REVIEW: STONNINGTON JAZZ 2012
Allan Browne’s The Poetry of Classic Jazz, Chapel Off Chapel, Sunday May 20
It was so upbeat that I’m sure we listened with smiles on our faces or deep inside. Yet this exploration of New Orleans-style jazz and drummer Allan Browne’s passion for poetry began with a blues that expressed loss and deep sorrow. As a tribute to “a deep and longtime friend of mine”, drummer Peter Jones, Browne decided to open the gig with W.H. Auden’s Stop All the Clocks, alternatively known as Funeral Blues. The Crowded House drummer died on May 18, aged 45.
It was powerful poetry, delivered with feeling. It did not dampen the spirits of either audience or the band.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
With Browne to celebrate word and note at Chapel Off Chapel was Sydney trumpeter and vocalist Geoff Bull, Dave Hetherington on clarinet, Margie Lou Dyer on piano and vocals and Mark Elton on bass.
The serious mood continued, with Browne reading a James Langston Hughes poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers, which the drummer said “makes me cry”.
Again, it was moving, and Bull treated us to some rich wah wah in the accompanying music.
Then, lest solemnity become the rule, we were treated to a preview of Browne’s yet-to-be-launched volume of poems, Conjuror (published by extempore), with the reading of He’s Not Much, But He’s All He Thinks About.
And then, with the promise of no more poems until the second set, the mood hotted up, with the James Scott tune Climax Rag, made famous on Blue Note in the 1940s by George Lewis and His New Orleans Stompers. Racy, energetic stuff.
Next came Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor, with fine vocal work from Bull and a piano solo from Dyer, and nice jousting from clarinet (what a joy it is to hear this instrument) and horn. Down By the Riverside followed, then Don’t Go ‘way Nobody, which was heaps of fun, with Browne having a shot at vocals, some quicksilver-fluid clarinet and a great bass solo, and finally Bourbon Street Parade to end the set.
Poetry began the second set, with Green Room recalling Browne’s “old days when you could actually make a living” playing at The Regent, when, he recalled, “you could put on a suit”, go downstairs and “you wouldn’t know you were in Melbourne — you could have been in Hong Kong or New York”.
I think it was about now that Browne unearthed a wasps’ nest, because there was quite a bit of buzzing going on. It was a hoot.
Another change of pace had Browne reading the Frank O’Hara poem for Billie Holiday, The Day Lady Died. He drew our attention to the last line.
… and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing
Geoff Bull treated us to some more vocals in Just Over in the Glory Land, and there was some lovely interplay between horn and clarinet.
This was a happy, exuberant rendition.
Then we had a couple of numbers featuring Dyer’s smoky vocals — Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do, and My Old Bucket’s Got A Hole In It.
It was great to look across to the partnership of Browne and Dyer in action here, and to feel the rollicking, friendly and fun vibe coming from this ensemble as they captured the spirit of New Orleans jazz.
Announcing Panama Rag to close the gig, Al Browne said the piece was “synonymous with all this music”.
I reckon we were still smiling on the inside as we went outside, and that must have something to do with this style of jazz. But we were also, through the poetry, given the chance — or gently prodded — to reflect a little on life, and on friendship and loss.