Oliver Lake is one of the international artists at Wangaratta Jazz
Wangaratta Jazz demystified — ROGER MITCHELL reflects on the musical feast about to unfold this weekend
HE wears a black beret to match his clothes, snaps his fingers to a private beat and calls everyone “man”, but you won’t often find him among the madding crowd on Cup weekend at Wangaratta Jazz. He is the caricature of a jazz fan.
The annual festival is bursting at the seams, with queues at many gigs demonstrating its broad appeal. Many who attend are connoisseurs of improvised music — let’s call them jazz tragics — but they may not stand out from the crowd.
Look for the knitted brows of concentration as, armed with a detailed concert schedule — possibly uploaded to the mandatory iPhone — the tragic moves with military precision from gig to gig, flashing the priority entry that will ensure a good seat in the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre Theatre.
The tragic will make sure he or she catches international artists, such as Oliver Lake, Jeff Neve, Sara Serpa or Yuri Honing, who may not be household names.
The tragic will break only for strong coffee or a hasty discussion over dinner with other aficionados. The talk will be about which jazz standards were alluded to in the free improvisation session that afternoon, whether a visiting virtuoso justly treated a favourite Ornette Coleman piece, and who actually deserved to win this year’s National Jazz Awards.
In far greater numbers will be the music festival lovers. They’ll be more relaxed and slightly less organised, knowing that their festival pass will get them into every venue, even if it means queuing early for the popular performers, such as Kurt Elling, or taking a chance and rolling up at the last minute.
They’ll delight in discovering the diverse settings for music apart from the two arts centre venues, grabbing a coffee as they enjoy The Dilworths or The Catholics under canvas at Jazz on Ovens, or strolling across to the majestic Holy Trinity Cathedral to catch Oliver Lake solo or Rob Burke and Tony Gould. They will pore over the CDs on sale as they file into St Patrick’s Hall to hear suites by Stu Hunter’s quartet and Allan Browne’s quintet.
Festival lovers will be less critical and often openly enthusiastic, warmly greeting musicians outside after a gig — grabbing all available CDs in minutes — or happily joining them for coffee or a glass of wine at Hot Jazz Cafe or the arts centre’s Intermezzo.
They’ll be comfortably dressed, with good shoes for walking between venues, a hat and sun block, as well as a brolly just in case. And while many will stick to music they expect to enjoy, lots of other festival lovers will sample the unknown — and discover that they love it.
Blues fans have a program all their own, so they won’t stray too far from the blues marquee in Apex Park, where the music just keeps on coming. The sunscreen and hats are vital if the weather is warm, because not everyone can fit under the shade. And a footy poncho will not go astray in case of rain while Diesel or Debbie Davies are on stage.
Over at the free stage on Reid St is the place to find the regional festival fan, happy to have escaped the city for a long weekend and with an appetite for food and wine to go with the music. This bon vivant may pop into the Pinsent Hotel for some hot traditional jazz and will certainly scout the local craft and produce markets, as well as the wineries hosting free outdoor jazz concerts on Monday before the Melbourne Cup.
At the Cup Eve Concert, the WPAC Theatre will fill with worn-out jazz tragics, relaxed festival lovers, satiated fans of fine fare and even a few blues fans who may have decided it was wiser to walk than drive. It’s the safest of bets that everyone will have a night to top off a great weekend.
Wangaratta Jazz, October 29 to November 1.
An edited version of this article appeared in the Herald Sun newspaper, Melbourne, on October 29, 2010