A SUITCASE PACKED WITH GOODIES

REVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival, May 28 to June 7, 2015

Coverage of this year’s festival was necessarily truncated, because I had a suitcase to pack and a plane to catch early on June 5. I’d deliberately scaled down the list of concerts for review, keeping to the smaller venues that in my experience deliver an up close and personal experience.

So the sum of gigs attended was a paltry 11, but these delivered in spades, with hardly a dull moment and a succession of highlights.

Gian Slater

Gian Slater in Maya

Starting with a high can set the tone for a festival experience, and I decided not to miss Maya, this year’s PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission concert at the soon-to-close Bennetts Lane at 7pm on May 29. The work was composed by Gian Slater and featured Andrea Keller on piano and Simon Barker on drums along with Invenio Vocal Ensemble members Louisa Rankin, Hannah Cameron and Miriam Crellin.

The MIJF program promised “primal, worldless (sic) singing” (sub-editors needed). PBS Program Manager Owen McKern referred to the line-up in his introduction as being essentially two trios.

Invenio singers and Simon Barker in Maya

Invenio singers and Simon Barker in Maya

I found this work enthralling, engrossing and seamlessly layered, delivered with great expertise, agility and presence by vocalists and instrumental players. Rather than there being two trios, I felt this was the most cohesive ensemble work so far by the adventurous Slater, who never shies away from breaking new ground. The Invenio vocalists were integral and superbly integrated with Slater as voices undulated, pulsated, soared and shimmered. Keller and Barker were riveting.

Walter Smith III

Walter Smith III and Harish Raghavan

At 10pm that night, Bennetts Lane hosted the Walter Smith III Quintet, featuring the young tenor saxophonist with Taylor Eigsti on piano, Julian Lage on guitar, Harish Raghavan on double bass and Eric Harland on drums. Hindsight can be an impediment, because looking back on this concert after the following night’s outing by the same players under Harland’s direction for Voyager has influenced my perception.

There were definite highlights as Smith’s quintet played some pieces from the 2014 album Still Casual, including the billed “smoky balladry” in one case featuring a standout, long tenor solo, some fire from Lage in July and a muted but marvellous duo of guitar and sax in Goodnight Now. Yet this gig, on the night, was not compelling. As I discovered, the quintet would deliver much more in Harland’s Voyager.

David King

David King at The Malthouse with The Bad Plus

But before that, at 7pm in Merlyn Theatre at the Malthouse, The Bad Plus were back in town, ready to fit their description in The New Yorker as “the Coen brothers of jazz”. Well I love the work of those filmic brothers and as soon as Ethan Iverson sat at the piano, Reid Anderson took up his bass and David King fired up the drum kit I realised just how much I loved the varying textures and rhythms of this trio.

Anderson, Iverson and King treated us to pieces from fairly recent albums (Inevitable Western, Made Possible) and some from those released much earlier (Give, These Are the Vistas), seeming to play quite independently and yet with evident interplay as they built ever-changing landscapes. The Bad Plus thrives on variations and it’s exciting.

These guys are seamless. This is intelligent jazz, if that makes any sense, with a clear sense of humour and many a deft touch. They obviously knew this material so well, and had played these pieces so often, that I wondered how much was new on the night. Maybe some, perhaps even all of it, but regardless it is a treat to hear such polished musicians at work.

Eric Harland in Voyager

Eric Harland in Voyager

At 10pm — or a little later, as I recall — Eric Harland took over the Walter Smith quintet and took us on a voyage with his Voyager. It’s crazy, perhaps, and not good reviewing practice, but on rare occasions I become so mesmerised and involved in the music that I fail to write even a sparse note or two to help me describe it later. This was one of those gigs.

Eric Harland in Voyager

Eric Harland in Voyager

I could not get over how much more compelling and energetic this quintet was when playing Harland’s compositions. It was the same band, but entirely different output. There were four Voyager gigs at this festival and I would be confident every punter came away with an experience to savour for a long time. Thanks Eric Harland for this journey.

Jazz-A-Bye Baby

A young star performs during Jazz-A-Bye Baby

Jazz-A-Bye Baby

Ben Gillespie and Phil Noy of The Hoodangers enjoy Jazz-A-Bye Baby

And now for something completely different. On Sunday, May 31 at 10am (the early hour should have told me something) Jazz Out West brought The Hoodangers to the Footscray Community Arts Centre for Jazz-a-Bye Baby. This was the wildest gig I’ve been to since Adam Simmons brought his Toy Band out west, but this time toddlers and babies had free rein. Invited to move about and take over the floor, littlies and their significant adults danced, jigged and moved to the fun music that streamed Hoodangers-style from the stage. It was a hoot and may have sown the seeds of musical appreciation in many a youngster. Adults probably left exhausted.

Allan Browne at the drum kit for Ithaca Bound

Allan Browne at the drum kit for Ithaca Bound

On Monday, June 7, at roughly 8.30pm, Al Browne joined Geoff Hughes (guitar), Eugene Ball (trumpet), Phil Noy (alto sax), Nick Haywood (bass) on stage at Bennetts Lane to launch the quintet’s latest joint work, recently released on CD, Ithaca Bound. It was the last time many of us would hear Allan play.

It seems fitting that Allan Browne, in the collaborative spirit integral to this ensemble, brought Homer’s epic odyssey to fruition before he died. Appropriately, it seems now, Ball’s composition Sanctuary seemed full of sadness before lifting us gently up. The band brought some swing to Memory and Kharis (Ball). Hughes and Haywood excelled in The Lotus Eaters (Ball). Al Browne’s only composition in the suite, Peace At Last, which reflected his love of poetry, faded gently away.

