Critics have ladled some lavish praise upon the 23-year-old pianist, who began tickling the ivories — “really playing!” Ottignon insists — at the age of one, when most of us were still trying to wrap our heads around the concept of left-foot-right-foot-left-foot-right-foot. At age 11, he picked up what was to be his first of many jazzman accolades — New Zealand’s ‘most outstanding jazz musician under 25’ honours. “My grandmothers on both sides were pianists,” he explains. “It came very naturally at a young age.” And it seems that music courses through the veins of the entire Ottignon clan — Aron has shared the stage with both brother Matt (saxophone, and occasionally flute and clarinet) and sister Holly (vocals) in various projects.
In fact, Ottignon has been involved in a dizzying amount of pursuits from a young age. As a teenager, he performed in the Space Cadets and the Ottignon Brothers Band. These contemporary jazz projects were heavily focused on composition and improvisation, which the pianist credits for creating the freedom he needed to find his voice. Today, his music pushes the boundaries of the jazz genre. “Eventually, the dance and tribal rhythms of Australia and New Zealand, as well as electronic music and hip hop, became heavy influences,” says Ottignon. “So I started blending my piano motifs into heavy bass and strong percussion and drum grooves.”
It seems Ottignon has come full circle for, as a toddler, it was the Maori rhythms of his native land that first piqued his interest in music. He cites Duke Ellington and Bud Powell as influences and, today, derives inspiration from diverse and disparate music scenes. “I just keep my ears to the ground,” he shrugs. “I love drums and rhythms. My stay in London [where he now resides] has found me in the West London broken beat scene, and Notting Hill Carnival where the rich Caribbean community has given me a huge love for soca.”
Ottignon’s sound, which has been described as ‘testosterone-fuelled Rachmaninov-goes-jazz’, has won him headlining spots at festivals from Auckland to Strasbourg to London with his band Aronas. The pianist has spent a fair bit of time in Shanghai over the last 3.5 years, and he views the city’s jazz circuit as more exciting compared to parts of Europe and North America where scenes may be growing stale: “I love the Shanghai jazz scene. It’s full of a combination of people’s influences from around the world, mixed with the rich, beautiful culture of China. It is an exciting time for artists in which new identities and characteristics in musical expression are being formed.”
A big project is in the works for later this year — fret not, Shanghaiist will give you the full scoop when the time is ripe — but in the meantime, you can catch Ottignon tonight at Freaklub at Logo Bar, where he’ll be playing overtop minimal tech goodness. He’ll also be jamming tomorrow night with the JQ Whitcomb Quintet at JZ Jazz Club.
Wednesday is the new Friday. So do it — you know you want to.
Tonight (Wednesday, April 18): Freaklub at LOgO Bar. Hosted by tootekool and micrometropolice, with VJ Exit[OS]. 13 Xinfu Lu at Fahuazhen Lu. 6281 5646.
Tomorrow (Thursday, April 19): With the JQ Whitcomb Quintet at JZ Jazz Club. 46 Fuxing Lu near Yongfu Lu. 6431 0169