Adam Simmons, third from left, takes a bow on stage at the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre Theatre during the 2018 festival. He has now bowed out of his role as co-artistic director.
There will be no Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues in 2019.
This esteemed festival will take a break before celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2020.
In a media release embargoed until 10am today — Friday 1 February, 2019 — the festival board announced it had voted to postpone the festival’s 30th anniversary celebrations.
The 30th festival will now be held in 2020.
“It was not an easy decision to make, but we all voted with the best interests of the festival in mind, and we will be working towards delivering a landmark festival in 2020,” said Festival Chair Miriam Zolin.
The news release went on as follows:
While the 2018 festival was widely enjoyed and praised for its exciting program of local and international jazz and blues, the organisation, like many small arts organisations, has faced a number of operational pressures in recent years.
The recent resignation of co-artistic director Adam Simmons, and departure of long-term festival managers Nolan Media Events last year, has underscored the need to look strategically at the festival’s operating model, and its long-term sustainability.
“The board is committed to ensuring the future of the festival, and for now that means taking some time to look at the way we operate and plan for the years ahead,” said Zolin.
In the lead-up to this decision, the festival has held discussions with its funding partners, including the Rural City of Wangaratta and Creative Victoria. In December the Board took part in a strategic planning day which pointed clearly to a need to look at the festival’s operational and fundraising models.
“The Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues has always been resilient in the face of change, and this decision will offer an invaluable opportunity for us to take a breath and revisit the festival’s structure,” said Zolin.
The Festival Board will work closely with its partners and the community to map out a future for the festival that ensures the festival’s vision and purpose stay strong.
“Just like the music that this festival celebrates, we’ll continue to be creative,” said Zolin.
“In 2019 we will develop a sustainable model for delivery of the festival into the future, and we need time to make sure we get it right. We will build on the success of 2018 and previous years to make the 30th festival one that celebrates all that Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues has contributed to the jazz and blues scene in Australia and in bringing the local Wangaratta community together.”
“We acknowledge and thank all of those who have played a role in our extraordinary story to date and look forward to working together on this next chapter for Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues.”
As well, festival chair Miriam Zolin’s media release provided some background about the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues:
In 1989 a group of Wangaratta business people suggested the idea of a music festival to Wangaratta Council. Council funded a feasibility study which concluded that a festival in Wangaratta could offer a point of difference from other music festivals, with a program based on modern and contemporary jazz. The first festival took place in 1990. The festival also hosts the National Jazz Awards with its associated prizes and prestige. The professional careers of previous winners and finalists have been significantly boosted, making the NJAs a hugely important in developing a future for Australian jazz and improvised music. Programming for the first 27 years was overseen by the inimitable Adrian Jackson OAM, who was honoured in the 2019 Australia Day Honours List with an Order of Australian Medal acknowledging his services to music. Since its inception, the festival has been a huge influence in the Australian jazz scene, as well as a significant contributor to artistic and cultural life and economic development in the Rural City and the broader North East of Victoria. The festival continues to work in close partnership with the Rural City of Wangaratta.
This news will be a huge shock to many dedicated fans who have travelled to Wangaratta for many years on the weekend before Cup day to enjoy this feast of music – jazz and blues, featuring national and international artists – available at venues in one location and accessible via a daily or weekend pass.
It is a bold move to postpone such a festival for a year just as it prepares to celebrate 30 years in which many, many musicians have created memorable and often unexpectedly exhilarating moments for so many patrons.
Will this be a hiccup that opens the way to a brighter future for this annual gathering at which fans mingle in the streets with musicians and the anticipation of experimentation is often in the air? Or will this signal a parting of the ways for rusted on fans? Let’s hope it is the former.
And what will the streets of Wang be like on that weekend in early November, without the buzz, without the crowds and queues, without the blues marquee and without the bustle and hustle of patrons heading for yet another gig?
Bring on 2020 and the 30th Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues.
PS: Those who have a regular booking for accommodation, remember to touch base with the local providers so they know you’ll be back, albeit a year later than anticipated.
It’s time to once again do what we ought to be doing all year — celebrating the importance and contribution of women in the valuable work of making music, especially jazz. Melbourne and Sydney have excellent festivals to help us enjoy the work of women composers and improvisers, so let’s support these gigs.
I was unable to make the first two performances at this year’s MWIJF, which was a pity. But here is a rundown of what’s on from now until closing night on 9 December.
This is a small festival, yet there is nevertheless a clash (no festival is ever without one). So on Friday 7 December you’ll have to choose between Sandy Evans at The Salon and Kon Shes a little later at The Jazzlab.
I’m particularly looking forward to hearing Lijuka, the trio that won last year’s MWIJF recording prize. They’re playing in a double bill with Girls Do Jazz on 9 December.
All these gigs are reasonably priced so take the opportunity to hear great musicians at work.
Now here’s what’s on:
Tuesday 4 December, 7pm, The Jazzlab, $20/15 Student Night
Young musicians from Mac.Robertson Girls High School, Ruyton Girls School and Siena College play traditional and contemporary big band music.
Vocalist Merinda Dias-Jayasinha joined by Theo Carbo (guitar) and Isaac Gunnoo (double bass) presents a set of original music (plus a standard or two) exploring streams of consciousness, and the states between reality and dreams.
Claire Cross – Moving Targets
Composer/bassist Claire Cross is joined by Tom Noonan alto saxophone, Harry Cook keys and Tommy Harrison drums to present Moving Targets, a project that explores stress, love, lust and loss through lyrical and unpredictable compositions. Blending folk idioms with contemporary jazz harmony the compositions will explore the transient nature of feelings.
Thursday 6 December 8pm, The Jazzlab, $20/15 Jam Jar CD launch
Energetic Melbourne trad jazz band Jam Jar offer an upbeat repertoire of original songs and beloved standards influenced by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and local bands The Red Onion Band and The Hoodangers. Their self-titled debut album is a lighthearted commentary on the apathy and anxieties of modern life and a yearning for a romanticised past. Expect toe-tapping tunes.
Jam Jar is Ellie Lamb trombone/vocals, Lauren Mullarvey clarinet/vocals, Bryce Turcato horn/vocals, Fiona Steele banjo, Tom Young double bass and Sean Newell drums
Friday 7 December 7pm, The Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre, $30/25 Sandy Evans – Heart Rhythm Love (Syd/Melb)
Co-presented by the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative, the world premiere of Heart|Rhythm|Love will take the listener on a beautiful, thrilling and dynamic journey, seamlessly interweaving influences from Indian music and jazz in a joyous celebration.
The composer of this work, written and performed in honour of mridangam virtuoso Guru Kaaraikudi Mani, is Sandy Evans on saxophones. She is joined by Tripataka (Adrian Sherriff bass trombone, Jonathan Dimond electric bass guitar, Adam King drums) and Sai‐Sarangan Ravichandhira on mridangam.
Friday 7 December 8pm, The Jazzlab, $30/25 World premiere of Kon Shes (Aus/Sth Africa/Korea)
Fem Belling (vocals & electric violin) brings five of Melbourne’s finest musicians – Mina Yu piano, Tamara Murphy bass, Chelsea Allen drums and Angela Davis alto saxophone – to a new project combining live performance, political prose and the primal magic of music. The performance aims to increase the visibility of women in music in Australia and contribute to a larger voice of a social consciousness.
Saturday 8 December 8pm, The Jazzlab, $30/25 Harriett Allcroft CD launch – “Archie”
Harriett Allcroft (voice) launches her debut album Archie. It was recorded with James Bowers (piano), Tamara Murphy (bass), Kieran Rafferty (drums) and Shaun Rammers (tenor saxophone) this year, but Sam Keevers will be at the keyboard for this outing.
Expect infectious grooves and clever lyrics that make the brain tick.
Saturday 8 December 8, The Jazzlab, 11pm free entry Festival Club – Jam session and general hang
This is a chance for female and non-binary musicians and vocalists to play in the jam session, or just plain hang out and connect with other musicians. In house PA, piano, bass amp, guitar amp and kit provided. All artforms welcome – jazz, trad, pop, funk, contemporary.
Sunday 9 December 3.30pm, The Jazzlab, free entry Girls Do Jazz Secondary Program Concert
This concert showcases the work of The Girls Do Jazz workshop series, led by Andrea Keller, ran monthly over five Sundays in semester 2, 2018. Along with MCM alumni tutors, and undergraduate volunteers, the students engaged in jazz and improvisation studies covering free improvisation, the American songbook and compositions by contemporary Australian jazz musicians. This free concert showcases what they’ve been up to!
Lijuka: Katrina Owen, Libby Ferris and Julia Bebenek
Sunday 9 December 7pm, The Jazzlab, $20/15 Double Bill: Lijuka launch their debut single Registaan
Don’t miss the winners of the 2017 MWIJF Recording Prize, Lijuka. This band featuring Katrina Owen on saxophone and vocals, Libby Ferris on guitar and vocals, and Julia Bebenek on drum kit/vocals, returns to The Jazzlab to play original songs featuring acoustic and electronic sounds combined with live-looping. The gig will feature songs from their recent audio-visual work ‘Macro/Microcosm’ which debuted at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Lijuka would like to thank Myles Mumford (Rolling Stock Recording Rooms), and MWIJF for making this event possible.
Kathleen Halloran with Girls Do Jazz at the MWIJF 2017
Girls Do Jazz VCA
Girls Do Jazz is a jazz ensemble comprised of current Jazz & Improvisation students at the Victorian College of the Arts. The ensemble is led by Andrea Keller, Lecturer in Jazz & Improvisation at the VCA/MCM. From varied musical backgrounds, the members of Girls Do Jazz unite in celebration of female musicianship, with an emphasis on Australian contemporary jazz repertoire.
The line-up is Bella Winter on alto/soprano saxophones, Jade Nye on alto saxophone, Steph Fels on trombone, Alex Rindfleish on piano, Ross Anderson on bass and Ollie Cox on drums.
Music speaks for itself. That’s what visiting saxophonist from Holland, Yuri Honing – a man of few words – told the audience in Wangaratta’s Performing Arts Centre Theatre on Saturday night during his quartet’s second festival outing.
He’s right, of course. The music delivered at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues this year conveyed some powerful messages and crossed cultural boundaries without needing the embroidery of words.
Honing, with his acoustic quartet Wolfert Brederode (Holland) on piano, Gulli Gudmundsson (Iceland) on bass and Joost Lijbaart (Holland) on drums, spoke eloquently with his tenor saxophone in two concerts featuring compositions from their 2017 album Goldbrun. These guys knew each other and the pieces well, the horn soaring and gently musing over the responsive rhythm section in long explorations that varied in energy and intensity, but often seemed darkly brooding. