SO WHO DID RESCUE MELBOURNE’ S JAZZ?

Tortoni

Michael Tortoni on bass at the launch of World’s Best Jazz Club: The Story of Bennetts Lane by David James.        Image: Roger Mitchell

FOR THE RECORD

On April 19 I posted the news that musical entrepreneur and property developer Albert Dadon — who owns Bird’s Basement in Melbourne — had acquired the name and assets of Sydney’s jazz club The Basement and planned to reopen it as soon as possible.

This was significant news, especially for Sydney fans of improvised music. That post included material provided in a media release by Dadon, including a paragraph stating that “he rescued the Melbourne International Jazz Festival when the City of Melbourne cut its funding in 2000″.

The release went on to say that under Dadon’s leadership  the festival became “a Major with appropriate funding” and “grew from 5000 visitors in 2001 to more than 200,000 by the time he stepped down in 2009”.

Reactions to the news about The Basement varied, but it probably surprises few that parts of Dadon’s media release have been questioned — these days “fact checked” is the usual term — and that alternative versions of history have been added to the mix.

Michael Tortoni, who is artistic director the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and runs The Jazzlab venue in Brunswick, was concerned that Mr Dadon’s version of events did not tally with his recollection.

KM2070071_1500xHe passed on an article by Robin Usher published in The Age on December 22, 2001 following the cancellation of Melbourne’s fifth international jazz festival due to the withdrawal of a $50,000 grant by Melbourne City Council.

Usher quotes Tortoni, then owner of the city’s main jazz venue, Bennetts Lane, as saying there was a need to maintain the tradition of the then summer festival and that “We decided to roll up our sleeves and work to get people through the door” to what was called the Bennetts Lane International Jazz Festival.

Usher quotes that Adrian Jackson, director of the cancelled festival, as applauding Tortoni for “trying to make the best of a bad situation” in promoting the January events. But Jackson does add that international stars wouldn’t necessarily be coming in a year’s time “unless there is a properly funded festival organisation to promote their performances”.

Tortoni is quoted as saying, “I’m using my infrastructure and staff to get the information out because I felt something had to be done to replace the festival organisation that we lost so suddenly.”

Interestingly, given that my post based on Dadon’s media release was headed “Dadon plans The Basement rescue”, Usher’s article had the headline “Jazz club owner rescues festival”.

The caption on Marina Oliphant‘s image of Tortoni at Bennetts Lane was: “Beat goes on: Michael Tortoni has stepped in after funding for the MIJF was cancelled.”

It is also interesting from a historical perspective that venues included in the Bennetts Lane International Jazz Festival in 2001 were Dizzy’s, the Corner Hotel, Manchester Lane, the 9th Ward, the Night Cat and Bar Open — a wide range indeed.

Owners of rival jazz clubs in Melbourne — albeit very different styles of venues — may well never agree on who rescued what at that difficult time in the history of jazz in Melbourne. But it is good to keep in mind just how tough it has been over the years for those arranging funding, promotion and funding for our jazz festivals.

After Dadon’s announcement about The Basement and his media release, it wasn’t long before a Facebook page emerged entitled Australian Jazz Fact Checker. It isn’t hard to imagine who may have set that up.

For those not on Facebook (Zuckerberg and Cambridge-Analytica eat your heart out) here are some responses to parts of Albert Dadon’s media release:

“He rescued the Melbourne International Jazz Festival when the City of Melbourne cut its funding in 2000.”

Fact Check: False
Albare Dadon wasn’t even part of the festival in 2000, let alone ‘saving it’. An article about it can be found in The Age on December 22, 2001.

“Under his leadership the festival grew from 5,000 visitors in 2001 to more than 200,000 by the time he stepped down in 2009.”

Fact Check: Partially True
Albare Dadon did leave the festival, however the circumstances behind why he did so are sealed behind a confidentiality agreement.

“Mr Dadon opened Bird’s Basement, below his Jazz Corner Hotel at 350 William St. in Melbourne’s CBD in March 2016 and committed himself to make it one of the world’s most renowned. Today, the club, a sister venue of Manhattan’s Birdland, regularly features world class musicians and is recognised internationally as Australia’s premier jazz venue.

Fact Check: Maybe?
I’m not sure who recognises it as the premier Australian jazz venue, but I’m sure he could find someone to quote.

“As Albare, he often performed at the Sydney Basement.”

Fact Check:
Depends on your definition of ‘often’
Albare and Urbanity performed at the venue twice in 5 years

“their album Urban Soul, this year enjoyed Billboard chart and critical success in the United States.”

Fact Check: False
I could only find one review by an independent journalist who rated the album 3.5/5 stars. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count as a critical success.

The identity of the fact checker is not stated, but will readily come to mind, I’m sure. Albert Dadon is welcome to respond to Michael Tortoni’s interpretation of events.

ROGER MITCHELL

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Michael Tortoni takes a bow. Image: Roger Mitchell

 

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