Ausjazz blog went to the 2012 Australian Jazz Bell Awards on Thursday, May 3 and took the last train home:
It was as close to attending the Oscars as any in the Melbourne jazz glitterati would ever come, I suppose. There was even a red carpet, I think , though somehow word did not seem to have reached the paparazzi.
The “Bells”, named in honour of Australian pianist, composer and band leader Graeme Bell, does not exactly attract Oscars-style hype. On the day when $40,000 would be handed out to the winners of eight award categories in the sumptuous surroundings of the Plaza Ballroom at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, the Bells website gave no hint of the time and place of proceedings. It merely listed the musicians in the running for what must be considered big money for our many improperly rewarded and hard working musicians.
Jazz Bell Awards Chairman Albert Dadon, who it must be acknowledged was responsible for securing the money and sponsors for the event and the awards, kept a low profile, but was it significant that the presiding politicians on the night were Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews and Labor Senator Stephen Conroy? There seemed to be a message in that.
Almost everything about the event went smoothly. It was a venue fit for a gathering of musicians, industry representatives, media and sponsors who do not often have a chance to frock up and imagine for a few hours that jazz is glamorous as well as damned hard work. And even food blogger Kenny Weir would have judged the cuisine as excellent.
Many faces at the tables were as mystifying to me as a mass of movie stars, or a gaggle of football WAGS at a Brownlow count, but it was great to see a musician of the future, young Melvin, having a night out with his mum and some Bennetts Lane staff who enjoyed for once not being the ones pouring drinks.
The only disreputable behaviour, at least during the event, was attributable to a record label mogul — he shall remain nameless — who seemed to gather a head of steam every time there was an opportunity to climb on the bandwagon of a musician even remotely connected with his releases. Well done, Andrew.
Sadly Graeme Bell could not attend the Bells, but his pre-recorded message was warmly received.
The awards were announced between courses, beginning with the TarraWarra Best Australian Jazz Vocal Album, won by Kristin Berardi Meets The Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra. Fittingly, Berardi performed her Ode to Oli, with James Sherlock on guitar, soon after receiving the award.
Next up was Monash University Best Australian Jazz Ensemble,
won by the Andrea Keller Quartet. Eugene Ball received the award, Ian Whitehurst kept a low profile, and Joe Talia and Andrea Keller were not able to make it on the night.
Fish was not on the menu on the night, but some proud fish did feature when Peter Knight was awarded the Palace Cinemas Most Original Australian Jazz Album award for Fish Boast of Fishing. Knight thanked Allan Browne for introducing him to the poetry of E.E. Cummings, which inspired the album.
It was a case of one rather than one, two, three, four when the Bakini Restaurant Best Australian Contemporary Jazz Album went to the Nick Haywood Quartet for the album 1234.
The APRA/AMCOS Best Australian Jazz Song of the Year went to Luke Howard and Janos Bruneel for “Spir”, on the album Open Road. Neither could make it, but Bruneel will be in Melbourne for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.
It is always moving on awards nights when there is a chance to reflect on the contribution made by those who have died during the year. That was true again at this year’s Bells, though there was a lesson for us all in one unfortunate error. While the names of Ken James, Peter Boothman and Peter Jones appeared on two large screens, Tony Gould performed an improvisation on John Sangster’s Rivera Mountain from his Last will and testament album. It was heartfelt and appropriate.
Later it became apparent that reports of Peter Jones’s death “posted on social media” that day were incorrect and that he was in intensive care. Social media are useful tools, but there is not always appropriate scrutiny to ensure accuracy. This mistake did not lessen the intent of the tribute.
The perfect segue brought a lively change, when Allan Browne won the Brand Partners Best Australian Traditional Jazz Album for his Collected Works Volume II: Fifty Years Of New Orleans Jazz, then forsook the podium for the stage to perform Gimme A Pigfoot by Bessie Smith on the Bell Awards stage, with his wife Margie Lou Dyer on vocals and Jo Stevenson on clarinet.
It was another tough ask for the judges — Albert Dadon, Aaron Searle, Adrian Jackson, Gerry Koster, Laurence Donohue-Greene, Martin Jackson, Michael Tortoni and Mike Nock — to pick between three finalists for the Fender Katsalidis Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year award. They chose Alex Boneham over Ken Allars and Sarah McKenzie.
Finally, it was time to induct a new member to the Gibson Guitars Graeme Bell Hall of Fame. It was Brian Brown, who has released 10 LPs, 18 CDs and in 1993 was awarded the Order of Australia for services to the performing arts as a jazz performer, educator and composer. Unfortunately Brown was not able to be at the Bells to play, but his wife Ros McMillan accepted the honour on his behalf. Tony Gould played Brown’s 1976 composition Song for Billy Hyde.The ceremonies over, it was time for the musicians to pose for photographs and then to party on, presumably into the wee hours, possibly at the Gin Palace and possibly beyond.
The bonus of this Bell Awards, for all of us who get to enjoy what Australia’s hardworking and underpaid musicians create, is that the dollars that go with the awards will make a lot more music possible.
And a final mention of those that missed out: It may be small comfort, but, knowing some of the contenders, it probably was not by much.
As I climbed the red carpet back to reality, and the fact that my myki card was at home and the final train for the night was about to leave the station, I decided to improvise. Hurrying to the appropriate window, I bought one of those old cardboard things called tickets.