Some time this year, after the Melbourne International Jazz Festival is over and after what is sure to be one hell of a party, Melbourne will lose the venue that 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)?
Since around the middle of 2013, enough to love the place, but nowhere near as long as some the great staff.
2. How did you come to work there? Was there a job interview?
I guess I kind of sneaked my way in playing the family card; I’d been in an out of Bennett’s as a kid/teenager and knew a few people through my dad, Scott. He was playing one night and Jeremy mentioned they were looking for staff. I was going from job to job, working in a fish and chip shop at the time and really hating it, so Dad kind of hooked it up for me. I went in for the job trial and I remember Jeremy saying ‘So you’ve never worked in a bar?’ (I was 18 at the time) so replied ‘Nope’, he said back, ‘But your Scott’s daughter, so I’m assuming you know how to drink, yes?’
3. What was it like to work there?
It’s the job I thought I would never find. After working and leaving many average jobs I kept telling my friends and family about these kind of ‘dream jobs’ that I was really looking for. Everyone kept saying ‘you’ve got to stick it out, everyone got to work those shitty jobs’. But then I landed the Bennett’s gig and it’s been a dream!
4. Could you enjoy the music or were you often too busy?
There was always a way to enjoy the music, no matter how busy. It can sometimes even be more joyful when you’re busy, your energy is running high, doing little dance moves while polishing glasses or clapping, with your hands all soapy. But I do always enjoy working in the small room, when you usually get a chance to watch pretty much the whole gig as well as the audience does.
5. Which was the most significant BL gig for you and who played?
Honestly my favorite gigs are usually throughout the week, the local musicians are the ones that made up the majority of significant gigs I was lucky enough to see regularly at Bennetts; I mean I can’t name them all! But Al Browne’s Monday slots are pretty magical, and I always love a chance to see Steve Magnusson play.
6. What was your best experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
Oh that’s a really hard one, I don’t think I can narrow it down to one experience. But I’d say it would come down to the musicians more than punters (unless the musicians are the punters), whether it be watching them play or having knock-off drinks with them after the show.
7. What was your worst experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
Ha… hmm. I think one experience I can think of was a punter who came in and didn’t like the way one Sally had spoken to him at the bar (I believe he did a classic waving the bar staff down to say ‘just a beer’ and she may have asked ‘please?’ or something along those lines). Anyway, he decided to come over to me on the door and ask to speak to whoever was in charge that night (after yelling at me a little about the bar staff…) and all I could say back was ‘Well, Sally is in charge tonight’. Eventually he left…
8. Was the most obstreperous person you had to deal with at BL a musician, a punter, a photographer or a media person?
Hmm … probably a bit of them all, but I mean usually everyone is great. But there’s been the occasion to have to deal with drunken punters yelling over bass solos, that kind of stuff is always frustrating.
9. Were audiences on the weekend or during festivals very different? If so, how?
Yeah I think the audiences during the week are kind of a more dedicated jazz listeners, usually musicians, students or friends and family or the musicians. Which creates a pretty different atmosphere to the weekends, which tend to be those looking for the whole ‘experience’ of going to a jazz bar, having a glass of whiskey or wine, not so much about the particular gig that’s on. But that’s totally generalising as well; it can change depending on who’s playing.
10. How long was your longest continuous work shift at BL, and what was the occasion?
I couldn’t tell you, I don’t think I’ve done any crazy long stints. It would have to be during jazz fest though, working through to a late night Jam, and then having knock-offs etc. etc.
11. Were your best times at BL during the gigs or after the punters left for the night?
The best times would have to be during the great gigs, we have our fun behind the bar especially when the energy is high from the music. I mean, knock-offs are always fun, especially if there’s a bit of a hang after a show. But it’s got to be during the gigs that are the really special times.
12. What instrument(s) do you play, what music studies have you completed and in what bands have you played?
I play guitar and sing, but haven’t taken up music studies since high school, except for the odd elective at uni, and don’t intend to. But do play a whole lot with friends, looking to start gig-ing with a band I’ve been writing stuff with for a while, however it’s pretty far from jazz. But couldn’t work in a more inspiring atmosphere regardless for a musician!
13. If you have performed at BL, what was it like to be on stage rather than on the door or behind the bar?
14. What work or interests do you have outside BL, whether musical or not?
Apart from the musical stuff, at the moment I’m doing my bachelor of arts at Melbourne Uni. Majoring in philosophy. I also spend a bit of my time with a group called aycc, which is a climate change action group. [Excellent — Ed] Tend to spend a lot of my time out at other gigs outside of Bennetts as well, working there turns you into a bit of a night owl.
15. What plans do you have after the closure of BL?
I don’t want to talk about it ☹… I’ll start looking for more work next semester to keep me going, would love to keep working in a music venue, however have been considering switching over to day time work. I’ll see what comes my way.
16. What will you miss most about working there?
The whole Bennett’s family, inclusive of the staff and the musicians, it really is like a big family.
17. Will there ever be another BL in Melbourne?
Well, not another Bennetts Lane. Maybe other jazz clubs which will be great in their own right.
18. What do you think made this jazz club so successful?
The musicians are the crux! And the staff, and the amazing people organising the whole place. It’s a combination really.