Welcome to the first posting on Jazz Ramble for 2017. Jazz Ramble was the initiative of Jane La Scala which she established in 2011 and was managed solely by her until shortly before her death in Melbourne on the 23rd of March 2016. With the first anniversary of Jane’s death next month we continue Jazz Ramble in her memory .
In the last few months there has been a lot going on in the jazz scene in Victoria with the 71st Australian Jazz Convention being held at Ballarat at the end of 2016 . That will be reported in detail in the forthcoming edition of the Victorian Jazz Club’s Jazzline magazine. In recent weeks we are glad to hear that the first Port Fairy Jazz Festival on the weekend of the 10th to the 12th of February has been a huge success musically and socially.
Port Fairy Jazz Festival:
Pianist David Lole who was one of the many busy musicians at Port Fairy has described the weekend on facebook as follows :
“ If ever there was a case for proffering accolades for a job well done, the township of Port Fairy should win the top gold medal and trophy for their sterling efforts this last weekend.
When Hall’s Gap Jazz Festival legends Peter Milburn and Veronica Massie decided enough was enough and nobody picked up the towel, along came the extraordinary John Huf and friends who decided that February in Hall’s Gap was just too darn hot and bushfire prone to hold a festival in this most scenic spot and hence the Port Fairy Jazz Festival was born.
So the inaugural PFJF is now done and dusted and what a ball was (hopefully) had by all. The weather was mostly brilliant (for me at least. I abhor excessive heat, dust and wind and Hall’s Gap for all its incredible beauty had not been so kind these last few years including the massive power failure in 2014 caused by unrelenting 40+ degree heat that saw the cancellation of Saturday night’s program) and even the rain gave way to some sunny breaks and a freshening cool breeze on Sunday.
Port Fairy is located about a four hour drive west of Melbourne, midway between the coastal towns of Warnambool and Portland. It is steeped in history and contains a wealth of early Victorian heritage including the state’s oldest pub. Although relatively small in size, this township possesses a vibrant and friendly town folk, a bevy of fine restaurants, pubs, bars clubs, shops, motels, apartments etcetera and many fine historic theatres and halls that were mostly very suitable for harbouring the many faces of the sometimes difficult to define idiom of jazz. There is also a scenic harbour, lovely coastal river and estuary, fine sanded beaches, rocky headlands and one hell of a southern ocean!
The organising committee and their merry band of volunteers did Port Fairy and themselves proud with their efforts of looking after what seemed to be a very healthy number of musicians (my guess about 350), 116 bands and perhaps 1500 keen listeners. Just a simple gesture in providing every venue with a regularly replenished bucketful of chilled water bottles for the muso’s paid testimony to the thoughtfulness and planning that went into this most successful event.
On Saturday morning a traditional Street Parade was performed along Sackville St led by town crier, Ralph Leutton. The attendance by musicians was a little disappointing in number, although some of the costumes and dress ups in the festivals colours of purple and gold were very eye-catching. The crowds lining both sides of Sackville helped with the general ambiance. Must say the music direction by Ken Collins at the all in blow at the Fiddlers Green made for some very reasonable playing indeed, with many speeches, including the official inaugural festival opening address delivered by the mayor of Moyne, Jim Doukas to more than decent crowd with Rod Carter, the President of the Western Victorian Jazz Productions Inc. representing the Festival Committee.
The gospel church service was held on Sunday morning at St Johns Church. I was otherwise occupied down the road and missed the service, but I have subsequently been told by a distinguished looking, tall, local gentleman, this was a most successful part of the festival with a packed attendance and in parts so moving, many people were brought to tears. The young guns, Shirazz providing the marvellous ambiance with the help of a few spine tingling vocals from the great Susy Hull of Slipdixie fame. Susy’s tone needs to be heard to be believed. You may like to know, I don’t actually believe in God(s), but I do like a lot of Christians and the way they live and interact with other people. And I really like playing/listening to gospel music, especially played by good bands like Shirazz. After hearing all of the above second hand, I might just have to go next year and perhaps I could tell all of this to you on a mountain. Food for thought?
The general standard of jazz at Port Fairy seemed to be on par with previous (Hall’s Gap) festivals but I saw major improvements with more sound crew on hand, better fold back systems provided and the all indoor venues mostly very well attended. Only the St Pat’s church was a bit of a hike and my two sets there saw no more than twenty in attendance. One acoustic piano had seen better days and probably be replaced/substituted with something better acoustic or a digital. Of the many venues, the Reardon was very well utilised by patrons, had excellent acoustics but the grand piano was off and below stage and needs to be relocated (if at all possible) to allow for far better band interaction. (I’m a piano player, by the way). I enjoyed the Lecture Hall and the beer garden at the Star of West. Having a couple of outdoor venues is not a bad thing but the weather was not so kind on Sunday and I’m not sure what contingencies were on hand to cope with the program if it really came tumbling down.
I was heavily committed (playing in seven bands, registering just one of my own) at the festival and only managed to see limited acts during the weekend. I can’t talk at length about so many of the great acts on hand, but I did manage to see the wonderful Sarah Maclaine with her excellent band on Friday night. Graham Steele was majestic with his trumpet in this set. The Slipdixies were just terrific. Very much in the mould of Tuba Skinny, this band really delivered a polished New Orleans styled performance. Thanks to Claire for introducing me to this band. The crowd was going gangbuster for the set we attended. Shirazz was incredibly well supported both times on Saturday; I couldn’t get in to see them but heard a little from the street outside. Of course, at the very popular Hot ‘B’ Hines sets, it was a virtual “hanging from the rafters” affair and as I came straight from another gig, missed the boat to see these guys again. A lot of disappointed people were turned away, but there is nought you can do about it. Maryborough Traditional Jazz Ensemble are always a most entertaining band to hear and their performance in the beer garden was pretty darn good considering there was no bass player. Bob Franklin did a fine job filling in with his left hand on piano. I also got to see the gorgeous Juliarna Clark and her Heart Band, Royal Garden Jazz Band and a little of Dave Gardner’s Quartet. James Clark, Derek Dalton and Peter Hooper rank right up there in the playing stakes, and all featured in some way in some or all of these bands. I was disappointed I missed hearing and talking to Kim and Anita Harris (I saw Anita taking lots of pictures, but I was playing each time). Two of my very favourite people and their Well Versed Harris Duo is always a special treat. Drat! But I did get to see my dear friends, Dave Richard and Lynne Gough perform at the Hub, a casual venue. Their duo, Blue Tango, possess such a wonderfully eclectic song list with plaudits to their take on Burt Bacharach’s, The Look of Love, amongst several others, including one of their many hilarious lyrical parodies they write to well known tunes. Great stuff, you two!
The final set I want to tell you about was the Hot “B” Hines Workshop on Sunday Morning. The convenor was a staff member from the James Morrison Jazz Academy at Mt Gambier (sorry, I cant remember his name) who introduced the session, handing the running of the event over to a brilliant Ken Collins who gave the big audience a very fine breakdown on the workings of a traditional jazz band. Wally Joosen sang and showed us the rudiments of the drum kit, Dave Hines sang and played his banjo, John Huf belted out some good stuff on the sousaphone, Barry Currie sang and played the clarinet and sax, Bill Beasley sang and played his trombone and Ken talked about everything you ever wanted to know about jazz (but were afraid to ask), sang and played his trumpet. All the guys talked briefly about their musical upbringings. The working tune for the tutorial was the standard “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey”. This was an innovative and most enjoyable session. I only have one criticism. It wasn’t long enough! Perhaps another quarter to half an hour, as a lot people around me were eager to ask questions but time was up and another band was programmed to play at 12 noon. Perhaps holding these excellent educational interludes in a separate venue would be an even better idea? Or start a half hour earlier? I believe a great time was had by all in attendance.
I talked with John Huf yesterday who wanted me to relay his most sincere thanks to the hundreds of fine musicians who generously provided their musical skills to make this inaugural jazz festival such an outstanding success and also his gratitude to the same group for putting their trust and compliance in the organising committee to program them as best it could. He also mentioned how delighted he was with the manner in which they conducted themselves and for also keeping the program timetable bang on time! I share these sentiments to an absolute tee.
To the organising committee, the helpers, volunteers, sound guys, stage managers, door attendants and anyone else who provided/made/put up/pulled down the many goods or services, banners, posters, logos etc for the festival …. hearty congratulations on a great effort. To Veronica and Peter who assisted handing over the reins with a seamless transition to the new location. You two are worth your weight in gold!
And to the biggest group, who are sometimes a little overlooked …. the listeners. You guys are the best. The maximum audience capacity at Port Fairy was not too far more than the actual number who turned up this inaugural year. Thus, when word gets out how good it was and, without a skerrick of doubt, next year will only be better as this highly competent committee tweak their systems, I’d be booking/rebooking immediately in order to get yourself a bed for 2018. Just watch the gougers! I’ll see you there, all things being equal.”
David Lole has very accurately summarised the spirit of the inaugural port Fairy Jazz Festival so if you’re interested it would be wise to book early for Port Fairy 2018.
Eltham Jazz Festival 2017:
This weekend on Saturday the 26th of February and Sunday the 26th is the Eltham Jazz Food and Wine Festival with three stages central to the Eltham shopping centre. The music starts tomorrow morning at 11.45am with a program strongly emphasising jazz, blues and folk music. On the jazz side of things you can hear Michelle Nicolle, Shirazz, Barry Wratten & the Crescent City Connection and the New Orleans Pelicans Brass Band. For more details of artists and times go to elthamjazz.com.au.
Other Jazz News :
Talking of Eltham this weekend, the Syncopators have the launch of their new CD The Pearls at Montsalvat this Sunday afternoon. Too late if you haven’t booked as it was booked out over a month ago just showing that the audience is there for great traditional jazz as presented by the Syncopators. The Syncopators will be holding another release concert some time in April before their forthcoming overseas tour.
The Australian Jazz Museum at 15 Mountain Highway , Wantirna has been carefully keeping , restoring and safeguarding rare items of Australian jazz heritage including photos , recorded music, books and magazines and musical instruments belonging to legendary Australian jazz musicians. You will have your chance to see some of these treasures at the Museum on Sunday the 30th of April 2017 between 10.00am & 3.00 pm. See ajm.org.au.
During the week the board of the Wangaratta Jazz Festival announced that it will not be renewing the contract of Adrian Jackson as artistic director of the festival. Adrian has been the artistic director of the Wangaratta Jazz Festival since the first festival 26 years ago. As yet his replacement has not yet been announced nor any succession planning to ensure the smooth transition of the Festival in to new management hands. We thank Adrian for innovative management of the Festival over the last 26 years and no doubt in Australia there are few equals to Adrian Jackson in the scope of his depth of understanding of and enthusiasm for jazz in Australia and worldwide.