Geoff Hughes and Eugene Ball during Ithaca Bound

Geoff Hughes and Eugene Ball during Ithaca Bound

It is not possible to separate my recollection of that concert, which was rich and fulfilling as a suite of original works, from the knowledge that Al Browne is gone. I can say only that I miss him.

Julian Lage with his trio at Bennetts Lane

Julian Lage with his trio at Bennetts Lane

At 10pm Julian Lage joined Eric Harland and Harish Raghavan for what was a sublime display of delicacy and finesse in guitar virtuosity.

What a dream trio. Lage radiated enjoyment and enthusiasm as well as attentiveness, ensuring an upbeat and interactive dynamic that carried this gig to great heights.

Julian Lage

Julian Lage

Lage plays with lightness and fluidity, so that the notes float out from the guitar and hang in the air, yet there is plenty of propulsion, as evidenced in Gardens from his World’s Fair solo album. I did not want this concert to end.

Paul Grabowsky conducts The Monash Art Ensemble and the Young Wagilak Group in Nyilpidgi

Paul Grabowsky conducts The Monash Art Ensemble and the Young Wagilak Group in Nyilpidgi

On June 3 at the Malthouse, the Monash Art Ensemble with the Young Wagilak Group of South-East Arnhem Land performed Nyilpidgi under the baton of Paul Grabowsky. This festival premiere was a chance to again hear Daniel Wilfred on voice and bilma (clapsticks) and brother David on didjeridu in a larger setting than Bennetts Lane, where I found the CD launch of Crossing Roper’s Bar Volume 2 deeply affecting.

That sort of emotional involvement or affect is more difficult in a large auditorium and when you are not sitting a metre or two from the players. In Merlyn Theatre Daniel Wilfred’s voice had presence rather than real power.

I found Nyilpidgi to be difficult music, fragmented and changeable, full of contrasts and sharp edges. It was often fiery and dramatic. Yet all this was surely entirely intended. Grabowsky, the ensemble and the Wilfred brothers were marrying music from the world’s oldest living culture with computer-generated, electronic crackle (courtesy of Australian Art Orchestra Artistic Director Peter Knight) and the most modern of jazz explorations, so some fireworks were to be expected.

I’m not sure it formed a cohesive whole and at times I found the music shocking (that is, it made me sit up and take notice). There were some great individual contributions from the ensemble, including those of Paul Williamson on trumpet, Rob Burke on soprano sax, Tony Hicks on clarinet and a young sax player who I can’t name. And the closing Goodbye Song demonstrated the deep affection and mutual respect between these musicians.

The moving finale to Nyilpidgi

The moving finale to Nyilpidgi

Did Nyilpidgi work? For me, it did not conjure images of the ancestor creating his land again, making spears, hunting, weaving and dissolving into the wind, as the program notes stated. Yet it was an arresting and always lively coalition of cultures that perhaps was intended to challenge. If so, it did.

I wanted to stay to hear Barney McAll’s Mooroolbark at the Malthouse, the band resplendent in orange safety vests, but this was one of the inevitable festival clashes. I heard too little before having to leave for Bennetts Lane to catch expatriate pianist Marc Hannaford with Ellery Eskelin on saxophone, Scott Tinkler on trumpet and Tom Rainey on drum kit.

I had not heard Hannaford’s 2014 album Can You See With Two Sets of Eyes?, which features this line-up, but after listening to it since I realise that the live festival set made the recorded versions seem tame. That was to be expected, as was the calibre of the two New York musicians who joined Hannaford, now living there, and Tinkler.

You’d have to say this complex, cool music is not for everyone, but anyone who was not totally blown away by this outing had long since left the building. We all sat there riveted, loving every minute. Rainey’s engagement was superb and Eskelin made intricacy an art form. Tinkler was in fine form — my ears hurt in Composition No.2 — and it was great to hear Hannaford back in Melbourne, albeit briefly.

Tord Gustavsen at The Malthouse

Tord Gustavsen at The Malthouse

My final night at the MIJF began at the Malthouse with the Tord Gustavsen Quartet, featuring Norway’s Gustavsen on piano, Tore Brunborg on saxophone, Sigurd Hole on double bass and Jarle Vepestad on drums. Amid frantic preparations to fly away, I was ready for some reflective music and a dose of peacefulness.

Jarle Vepestad and Sigurd Hole at The Malthouse

Jarle Vepestad and Sigurd Hole at The Malthouse

The quartet did not disappoint. Traditional Norwegian folk tunes injected welcome energy in some pieces, which were faster and toe-tappingly swinging, but most were restful and exploratory, at times slow and majestic, then suggestive of sweeping vistas in afternoon light. After the closing Castle in Heaven, which began with bowed bass and piano before featuring some filigree-light drum work, an encore was mandatory. This concert was a meditative experience.

Joe Lovano

Joe Lovano

But that mood was to be broken. Between 11.30pm and 1am at Bennetts Lane — my last chance to hear music there — Grammy-award winning saxophonist Joe Lovano would reunite with Paul Grabowsky on piano, Philip Rex on bass and Dave Beck on drums in a mind-blowing extravaganza of an outing that took no prisoners and carried us all into the stratosphere.

Joe Lovano

Joe Lovano

Am I getting a little carried away? Possibly a tad, but not really. This was a solid wall-to-wall set of extraordinary music that served as a perfect ending to my festival and a send-off to the landmark jazz club that had delivered so many inspirational moments.

Dave Beck

Dave Beck

In extended takes on Lovano’s Folk Art, Our Daily Bread and Monk’s Four in One, Lovano, Grabowsky, Rex and Beck took hold of us and played as if there was nothing else in the world. And, for 90 minutes, there wasn’t.

I slipped away into the night, home to pack a suitcase and head into another hemisphere. This had been a truncated Melbourne International Jazz Festival, but it had provided some ripper gigs. Bring on the next one.

ROGER MITCHELL

Coming soon: Preview of this year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues.

A FUTURE WITHOUT AL BROWNE IS UNTHINKABLE YET

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

AFTER days of sunshine uncharacteristic to British Columbia, Canada, it is a grey day in Prince Rupert. That seems appropriate as I feel a deep sense of loss, sharing at a distance what many are feeling — a sense of disbelief that Allan Browne is no longer with us.

He was supposed to be the host for the final night at Bennetts Lane. He was supposed to carry on the tradition of Monday nights, at Uptown. He was supposed to always be there, to bring us warmth and laughter and the love of music that welled deep within him and emerged so often in that heartfelt endorsement from the drum kit, “yeaaaaahh”.

Others have written tributes to Al in the past few days that have moved us and brought tears and a realisation of what he meant to so many. His presence — and now absence — has been in my mind so much since I heard the news. Not unexpected, it may be, as Adrian Jackson observed, yet hard to accept all the same.

Allan once wrote of his close friend and fellow musician, the late bassist Gary Costello, “I still can’t get used to the past tense, a future without Gaz is unthinkable yet. We both loved e.e.cummings …” Well, I’m certain that many of us will be thinking that a future without Al Browne is unthinkable yet, and that we won’t get used to talking about him in the past tense.

This was supposed to be a review of this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival, which would have been hard enough after the wrench from that bustle of gigs and the imminent closure of Bennetts Lane into the mode of international travel. Now it must be about Al Browne, whose quintet brought us a new work, Ithaca Bound, inspired by Homer’s Odyssey. Allan’s odyssey has ended, but his journey will remain with us.

The recent loss of Ornette Coleman is also deeply felt. His great contribution to improvised music will also sustain us long into the future.

It feels as if the jazz scene in Melbourne is in a period of major change. Bennetts Lane is closing, but, as Marc Hannaford points out, there are many outlets for jazz in the city. Also, new venues will arise from the ashes of Bennetts — they will have to develop their own character and characters over time.

Cuts to the ABC meant that Gerry Koster, host of Jazz Up Late, had to move on. Let’s hope he can bring his breadth of knowledge and taste for adventure into something new, because the demise of his program was a significant loss. As was the separation of Adrian Jackson from the programming of Stonnington’s festival of Australian jazz. The new arrangement may have soul, but I am yet to be convinced that it has that rare ability to bring us exciting and unexpected juxtapositions of players in what has been one of my favourite festivals.

Funding shortfalls have also curbed the nurturing and mentoring role of Martin Jackson’s Melbourne Jazz Cooperative. It will have a new home at Sonny’s Uptown Jazz Café, which is great, but it may be necessary to mount a public campaign to gain more financial backing for this vital cog in the Melbourne jazz machine.

But we move on. Jazz is, after all, about improvisation. The musicians make decisions on the run every time they play, and we mostly love the results. What will the rest of this year and the next bring to the Melbourne scene? We await that with interest.

Vale Allan Browne. See ya, mate.

ROGER MITCHELL

In 2010, before his quintet ushers the Stonnington Jazz audience into his quintet’s suite A Season In Hell, Allan Browne tells of his personal journey to the brink: CLICK TO READ THE INTERVIEW

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

Allan Browne

THE PEOPLE WHO MADE BENNETTS LANE WORK

Some time this year, after what is sure to be one hell of a party, Melbourne will lose the venue that has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz has asked the people who worked there to reflect on their involvement with this most welcoming of live music venues.

Sally, Jeremy

Sally and the only smiling Jeremy in captivity

SALLY ROCHLIN

1. Over what period have you been associated with BL and in what role(s)?
From 2004 — as barperson, manager, and underqualified soundperson.

2. How did you come to work there? Was there a job interview?
No interview – I had pretty solid barskills, but Megg wouldn’t give me a job — I don’t’ think she thought I was proper ‘jazz club’ material. Which was kind of true, Jeremy used to laugh at me because coming from a pub/nightclub background I’d call the punters ‘mate’. So I waited ‘till Megg went on one of her OS trips and got in Michael’s ear… All it took was a busy Saturday night when Jeremy needed a decent bartender, or at least someone who wasn’t, in his words, ‘completely useless’. I took advantage of my moment to shine.

3. What was it like to work there?
Very soon after I started working there I knew I would never work in any other hospitality venue – although the pay and the hours are still rubbish, BL is the only place I have ever worked in the industry where the music is the absolute priority, and the ‘customer is always right’ mentality is replaced with ‘the staff usually have a better idea of what’s going on’. Knowing that your bosses will back you no matter what creates a really unique environment, where you know you’re all in it together, and no one would ever ask anyone to do anything they’re not prepared to do themselves. At the end of a busy night when we’re all totally wrecked, it’s a beautiful thing to stlll be fighting over who will clean the toilets. The way that the staff legitimately care about each other, the music, and the integrity of the venue, makes it a particularly special place to work.

4. Could you enjoy the music or were you often too busy?
Often it’s too busy to really listen. Even when it’s a relatively quiet night, all it takes is someone wanting a glass of water or asking where the toilet is and your concentration is broken, so it’s definitely not the same as going to see a gig and giving the musicians your undivided attention… having said that, the music is still definitely enjoyable, and there have been such a huge number of incredible gigs that I never would have seen if it wasn’t from behind the bar.
Even if we don’t get to listen to the whole set, one of the best things has been witnessing the same band do multiple performances in one night or over a couple of nights — The Necks, The Bad Plus, and Eric Harland and Brad Mehldau have theoretically repeated the same show multiple times, but of course add an element of improv and every tune can be so variable.

5. Which was the most significant BL gig for you and who played?
Absolutely impossible to say, there have been so, so many. To list Prince would be a cliché… some of my favourites of all time include The Necks, Julio and the Stevies, Bernie McGann, Tim Berne – Nels Cline – Jim Black Trio, The Bad Plus, Brad Mehldau Trio, Chris Dave and The Drumhedz, Ben Vanderwal’s rantings with The Grid, Al with Sam Pankhurst and Marc Hannaford… in fact every Allan Browne gig was utterly enjoyable. But perhaps the most significant was the first time I heard the late alto saxophonist Dave Ades play – I was totally blown away by the magnitude and depth of his sound, it was like nothing I’d ever heard before. And he was such a lovely guy, too. I remember him sitting at the bar musing over the similarities between the health benefits of lemon myrtle tea and his lovely Aunt Myrtle.

6. What was your best experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
There have been heaps of ‘feel good’ moments– it’s the smaller things that seem to really count. Being in a position of ‘playing host’ continually gives you the opportunity to show a little extra care or compassion and make a difference to people’s nights, and sometimes their lives… it’s nice when this effects people and they appreciate it. One of the appreciation highlights would have to be Jex including Sarah and I in his “thank-you’s” on his latest cd, Liminal.

Scott Tinklier and his mate Jer at the bar.

Scott Tinklier and his mate Jer at the bar.

7. What was your worst experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
Maybe the time The Bad Plus played – one of my favourite bands — the audience was captivated so it was a good chance for us to listen too…. Except for the guy sitting right in front of the stage, repeatedly spewing on the floor!!! I felt so bad for David King having to play drums, over seriously heavy tunes, with this guy throwing up in front of him! After cleaning it up once you’d think the offender would leave, but no – he stayed to spew again and again, and his friends just kind of pretended not to know him…. In his flimsy defense, he did return the following night, having sobered up, apologizing profusely and offering cash for the cleaning bill – which we put in the tip jar.
There’s also those few times that some big burly looking bloke decided he didn’t want to play by the rules – when people are looking at me to throw him out but he doesn’t want to go. Although few and far between, there have been the odd occasions over the last 11 years or so that I just wanted to be able to “call security”. (Usually, if it came to that, ‘calling security’ involved Megg coming down in her nighty and very cleverly verbally manipulating the perpetrator into feeling exceptionally guilty and a sometimes little confused, then leaving of their own accord!).

8. Was the most obstreperous person you had to deal with at BL a musician, a punter, a photographer or a media person?
Hahaha – definitely not photographers, in my experience they are always quiet and well mannered! But I can think of a few musicians who fit this description, mostly just because they have a predisposition towards making a bunch of noise and often just get a bit excited seeing their friends up on stage ☺

9. Were audiences on the weekend or during festivals very different? If so, how?
The festival always brings a much broader demographic – there’s a really wide variety of gigs and marketing reaches further and deeper corners of Melbourne, so it brings all types to all gigs. The main difference between a weekend crowd and the weekday jazz heads is that on weekends, you sometimes might hear the phrase ‘play something we know’. During the week, there’s a strong demand to ‘play something we don’t know’.

Sarah, Arlene and Camilla

Sarah, Arlene and Camilla take a post-laksa pre-jazz fest-shift nap.

10. How long was your longest continuous work shift at BL, and what was the occasion?
Would have to be a jazz festival shift… probably the closing night last year, -that was pretty epic. I wouldn’t call every minute of it ‘work’ exactly, but we started about 1pm in the afternoon and by the time we got home I’m pretty sure the sun was coming up the next day….

11. Were your best times at BL during the gigs or after the punters left for the night? Tell us about that.
Tough call… some of the gigs have been so incredibly inspiring and musically life changing… but at the end of the night when the last of the punters have left and it’s just us again — staff, musos, and maybe a few close friends, and you finally get to sit down with your own drink (when I’m lucky it’s a gin martini made by Sarah or Hannah) — well, that’s a pretty special moment.

12. What instrument(s) do you play, what music studies have you completed and in what bands have you played?
Bachelor of Music (Performance) at Monash on alto sax – I play with the Entropy Quartet, and with Anna Smyrk and the Appetites, and I play keys and accordion in The Bon Scotts.

13. If you have performed at BL, what was it like to be on stage rather than on the door or behind the bar?
You hear people say it all the time, and we spend a lot of energy getting people to shut up, but being on stage really exemplifies the fact that there really is no other venue where people actually listen to what you have to say, musically. Having people’s total attention gives you the opportunity to bring them with you on your journey. Most of the time at bars and clubs very few people are actually listening, so often we’re playing more to each other rather than to the audience. But probably the hardest thing about performing at the club is stopping myself automatically picking up glasses and serving people drinks!

14. What work or interests do you have outside BL, whether musical or not?
I teach instrumental music a day and a half a week, and also teach Pilates at a couple of studios in Melbourne.

15. What plans do you have after the closure of BL?
Same plans as before the closure — get more sleep. Play more music. Do more Pilates. I, like most of the other staff, could never actually bring myself leave. So it’s secretly kind of a relief to have that decision made for me so I can stop living a double life of late night jazz and early morning Pilates – it’s killing me!

Hannah and Sal

Hannah and Sal

16. What will you miss most about working there?
Easily the people – the feeling of going to work, and knowing that even if you’re totally exhausted, the people you work with (including musos and staff and the occasional super special punter) will more often than not turn your night around and make it totally worth your while!

17. Will there ever be another BL in Melbourne?
Hmm…If someone were to open a club and call it Bennetts I reckon it would be a bit like walking down the street and seeing the person who received a face transplant from your dead brother or sister. The facial features would be the same but it would look weird over different bone structure and totally freaky attached to a different body….

18. What do you think made this jazz club so successful?
Having everyone, from punters to musicians to staff, really believe in what it was…

THE PEOPLE WHO MADE BENNETTS LANE WORK

Some time this year, after what is sure to be one hell of a party, Melbourne will lose the venue that has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz has asked the people who worked there to reflect on their involvement with this most welcoming of live music venues.

Arlene, Jeremy and Sally

Feel the love: Arlene, Jeremy and Sally

ARLENE FLETCHER

1. Over what period have you been associated with BL and in what role(s)?
I started working at Bennetts in September 2009. I started on the door, worked on the bar and managed nights here and there.

2. How did you come to work there? Was there a job interview?
I had just moved to Melbourne and was offered a transfer from a retail store where I worked in my hometown of Armidale, NSW. I had been in Melbourne two weeks, loved the city and knew I wanted to study music. I went to watch Jamie Oehlers after a retail shift that made me feel very plain and met Megg and Jeremy that night. Megg came over, gave me a Coopers, chatted to me after the gig and I started three nights later. That night I felt my spark come back.

3. What was it like to work there?
No doubt it has overall been a lot of fun! I have learnt a lot about music, life, love, people and myself through the music, my beautiful friends I work with and the musos that have played there. It really opened my eyes to the amazing local music scene we have here in Australia and I am now friends with so many of the musicians that have played there. It really is a community. Overall Bennetts is a really inspirational place to me and I have so many memories and experiences that are built into my marrow now. Megg, Jeremy, Sally, Sarah, Hannah, Emma, Dette, Camilla, Rosie and Mia are all like family to me and I am so appreciative of all of the times we have had together at Bennetts.

Sarah, Arlz and Hannah

Sarah, Arlz and Hannah

4. Could you enjoy the music or were you often too busy?
It really depends on the night. Thursdays was my favourite regular night to work for two years as I had the chance to be busy enough in the bar, but also appreciate the music. Weekend nights are very different to weekday nights and were usually pretty busy.

5. Which was the most significant BL gig for you and who played?
Ohh, that’s a tough one. There have been so many memorable local and international gigs and I have worked a few jazz festivals now so it is very hard to say. One night there was some guy who decided to crash some Monash recitals and ROCK MY WORLD… I think his name was Prince. Another one worth mentioning is when Renaud Garcia-Fons played at the jazz festival a few years ago. He was a real inspiration to me playing double bass when I was 15 and I listened to his five albums on repeat for two years so when I saw him live, it was pretty special. Jeremy also proved himself to be a real sweetheart and gave me a signed poster because I was too shy to ask.

6. What was your best experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
It’s been really great getting to know the community of musicians from around Australia whether it was sharing music, life stories, funny moments, a beer or two … or shots, being chased around with straws, locked in rooms, Facebook hacked and celebrating each other’s life and music ventures.

7. What was your worst experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
They are all learning experiences. I think we have all cleaned up some unmentionable stuff gifted to us from our punters. Other than that, there’s really nothing that bad.

8. Was the most obstreperous person you had to deal with at BL a musician, a punter, a photographer or a media person?
All of the above are particular flavours of people. They also are humans, we are humans and sometimes flavours and humans don’t mix too well.

9. Were audiences on the weekend or during festivals very different? If so, how?
Yes they are quite different. As Sarah has mentioned, general weekend audiences are there for the ‘jazz club experience’ as opposed to jazz festival when most people have checked out the program, bought tickets and generally already know the artist.

10. How long was your longest continuous work shift at BL, and what was the occasion?
Jazz festival are always the big shifts. I have done a few of the 1pm starts and leaving at 5am. Jazz Festival week definitely messes with your body clock, I always feel jet lagged a week after, but very satisfied.

11. Were your best times at BL during the gigs or after the punters left for the night?
I think both of these are pretty great and different. I love music, so it’s always great to hear the gig and get a chance to appreciate it and then after we can chat about the gig. The knock off drink is always the treasured moment where we can share stories, create cocktails and talk about life. I have many really amazing conversations with people who are now my best friends on the other side of the bar at the end of the night.

Arlene plays bass.

Arlene plays bass.

12. What instrument do you play, what music studies have you completed and in what bands have you played?
I play double bass and completed my music studies at VCA through the improvisation stream. I have had the pleasure of playing with really great musicians in Sidney Creswick, Andrew Kimber Quartet, The Furbelows and SMES. Notably, I am working with my trio this year to develop more repertoire so that’s nice and exciting.

13. If you have performed at BL, what was it like to be on stage rather than on the door or behind the bar?
The first time I was really nervous, it’s like having my family watch me play. After that, the stage also felt like home so it’s nice playing my own music in a space that has a place in my heart. It was also good because I knew that particular staff members could talk to me really honestly about what they thought of tunes and the gig, it was like a workshop.

14. What work or interests do you have outside BL, whether musical or not?
After VCA, I decided to do my Masters in music education. From there I landed a pretty amazing job at Albert Park College as a music director. I really love teaching as much as playing and it’s great to be able to teach 7-12 in the classroom and teach my gems on double bass. The teaching gig has been a big part of my life the past 2 years so I haven’t been able to work at Bennetts as regularly, but I have been able to sneak shifts in before the closure. In my down time I like to draw, write poetry, workout and watch Aussie drama. This my moment to share to the public that I have an unexplainable obsession over Aussie drama tv shows… especially Offspring #mattlenevezmarryme. There I said it.

15. What plans do you have after the closure of BL?

That will be a sad moment and I will feel a gap for a while, but I’m sure whatever happens next will be done with the best interest of the musicians. We have something really special here in the Melbourne and Australian scene so I hope it nurtures and supports that. Me, I’ll keep teaching and hope to keep passing on lessons of positively supporting music communities that Bennetts has taught me.

Arlene and Hannah

Arlene and Hannah

16. What will you miss most about working there?
The people. There is a really family between us and it will be sad to not have all those moments in the bar together listening, dancing, tricking, talking, laughing and crying together.

17. Will there ever be another BL in Melbourne?
To me, Bennetts is associated with those rooms, those walls, that stage, those bar floors and the little bumps and scuffs around the place. I think there will be something that keeps supporting the jazz community, but it won’t be the same because it’s not in that place and the people. Saying that, I think whatever is next will be done with the best intentions and I will be one of the first people at the bar to support it.

18. What do you think made this jazz club so successful?

The care and the people. Michael, Megg, Jeremy and Sally have worked hard to build a place that supports and encourages the musicians and the staff. I have always felt so incredibly supported, appreciated and loved by them so it’s important that I reflected that in my work and my relationships with them. The music I have experienced within those walls of care has made the music that touch more special.

[Amen to that — Ed.]

THE PEOPLE WHO MADE BENNETTS LANE WORK

Some time this year, after what is sure to be one hell of a party, Melbourne will lose the venue that has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz has asked the people who worked there to reflect on their involvement with this most welcoming of live music venues.

Candi Raeburn

Candi Raeburn

CANDICE RAEBURN

1. Over what period have you been associated with BL and in what role(s)?
I began at Bennetts in 2009, and have been there off-and-on since then (mainly whenever I’m in the country)! You can find me primarily in the bar, but sometimes on the door too.

2. How did you come to work there? Was there a job interview?
When I was 4 my Papa enlisted me as the drummer in his jazz band. We used to do the old people’s home circuit, which Pa loved because he was usually younger than the majority of his audience, and because some of them couldn’t hear us very well (which is lucky, because I didn’t really know how to play drums). Later, I moved to a college in USA with an amazing jazz program. People would be jamming in any spare space, and from dorm to cafeteria to lecture theatre, I was constantly surrounded by music. Returning to Australia, I missed being in a space where jazz presided, so sought out Bennetts Lane and handed Megg my CV. She asked me to come in for a trial, and by the end of the shift she offered me the job — I accepted without hesitation. She told me I’d forgotten to ask an important question — what the pay was. I told her it didn’t matter — I was enamoured with the place already.

3. What was it like to work there?
Going to Bennetts never feels like going to work. I know that no matter how stressful or exhausting a day was, by the end of the night I would always walk out of Bennetts feeling better than when I went in. Bennetts has a kind of magic about it.

4. Could you enjoy the music or were you often too busy?
There were some nights that were a flurry, you barely got a chance to look up and see who was where on stage. And there were others, luckily the majority, where there was plenty of time to enjoy the music. The people who come to Bennetts, and who love music, have an incredible respect for the musicians, so you’d generally only interact with them during set breaks. Which meant everyone had a chance to listen to the gig.

5. Which was the most significant BL gig for you and who played?
Luke Howard. The first time I heard him play, I was so entranced I can’t remember if I actually served anyone during the gig. Afterwards I went and thanked him for playing the kind of music I didn’t even realise I loved. He started my love affair with neo-classical music.

6. What was your best experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
An incredible performance by the Neil Cowley Trio. The patrons were really lovely, the music was sublime. Followed by after-work drinks, wonderful conversations ranging from intellectual to crass, and a crash course in mixology for the band resulting in one of the dodgiest cocktails I think I’ve ever seen.

7. What was your worst experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
Someone coming to the door and demanded to be let in for free, asking indignantly “Don’t you know who I am?” I replied I barely knew who I was, in an existential sense, so I couldn’t possibly tell him who he was. I then informed him the cover charge would be $20. He didn’t seem to find the situation as funny as I did.

8. Was the most obstreperous person you had to deal with at BL a musician, a punter, a photographer or a media person?
The people that came through the doors at Bennetts are generally genuinely lovely – it’s like the doorframe was a filter for wonderful people. I did have someone who was unnecessarily rude once. I took the “customer is always right” route and remained courteous. Megg came up to me and afterwards and told me that I didn’t have to serve someone if they were that rude, and if I had an issue telling them that then she would. “They’re only here for a night, you’re here every night. You’re my priority.” I countered with “But they might not come back.” Her response:“Exactly.” That’s Bennetts. It’s a family that looks out for one another and creates a really lovely space for people who want to appreciate some really phenomenal music. It has a way of keeping the wonderful in.

9. Were audiences on the weekend or during festivals very different? If so, how?
The weekend/festival gigs tend to contain more “shhhh” in them, generally provided by the staff. They can attract a lot of first-timers to the club. If you haven’t been to Bennetts before, it could be hard to know how to ‘be’ in the space. If you enter a concert hall, or a theatre, the space guides us and tells us that we should be reverentially silent during the performance. The space of Bennetts is a bar, usually you go to bars and catch up with friends, talk, banter. Bennetts is a kind of amalgam of the two, so it can take people a little getting used to.

10. How long was your longest continuous work shift at BL, and what was the occasion?
It would have been a jazz-fest shift. And it would have been home-time when the sun was up. And it probably would have been punctuated by an espresso martini.

Candi Raeburn

Candi Raeburn unwinds

11. Were your best times at BL during the gigs or after the punters left for the night?
Both. The people who come to Bennetts are really lovely – they’re wonderful to talk to and you all get to enjoy the music together. Afterwards, when the chairs are up and the lights are on, that’s family time – staff-family, musician-family, friend-family.

12. What instrument(s) do you play?
I’m certainly not a musician, though I can sing a mean Christmas carol in the shower. I play little bits of guitar, taiko and piano, all with questionable skills and endless enthusiasm.

13. If you have performed at BL, what was it like to be on stage rather than on the door or behind the bar?
Sometimes I would vacuum the stage at the end of the night — it’s quite warm up there under the lights. I think I prefer the bar.

14. What work or interests do you have outside BL, whether musical or not?
I’m a research scientist and travel a lot. My current aspirations are to become a yoga teacher, learn to swing dance and to be able to write really good computer code — I just need the time to fulfill them (around learning German and completing a PhD)!

15. What plans do you have after the closure of BL?
I have work commitments in Italy, Germany and at the synchrotron in Melbourne over the next 3 months, so will be moving around a little before starting a PhD in Europe.

16. What will you miss most about working there?
I will miss coming home to Bennetts. Every time I move back to Australia, Bennetts has been there. I may have a different house, project, day job, but Bennetts has always been a constant. Walking along the lane and through the doors — the red vinyl chairs, the blue bar lights, the carpet you don’t want to look at in daylight — makes me feel like I’ve arrived back in Melbourne. That space feels like home. And the people there are family. I know I’ll get to see everyone again soon, but having everybody concentrated in a bar awash with jazz for so long was a very big treat!

17. Will there ever be another BL in Melbourne?
Bennetts Lane will continue to exist in Melbourne. Bennetts is and has always been the people; the musicians, the audience, the staff. It will just be displaced, fractured and a bit harder to find now — Bennetts was a wonderful place that brought all those pieces together.

18. What do you think made this jazz club so successful?
The fact Megg stumbled in one night many moons ago and found a place she wanted to commit her skills, talent and personality to. And now it’s hard not to name every one of the staff and extol their virtues, the musicians and praise their talents.. the people. It’s the people.

THE PEOPLE WHO MADE BENNETTS LANE WORK

Some time this year, after what is sure to be one hell of a party, Melbourne will lose the venue which has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz has asked the people who worked there to reflect on their involvement with this most welcoming of live music venues.

Emma Burrows

Candi Raeburn, Emma Burrows, Jeremy Jankie after a few Bells … er, drinks.

EMMA BURROWS

1. Over what period have you been associated with BL and in what role(s)?

I worked behind the bar and on the door from 2005 for six years.

2. How did you come to work there? Was there a job interview?

After pouring me a pinot, Megg asked me out of the blue if I would like to work at Bennetts. I asked her years later why she hired me after exchanging only a few words. She said she liked my body language with my date at the time. Hard to believe that was the very first time I walked into the club. I love that an Al Browne gig will be the first & last gig I see at Bennetts.

3. What was it like to work there?

Bennetts was my playground & muse. So many eccentric people, challenging conversations and interactions plus exceptional music. Bennetts was never a hospitality job. As staff we came first (perhaps a close second to the music) and Megg & Jeremy always had our backs. The staff became my family and I lost many hours working and hanging out at the club. When late night shifts began taking a toll on my full-time work I had to have a difficult conversation with Megg. Resigning from bar work took me over a year, but since then I’ve been welcomed back with hugs every time I drop by. Once a member of the Bennetts family, always a member.

4. Could you enjoy the music or were you often too busy?

On busy nights, we would dart and weave behind the bar along with the music. After a number of shifts working with the same crew we were able to deftly dance from bar to register to bar to sink without colliding. Quiet nights were precious and I would polish glasses to a mirror shine while transfixed by the stage.

5. Which was the most significant BL gig for you and who played?

Picture yourself in the Jazz lab with every light off except for a blue light behind the bar. You and 80 people are dancing on tables in front of a 5ft tall man, who appears as a giant. Prince.

6. What was your best experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?

It’s been such a privilege to have had the opportunity to not only listen to so many talented musicians, but get to know them too.

7. What was your worst experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?

In my first year of working at Bennetts I was asked for a Coke by a woman elegantly dressed in a red, high-collared jacket with a gravelly voice. I poured a glass and naively asked her for $3.50. Rene Geyer swished her hair in my face and demanded that Megg to sort me out. Jazz faux pas.

8. Was the most obstreperous person you had to deal with at BL a musician, a punter, a photographer or a media person?

Martin Martini.

9. Were audiences on the weekend or during festivals very different? If so, how?

I rarely had to shhh the audiences during the week. They were dedicated, jazz nerds who knew Bennetts etiquette. Weekends attracted a diverse crowd. We could sometimes predict the crowd’s favourite drink by who was scheduled to play. The bourbon nights were not my favourite.

10. How long was your longest continuous work shift at BL, and what was the occasion?

Jazz fest nights + the hang. I remember riding home and hearing the morning birds waking.

11. Were your best times at BL during the gigs or after the punters left for the night?

The gigs that continued long after the doors had closed for the night were by far my favourite. An intimate and often alcohol-fuelled performance just for the staff.

12. What instrument(s) do you play?

The only instrument I play with is a microscope.

13. If you have performed at BL, what was it like to be on stage rather than on the door or behind the bar?

I have only ever held the mic for an uncomfortable 30 seconds while introducing the band.

14. What work or interests do you have outside BL, whether musical or not?

I’m a neuroscientist. I wrote the final pages of my PhD in Megg’s studio above the club and the Bennetts Lane crew feature in my acknowledgements.

15. What plans do you have after the closure of BL?

I’ve been working as a scientist since 2011 & will continue on with my research.

16. What will you miss most about working there?

I will miss Bennetts like a bulldozed first family home.

17. Will there ever be another BL in Melbourne?

There may be another venue with similar name, but there will never be another Bennetts Lane. The commitment of the staff & musicians to make Bennetts the experience it is has been unique to this combination of people, dim lights and outdated, red vinyl chairs.

18. What do you think made this jazz club so successful?

A great deal of loyalty, sacrifice and vision.

Bell Awards

Therefore, send not to know for whom the Bells toll …

THE PEOPLE WHO MADE BENNETTS LANE WORK

Some time this year, after the Melbourne International Jazz Festival is over and after what is sure to be one hell of a party, Melbourne will lose the venue that has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz has asked the people who worked there to reflect on their involvement with this most welcoming of live music venues.

Mia and Hannah

Mia and Hannah appear angelic at the bar.

MIA TINKLER

1. Over what period have you been associated with BL and in what role(s)?

Since around the middle of 2013, enough to love the place, but nowhere near as long as some the great staff.

2. How did you come to work there? Was there a job interview?

I guess I kind of sneaked my way in playing the family card; I’d been in an out of Bennett’s as a kid/teenager and knew a few people through my dad, Scott. He was playing one night and Jeremy mentioned they were looking for staff. I was going from job to job, working in a fish and chip shop at the time and really hating it, so Dad kind of hooked it up for me. I went in for the job trial and I remember Jeremy saying ‘So you’ve never worked in a bar?’ (I was 18 at the time) so replied ‘Nope’, he said back, ‘But your Scott’s daughter, so I’m assuming you know how to drink, yes?’

3. What was it like to work there?

It’s the job I thought I would never find. After working and leaving many average jobs I kept telling my friends and family about these kind of ‘dream jobs’ that I was really looking for. Everyone kept saying ‘you’ve got to stick it out, everyone got to work those shitty jobs’. But then I landed the Bennett’s gig and it’s been a dream!

4. Could you enjoy the music or were you often too busy?

There was always a way to enjoy the music, no matter how busy. It can sometimes even be more joyful when you’re busy, your energy is running high, doing little dance moves while polishing glasses or clapping, with your hands all soapy. But I do always enjoy working in the small room, when you usually get a chance to watch pretty much the whole gig as well as the audience does.

5. Which was the most significant BL gig for you and who played?

Honestly my favorite gigs are usually throughout the week, the local musicians are the ones that made up the majority of significant gigs I was lucky enough to see regularly at Bennetts; I mean I can’t name them all! But Al Browne’s Monday slots are pretty magical, and I always love a chance to see Steve Magnusson play.

6. What was your best experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?

Oh that’s a really hard one, I don’t think I can narrow it down to one experience. But I’d say it would come down to the musicians more than punters (unless the musicians are the punters), whether it be watching them play or having knock-off drinks with them after the show.

7. What was your worst experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?

Ha… hmm. I think one experience I can think of was a punter who came in and didn’t like the way one Sally had spoken to him at the bar (I believe he did a classic waving the bar staff down to say ‘just a beer’ and she may have asked ‘please?’ or something along those lines). Anyway, he decided to come over to me on the door and ask to speak to whoever was in charge that night (after yelling at me a little about the bar staff…) and all I could say back was ‘Well, Sally is in charge tonight’. Eventually he left…

8. Was the most obstreperous person you had to deal with at BL a musician, a punter, a photographer or a media person?

Hmm … probably a bit of them all, but I mean usually everyone is great. But there’s been the occasion to have to deal with drunken punters yelling over bass solos, that kind of stuff is always frustrating.

9. Were audiences on the weekend or during festivals very different? If so, how?

Yeah I think the audiences during the week are kind of a more dedicated jazz listeners, usually musicians, students or friends and family or the musicians. Which creates a pretty different atmosphere to the weekends, which tend to be those looking for the whole ‘experience’ of going to a jazz bar, having a glass of whiskey or wine, not so much about the particular gig that’s on. But that’s totally generalising as well; it can change depending on who’s playing.

10. How long was your longest continuous work shift at BL, and what was the occasion?

I couldn’t tell you, I don’t think I’ve done any crazy long stints. It would have to be during jazz fest though, working through to a late night Jam, and then having knock-offs etc. etc.

11. Were your best times at BL during the gigs or after the punters left for the night?

The best times would have to be during the great gigs, we have our fun behind the bar especially when the energy is high from the music. I mean, knock-offs are always fun, especially if there’s a bit of a hang after a show. But it’s got to be during the gigs that are the really special times.

12. What instrument(s) do you play, what music studies have you completed and in what bands have you played?

I play guitar and sing, but haven’t taken up music studies since high school, except for the odd elective at uni, and don’t intend to. But do play a whole lot with friends, looking to start gig-ing with a band I’ve been writing stuff with for a while, however it’s pretty far from jazz. But couldn’t work in a more inspiring atmosphere regardless for a musician!

13. If you have performed at BL, what was it like to be on stage rather than on the door or behind the bar?

N/A

14. What work or interests do you have outside BL, whether musical or not?

Apart from the musical stuff, at the moment I’m doing my bachelor of arts at Melbourne Uni. Majoring in philosophy. I also spend a bit of my time with a group called aycc, which is a climate change action group. [Excellent — Ed] Tend to spend a lot of my time out at other gigs outside of Bennetts as well, working there turns you into a bit of a night owl.

15. What plans do you have after the closure of BL?

I don’t want to talk about it ☹… I’ll start looking for more work next semester to keep me going, would love to keep working in a music venue, however have been considering switching over to day time work. I’ll see what comes my way.

16. What will you miss most about working there?

The whole Bennett’s family, inclusive of the staff and the musicians, it really is like a big family.

17. Will there ever be another BL in Melbourne?

Well, not another Bennetts Lane. Maybe other jazz clubs which will be great in their own right.

18. What do you think made this jazz club so successful?

The musicians are the crux! And the staff, and the amazing people organising the whole place. It’s a combination really.