the mid-1980s.
His stressed journeying is mirrored in his accent, which hovers someplace above Boston, New Zealand and Australia in a singular mix that may very well be a metaphor for the way in which he has soaked up musical influences and concepts earlier than making them his personal.
Nock has chosen Beppi’s for lunch. He’s a daily diner there however, curiously, he isn’t probably the most well-known piano man ever to have sat down within the legendary East Sydney Italian restaurant – that honour should go to a sure Billy Joel.
Settling into a non-public room at Beppi’s feels a world away from the noon glare of the streets exterior and the proper setting by which to discover Nock’s profession and music.
For entree there are zucchini flowers stuffed with ricotta, basil and porcini mushroom and velvety crab, zucchini and chilli fritters. I select the home-made gnocchi with gorgonzola, whereas Mike plumps for a trio of garlic and chilli-laden Mooloolaba king prawns.
The dialog is as wealthy and piquant because the meals. Mike is a pure raconteur, dropping names like confetti (Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie…) however by no means in a pretentious means and never occasionally he does it to inform an anecdote towards himself.
As he reminisces about his days rising up in Ngaruawahia in New Zealand’s North Island and in Nelson on the South Island within the 1940s and ’50s he marvels at what an totally totally different world it was then.
When a piano arrived by probability in the home, he found for the primary time that his father may play. Younger Nock was fascinated and from the age of 12 started taking classes along with his dad. Simply six months into these classes, his father died all of the sudden from a coronary heart situation.
In addition to being unbearably unhappy for Nock, it was additionally an enormous turning level in his younger life.
“He died in entrance of me. I used to be a really staunch Catholic and I mentioned, ‘God, save him’, however God didn’t save him. That’s when jazz turned my faith. It took the place of faith for me. That’s what has impelled me my entire life – I realised on the time it meant I simply needed to persist with my weapons. It’s not a couple of job you may make cash from. It’s a calling just like the priesthood.”
Nock’s introduction to jazz got here by way of the wi-fi and his mother and father’ report participant – artists equivalent to Fat Waller, Charlie Kunz, Duke Ellington and Spike Jones and His Metropolis Slickers.
Ever stressed he left dwelling as quickly as he may and it was whereas selecting tobacco in a South Island city known as Motueka that he ran throughout a bunch of Maori musos.
“They heard me and all received excited and received the concept to get this band collectively,” he says. “The music was an attention-grabbing combination of Elvis Presley and Nat King Cole.”
Dubbing themselves the Fabulous Flamingoes they went on the street with Kiwi rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Johnny Cooper.
Occasions have been powerful. All 4 of the band lived in a single motorhome, raiding vegetable gardens and sometimes stealing milk cash from doorsteps simply to outlive.
However already the younger pianist was outgrowing his environment and he set his sights on Australia. Even the inconvenient truth he did not have cash for a ticket wasn’t going to cease him.
“I walked on a ship with some buddies in New Zealand with out a ticket,” he says. “I had my little Marist Brothers cardboard suitcase with all my worldly possessions in it. They allowed me to remain of their cabin after which I walked off the boat in Sydney. I didn’t pay a factor!”
Instantly, he plunged into the Sydney jazz scene, hooking up with a who’s who of the very best younger gamers on the time, a listing that included luminaries equivalent to John Pochee, Bob Bertles and saxophone legend Bernie McGann.
He was sharing a tiny home in East Sydney with bassist Rick Laird, who went on to affix the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and met one other bassist, Freddy Logan. Along with drummer Chris Karan he fashioned the Three-Out Trio and success was virtually fast. It was the early ’60s and the heyday of Darlinghurst’s El Rocco Room.
“It simply took off,” says Nock. “There have been strains across the block. It was fairly weird. I suppose quite a lot of it got here from me as a result of I used to be a feisty, firey younger child. I beloved the music on the time like [US pianist] Bobby Timmons – that sort of soul jazz. I didn’t know what the hell it was however the mixture actually excited me.
“We have been like stars. It was so totally different again then. However don’t overlook there was no rock ’n’ roll to talk of. The three-Out trio was accepted as a sort of pop band.”
There have been excursions of Australia, too, sharing the invoice with luminaries together with Gillespie, Dakota Staton and Teddy Wilson.
However, as earlier than, the younger Nock wasn’t within the simple life and felt compelled to strive swimming in a a lot greater pond – America.
“I realised it was a entice. That’s why I wished to go away,” he says. “You possibly can have all the cash and all of the belongings you suppose you need however that wasn’t what it was about. I wished to play higher music. To enhance as a musician. And I knew I wanted to play with higher musicians and to be challenged. There was no alternative.”
You possibly can have all the cash and all of the belongings you suppose you need however that wasn’t what it was about. I wished to play higher music.
First cease was London, with the band working their passage there on the Patris, a Greek ship acquainted to 1000’s of migrants in that period. After a profitable spell in London, Nock travelled to Boston and a scholarship on the prestigious Berklee College of Music, the place certainly one of his classmates was the legendary Keith Jarrett.
For the following twenty years within the US, Nock recorded and performed with virtually everybody who was anybody.
For a few years he labored at Lennie’s On The Turnpike, a Boston membership that turned a daily date for touring stars, together with the nice saxophonist Coleman Hawkins.
I’m curious to understand how that have was. Was he nervous enjoying with, say, Hawkins?
“No! I used to be an smug little prick. I actually was. In a means that’s why I may play so properly. I took no prisoners. I used to be listening to a tape I made years in the past with some prime American gamers once I first went to the States. I hadn’t heard it in fairly some time and in a number of the outtakes I’m telling these guys – these well-known gamers – play. I used to be simply filled with myself. I knew what I wished.”
There may be a lot extra I wished to listen to about from this most amiable of lunch companions. About enjoying in Yusef Lateef’s band, becoming a member of the Jazz Messengers, main the way in which in jazz fusion along with his band The Fourth Manner, recording greater than 30 albums, his work as a composer and arranger, his return to Australia within the mid 1980s, instructing on the Sydney Conservatorium of Music … However how do you unpack 60 good years over the course of a single lunch?
I wasn’t going to let him get away with out telling me about Miles Davis, with whom he crossed paths a lot of occasions, together with on one event the place The Fourth Manner opened for Miles within the early ’70s and the trumpeter reportedly mentioned, “Man, I’m by no means happening second once more.”
Then there was the time Miles known as and perhaps Nock missed an incredible probability.
“Miles says, ‘I hear you’re a motherf–ker’. Being from New Zealand what do I do? I am going into complete denial. ‘Oh no!’ That’s the worst factor you may presumably do with somebody like Miles. The proper factor to say is, ‘Yeah, man, I’m a motherf–ker!’ I blew it proper there. It’s all about angle.”
In July 2018 Nock was in a critical accident, struck by a four-wheel-drive as he was crossing the street. He was in hospital for six weeks with critical leg accidents. The jazz neighborhood rallied round to assist certainly one of their very own, culminating in a star-studded profit gig in August of that yr.
“I am just a little embarrassed however I assumed I would higher simply swallow that embarrassment as a result of these sort of issues can assist carry individuals collectively,” Nock informed me on the time. “They’re a reminder of the significance of neighborhood.”
Fortunately, Nock has recovered, though he says he’ll by no means bounce again 100 per cent and is slowing just a little – however not a lot. He’d performed a gig the earlier night time with vocalist Genesis Owusu (“I believe it was OK, really”) and has been nominated for greatest jazz album together with Hamish Stuart, Julien Wilson and Jonathan Zwartz on this yr’s ARIA awards.
“I am nonetheless occupied with making information and stuff however I am not going to make a report simply to make a report,” he says. “I need to really feel one thing. To make a contribution that may have some influence. It is not as if the present is over.”
Nick Galvin is Arts Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald