Imagining electric bass as a solo instrument can be a stretch, even for the most ardent music fan. Jaspar Austin-Gray, who was a Year 12 music student in 2018 specialising in bass, took things to a whole new level with his performance at the Musician of the Year where he won an excellence award for his efforts.

“Jaspar has a clear artistic vision and the whole audience was held by his composition this evening,” adjudicator Susan de Weger said.

Jaspar’s humility and sense of humour were also on display that night: he introduced an original composition and urged the audience, “If anyone can think of a title for this piece, let me know.”

Guitar has been part of Jaspar’s soundscape since he was in Grade 5, but in Year 7 he moved in a new direction.

“I swapped to upright bass because I found it a really intriguing instrument,” he said, but I was so small that I had to start off with a half-size instrument. I still have an upright bass, but by mid-Year 8 I had swapped again—this time to electric bass.”

By Year 9, Jaspar was beginning to experiment, exploring John Butler’s musical style, and also writing his own material.

While neither of his parents are musicians, Jaspar believes the variety of genres they exposed him to as a young child inspired his love of music.

“I grew up listening to so many styles—from classical to funk—so I’m into a really wide range of music,” he said. “I’ve written music for a string quartet and for my funk band.”

Music is now the centre of Jaspar’s world.

“There’s nothing else I’m really interested in, though I do enjoy reading fantasy novels,” he said. “Music has impacted on my education because given the choice I’ll always choose music. I know I’ve sacrificed a lot of class time because I’m always off doing music.”

Jaspar says BSSC has been an important part of his musical formation.

“I found it so refreshing to move away from a very structured style of education to a place where I could be—and in fact had to be—self-motivating. This really worked for me.

“It’s also really great to be on a first name basis with your teachers. A lot of them are really nice and I love it that so many of them are part of the Ally Program.”

This year Jaspar studied Music styles and Composition, Music Investigation, General Maths and English Literature.

“I particularly liked Music Investigation because I could follow my own musical direction,” he said.

Although Jaspar seemed very relaxed and calm at the time of our chat, his schedule in 2018 was full-on. This year he doubled the amount of gigging his various bands were involved with. He also handles most of the management of the bands, so it’s been a big year.

“We play locally, in Melbourne, other regional centres and over winter we did a residency at Mt Buller,” he said. “My own band is a funk band called ‘Groove Juice’.

“I also enjoy playing other people’s music. I like to throw myself in the deep end when I’m playing with new people—that’s really taught me to adapt and I’ve improved heaps. And as well as all the gigs I arrange and play at, I write heaps of my own material—although I begin more pieces than I can ever complete.”

Jaspar admires John Butler and says Snarky Puppy is a huge influence and inspiration. Less well-known influences are ‘Tool’ (heavy funk) and ‘Nerve’ (improvised music).

“I especially love improvising and would love to get to a level musically to be able to bounce off people like this,” he said. “My long-term plan is to survive purely on making music. I’d like to get into sound production—I don’t care if I’m in the spotlight or not.”

Asked what advise he would offer his 12-year-old self, it’s no surprise that persistence is number one.

“My advice would be to stick with what you really love and take up every opportunity that comes your way. When things get shitty just hang on: it will be fine in the end.”