Nicholas Combe


Nicholas Combe is a saxophonist, composer and bandleader in Canberra

Having spent most of his adult life living between Canberra and Yogyakarta in Indonesia, he is known in Canberra for wielding a Baritone saxophone fronting one of his large ensembles, or in Yogya, performing with instruments made from repurposed rubbish at improvised music events, or playing gamelan for all night shadow puppet performances in tiny Javanese villages.

Nicholas is inspired by sounds, flavours, stories, and ideas from his travels and endlessly searching for new records and artists. He endeavours to seek out common threads and uses his art to bring together different musical and non-musical ideas, through composition, improvisation and production.

Since returning to Canberra in 2019, Nicholas has been re-establishing his band This Way Orkestra, (formerly known as Nyash!) to become one of Canberra’s top acts for late-night dancing parties. Blasting Fela Kuti-like horn lines, interlocking guitar parts and complex polyrhythms, the band ducks between fast ska burners, slow Ethiopian Jazz cookers, and heavy afrobeat tunes. Nicholas writes a lot of the repertoire, using the opportunity to cross genres and experiment with harmony.

Nicholas is also an active member of Gamelan Sekar Langit, The Canberra Community Balinese Gamelan ensemble, and performs regularly with them.

Whilst living in Yogyakarta, Nicholas was an active member of the local music scene, and built a name for himself, playing improvised music with rubbish instruments, playing saxophone in a blues band, and playing in several community gamelan ensembles for festivals, community events and television. A highlight was working with a small community in Bantul who lost their village instruments after the 2006 earthquake that devastated Yogyakarta. Together with the ensemble Limbah Berbunyi (the sound that rubbish makes), they participated in a community performance using new instruments the ensemble had constructed from rubbish and extra material in the village. The performance was composed by Limbah Berbunyi’s fearless leader, Johannes ‘Mo’ong’ Santoso Pribadi, and featured Nicholas, the ensemble, and everyone in the village. Having everyone in the village playing improvised avant-garde music on newly constructed instruments on a stage built for the occasion by the river was a career highlight.

In 2016 Nicholas released his own album of arrangements and compositions for a nonet ensemble – The Nicholas Combe Nonet – Once is Enough, with a limited-edition Vinyl Pressing. Drawing inspiration from Tom Waits, Charles Mingus, TS Eliot, Hanne Hukkelberg and Trygve Seim, the album featured some of Canberra’s finest jazz musicians. Launching the album at the prestigious Street Theatre, the album features compositions that Nicholas had been working on and fine-tuning for 10 years.

Nicholas’ first foray into band leading and producing was in 2010, with the formation of the Band Dub Dub Goose, a group of friends from the ANU Jazz School. Fusing Reggae, Ska and Funk, Dub Dub Goose became a Canberra favourite for a few years playing festivals around NSW and ACT and recording their Debut Album at a beach shack on the South Coast.

Nicholas graduated From ANU in 209 with A Bachelor of Music in Jazz performance with a specialist pass in composition. Aside from the aforementioned bands, Nicholas has built a solid reputation as a session recording artist and has toured in Australia with bands The Brass Knuckle Brass Band, Andrea Kirwan, and East Row Rabble.

Photo: Alida Szabo