FLASH MOB MARKS MOMENTOUS OCCASION: The Melbourne Jazz Co-operative’s 30th anniversary, Fed Square to City Square, Friday 25 January 2013
I was half expecting a loud protest, with discordant horns blaring their displeasure at the sudden cessation of funds to the co-op from Arts Victoria, accompanied perhaps by deep grumbles of drums and strident sounds of reeds run dry.
What eventuated was a demonstration that an improvised gathering of musicians can add to the life of a city, as well as a signal to the holders of purse strings that jazz musicians will not sit quietly in a corner and come out to play only at festival time.
It was great to see so many musicians in procession from Fed Square towards the much diminished City Square space across Collins Street from the town hall. But in my heart of hearts I yearned for the megaphones and banners and chanted slogans of protest, expressing the injustice we all felt that this varied, complex, challenging and endlessly fascinating brand of music should be so blatantly overlooked, except in its festival manifestations. Surely we should be crying to the Premier, Big Ted, that we wanted action and, yes, we wanted it now.
But the MJC is not a protest organisation. It is a group dedicated to bringing music to the people and to supporting the musicians who play that music to ply their trade with some small guarantee of recompense. So its response was not to berate and hector, but to do what it does best — bring music to this city.
It was a fitting response. It remains to be seen whether there will be a need — as this fight for funds continues — to take the music to the hallowed halls of Parliament and fill the public galleries of the Lower House with dissonance.
There’s not heaps more to tell. With a gentle nudge from the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative that has done so much to bring live music to city venues for three decades, the musos turned up at Fed Square soon after 11.30am.
Before long they were on the move, heading for the almost forgotten City Square at the junction of Swanston and Collins streets, where the opening concert of this weekend celebration would be held.
Some had small charts attached to instruments. Others went with the flow, playing along with the characteristic inventiveness of jazz musicians.
Swinging swiftly out on to the fringe of Fed Square, they crossed Flinders Street and occupied the footpath, heading north.
Well known and respected members of Melbourne’s jazz scene were sprinkled throughout the ensemble.
Niko Schauble had a drum patched with tape. I wondered whether Premier Baillieu had ever experienced the wonder of hearing Niko at the drum kit.
Drummer Allan Browne, as always, was poetry in motion, though he did initially seem to have difficulty hanging on to his instrument.
It was an eclectic lot, with assorted horns mixing it with an array of drums and even some strummers of strings.
I was momentarily distracted by the thought that, if I had been a visiting tourist in Melbourne at that moment, I would return home with a tale of how this southern hemisphere city was alive with the sounds and stimulation of street music, that here it was not necessary to be in concert halls or to pay hefty ticket prices to be entertained and removed from the humdrum.
In fact, what this demonstration of support for the MJC did not spell out — and perhaps there ought to have been some leaflets or a short speech to do so — was that in small, inviting bars and clubs hidden in Melbourne’s side streets there is a wealth of live music available at eminently reasonable prices. But the presence of live improvised music does not just happen without effort. The hours of practice and dedication of musicians is a necessity, of course, but the opportunity to play and be paid is in no small part due to the efforts of Martin Jackson and others associated with the MJC.
As the procession turned into the City Square, it was appropriate that Martin came past, playing saxophone one-handed as he filmed the event. Beside him was Andra Jackson, also on sax. In the marquee, guitarist Craig Fermanis joined Danny Fischer on drums and Leigh Barker on bass for the free concert that opened the MJC 30th anniversary celebrations. The Daniel Gassin Sextet followed.
As the city crowds drifted past, the music seeping into their consciousness, it was great to see expatriate keyboardist/composer Barney McAll, who now lives in New York, encouraging passers-by to sign the petition calling for a change of heart on funding for the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative. The flash mob was gently making its mark.