Adelaide-raised Kym Purling is a huge name on the international music circuit. He is performing this weekend in A Grand Night at the Regal, and took some time out from rehearsals to chat to Glam about the show, and his glittering career.
Purling has sibling rivalry to thank for his initial interest in music.
“I first got into music because my older sister was having piano lessons when I was five. I’d watch her and when she’d finished playing I’d go up to the keyboard and play what she’d been playing, by ear. When I was six I started classical piano training and continued with that right through my schooling. But as a kid I was also playing lots of Billy Joel, songs off the radio and TV: anything I could get my hands on. And I was spending all my pocket money buying music books at Allens. I taught myself how to read chord symbols and play off simple melody lines, which was completely different to my classical playing. I guess that ability to play off chords was the foundation of my introduction to jazz. In year twelve I was enjoying the classical music I was playing…but not really! I was too young to appreciate it, although it gave me a great reading and technical foundation. So I was stretching out looking for teachers that could offer me something else. A pianist here in Adelaide, Kerin Bailey gave me a cassette with a handful of different jazz pianists and on there was Oscar Peterson. So I listened to Oscar and I thought -wow that’s what I want to do!”
Once the initial spark was lit by Peterson, Purling went on to study at Adelaide’s Conservatorium.
“The course at Adelaide Uni was really good, so there I was amongst dozens of other students who were like me. That degree made me feel like I had a huge set of wings on my back which allowed me to fly. The next six years I had a career in Adelaide. I was working professionally straight out of uni, doing 250 gigs a year and I never thought I would have a career in music. Even as late as year 12, I was interested in architecture, or being a school teacher.”
Purling then went on to take up a Graduate Assistantship at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas where he completed a Masters program.
“There was a high level of professionalism in the students there because they’d all be playing in professional settings on the Las Vegas Strip. In my first year back in Australia I brought 18 musicians with me as a big band and I organized a tour which was kindly funded by Drew Carey.”
Although Purling loved his Masters work, he admits that much of his (musical!) learning took place on the Strip.
“The real education was playing in all the casino showrooms along the Strip: I’ve pretty much played in every showroom, with some of the biggest names, learning about show business and the jazz world.
I was watching some of the world’s best entertainers, and how they put a show together: what they say, the songs they choose, how they open the show. That was pivotal in my career, because it opened up a huge door, which I don’t think many other musicians get to experience in show business.”
Some of those names include Harry Connick Jr, Sandra Bernhard, Buddy Greco, David Cassidy, and Natalie Cole. Purling performed with the latter on a national US television show.
Much of Purling’s work, especially during the European summer, is on high-end cruise ships, which is why one of his bases is Paris. He was in San Diego when COVID hit.
“I was held over in San Diego for nearly three weeks, then ended up getting on a cruise ship in New Zealand for a week. That was hard because I just went wine tasting every day! I was planning to go back to Vietnam to continue the search for my birth parents, but I thought the best thing was to be in Adelaide and stay with my folks. I’m seeing this transition with COVID just as a way to open the next chapter. I’m back here, and I was received with open arms. I’ve always sold out every concert I do here, and I’m very fortunate to have a fan base in Adelaide after living overseas for over two decades. I’m just riding the wave and seeing what happens.”
Part of that wave is his upcoming Night at the Regal, where his trio will be performing with two fabulous local vocalists, Katrina Ryan and Anita Wardell. They will be showcasing the work of Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald.
“Katrina and Anita work at the uni doing masterclasses with the vocal students and they decided to do a gig together. When they realized I was back in town they asked me to join them. Peggy is a huge influence on Katrina’s vocal style, and Anita’s known as one of the best scatters in the jazz world. She’s heavily influenced by Ella, as many are.”
The show will feature work from the Kym Purling Trio, and songs from both Ryan and Wardell, interspersed with biographical anecdotes about Lee and Fitzgerald.
Purling is also working on a major project, which is very dear to his heart.
“I’m getting my teeth stuck into a project, which is a world music orchestra. I do quite a lot of humanitarian work around the world, including about six concerts every year to raise money for orphans in Nepal and Vietnam. I want to expand that, so I want this to be a United Nations orchestra, if you will, to tour the world, and fund humanitarian projects. I also want to do as much as I can in Adelaide. Because I’ve done so many things overseas that I would never have done here, I want to share that with students and musicians. I want students to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel in this industry. Many high school students give [music] up as they get closer to year 12. I want to be that bridge between what they’re learning at school and the unknown.”
A Grand Night at the Regal with The Kym Purling Trio is on this Sunday October 18th at The Regal Theatre. Tickets are selling fast.
Click here to book tickets.