Some time this year, after what is sure to be one hell of a party, Melbourne will lose the venue which has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz has asked the people who worked there to reflect on their involvement with this most welcoming of live music venues.
1. Over what period have you been associated with BL and in what role(s)?
I’ve been working at Bennetts since January 2008 (that’s a long time ago!). I started off as a door person, then a bar person, now a sometimes manager (when the real managers are having a night off).
2. How did you come to work there? Was there a job interview?
I used to go to a lot of gigs at Bennetts while I was studying at VCA, got to know Megg that way and somehow landed a door shift. I’m still there seven and a half years later.
3. What was it like to work there?
There aren’t really enough words, but here are a few. Amazing. Inspiring. Raucous sometimes, quietly respectful others. Sleep deprived. Educational. Relaxing. Stressful.
4. Could you enjoy the music or were you often too busy?
My favourite nights are in the small room, when there are enough people to create a vibe, but not too many that I’m run off my feet behind the bar —then I can properly listen to the music.
5. Which was the most significant BL gig for you and who played?
In terms of big gigs, I can’t go past the Brad Mehldau Trio, but usually my favourite gigs happen on a weeknight — local performers playing new, original music. There are too many to name!
6. What was your best experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
It’s been amazing getting to know the musicians and being part of such a special scene — the Melbourne jazz community is pretty tight. And it’s always pretty hard to believe I that get to listen to such amazing music while I’m at work!
7. What was your worst experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
It’s always so awkward asking people to keep their voices down during the quieter performances — awkward for them and also for us! Nobody wants to be that person who has to ask another adult to be quiet, but sometimes, if it’s distracting the rest of the audience from the music, it has to be done.
8. Was the most obstreperous person you had to deal with at BL a musician, a punter, a photographer or a media person?
Most of the above! Can I add Guests of the Band to the list? Most of the musicians are lovely; most of the audience members are there for the music, but there’s always a few exceptions…
9. Were audiences on the weekend or during festivals very different? If so, how?
Weekday and weekend audiences are completely different entities, and are often determined by the band or music on the night. Rowdier music equals a more raucous audience; quieter music usually equals a listening audience. I tend to find that most weeknight crowds are there for the music, while some weekend crowds are there for the ‘jazz club’ experience.
10. How long was your longest continuous work shift at BL, and what was the occasion?
I think my longest continuous work shift was last year on the final day of the Jazz Festival — there was a book launch at 1pm in the afternoon, two sold out shows in the big room that night and the jazz jam finishing up at 3am in the small room. And then of course, the hang afterwards. It was a looooooong day. Luckily we have a buddy who is an amazing myotherapist, so he came by and gave us all a massage between shows. It helped.
11. Were your best times at BL during the gigs or after the punters left for the night?
The most inspirational times were during the gigs, and the magic that happens on the Bennetts Lane stage, but equally enjoyable were the times after the gigs where we get to hang and have a drink with the staff and the musicians.
12. What instrument(s) do you play, what music studies have you completed and in what bands have you played? – I play the electric bass (and a tiny bit of double). I completed my Bachelor of Music Performance at VCA in 2009. I play with a bunch of bands — rock bands, folk bands, and jazz bands … at the moment The Royal Parks are keeping me busy, and hopefully my own jazz band, The Outfit, will find another favourite venue to play, now that Bennetts will be closed.
13. When you performed at BL, what was it like to be on stage rather than on the door or behind the bar?
I always thought I’d be so nervous playing on the Bennetts Lane stage, but surprisingly it felt quite comfortable. I guess since Bennetts is like a second home to the staff, it’s not as scary as it might be to someone not so familiar with the space. The small room was The Outfit’s favourite stage to perform on in Melbourne, and we’ll miss it.
14. What work or interests do you have outside BL, whether musical or not?
I spend my days working in a cookbook store. I love to cook (and will probably have more time for that now that my nights will be free!). I play bass in various bands around town. I like to knit and sew and be generally crafty.
15. What plans do you have after the closure of BL?
There are a few plans in the mix, but mostly I am very much looking forward to a few quiet nights at home.
16. What will you miss most about working there?
I’ll miss the staff the most — they’re such an amazing bunch of people, and some of my best friends. It’s been such a treat to get to work with my buddies.
17. Will there ever be another BL in Melbourne?
Perhaps there’ll be another club with a similar name, but it won’t be the same. It’ll be its own thing, which I’m so sure will be a great and unique thing, but it won’t be Bennetts as we know it.
18. What do you think made this jazz club so successful?
The musicians. The audience. The staff.