BIG NIGHT OUT: Australian Jazz Bell Awards 2013, Plaza Ballroom, Regent Theatre, Melbourne on Thursday, May 2
It’s a strange night and yet it fits. The oddity is that jazz is being celebrated and its champions honoured in a place of such ostentatious opulence, when its performance is often conducted on lean budgets and rewarded with slim takings. The aptness is that this is one night when exponents of jazz and improvised music can dress up, wine and dine, and celebrate as if this source of such complex pleasures were up there on society’s pedestal along with the Oscars.
It also fits in the way that Melbourne’s Kelvin Club did for the Sun Ra Arkestra performance during the 2011 Melbourne International Jazz Festival — there’s an eccentric, idiosyncratic feel to the Bells that is right on the money for jazz.
Speaking of money, the significant prizes handed out at the Bells — albeit low by the standards of mainstream arts — are provided by a string of sponsors (TarraWarra Estate Winery, Monash University, Palace Cinemas, Ubertas Group, APRA/AMCOS, Brand Partners, Fender Katsalidis Architects, Allans Billy Hyde) — but Bell Awards chairman Albert Dadon is behind the scenes making it all happen.
Albert Dadon spoke with feeling about this being the first awards night since the passing of Graeme Bell MBE, AO, after whom the awards are named. Sadly, Bell, one of the most respected Australian jazz musicians, died last year.
His wife, Dorothy, was invited to the microphone and provided us with a frank and engaging portrait of the man with whom she spent so many happy years. She let on that Graeme was “not so good with the money”, but he was “a really nice, caring person who liked to do things for people”, including arranging a live cello recital at home for her birthday, because she loved the instrument so much.
“I miss him terribly every day. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about him,” Dorothy told the gathering, bringing warm applause.
The mandatory politician on the night was Michael Danby, Parliamentary Secretary for the Arts, who paid tribute to Dadon’s contribution to raising the profile of jazz in Australia and mentioned that the guitarist’s sixth album, Long Way, had reached the top 50 in the US.
Danby also urged musicians to apply for money via the music board of the Australia Council for the Arts. He said former Arts Minister Simon Crean had ensured there was an extra $3 million put aside for contemporary music, including $1.75 million to Sounds Australia to grow Australian music exports and $1.25 million to promote career pathways for contemporary musicians.
Let’s hope some of this money can end up in the pockets of Australian jazz artists.
In the first round of awards, saxophonist David Ades picked up the first two, which we hope cheered him up in Germany, where he is having further treatment for cancer. His outing at Wangaratta Jazz Festival last year was a ripper.
Ades won Best Australian Jazz Ensemble for A Glorious Uncertainty and Best Australian Jazz Song of the Year for Joe The Kid
MC Tracey Curro noted that Joe the Kid was written for David Ades’ father, who was famous for selling potato peelers on the streets of New York. David’s daughter Amelia received the awards on his behalf and said she couldn’t wait to tell him because “he’ll be over the moon”, adding “he deserves this”.
The winner of Best Australian Jazz Vocal Album was Chris McNulty for The Song That Sings You Here. McNulty, who had just flown from New York, paid tribute to the hard work of her band.
After an entree, there was much hilarity when the award for Best Australian Traditional Jazz Album went to Flap! for A Great Day For The Race.
It was especially heart-warming to see the happiness that the award for Best Australian Contemporary Jazz Album to Magnet brought to the face of much-loved guitarist Steve Magnusson. He and Eugene Ball received the award, paying compliments to all involved in the album as well as praising the other nominees — Jamie Oehlers Quartet featuring Ari Hoenig and Bernie McGann.
Steve Barry was in New York (isn’t every young Australian jazz artist these days?) and could not receive his award for Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year.
More broad smiles came with the award of Most Original Australian Jazz Album to Marc Hannaford for Sarcophile, which he released only online. This is a great send-off for Marc, who leaves soon for New York to take up a fellowship at Columbia to complete a PhD in music theory. It will be sad to see him go, but we look forward to some amazing work emerging from his study and performance abroad.
We were treated to a short, but vibrant performance by Marc.
After the main course came Tony Gould’s moving solo piano tribute to the Australian jazz musicians who died during the past 12 months. It is always an important opportunity to reflect on the contributions that these artists have made during their lives.
Then came the announcement most of us knew before the ceremony — that the affable, but retiring multi-instrumentalist James Morrison would be entering the Graeme Bell Hall of Fame.
James took the opportunity to speak about the Generations in Jazz Festival in Mount Gambier and its rich history in educating and encouraging young jazz artists.
James had to have a jam session and, luckily, had brought his horn in case that opportunity arose. Good on him, I say. You can’t keep an irrepressible man from having fun, and there’s nothing wrong with some fun in jazz.
Tamara Murphy was, as usual, on fire behind the band.
It was short, but sweet, and, yes, fairly loud.
To finish the night, Schroder’s Big Band played to an audience who were mostly interested in talking and drinking, but that’s showbiz.
Michelle Nicole showed us how a vocalist can work with a band and an audience.
They showed the power of voice and big band.
The winners went in search of a gin palace — well some did. The judges avoided anyone who looked likely to disagree with the results of their long hours of hard work.The rest of us took to taxis or, in my case, the last train.
The Bells had tolled again.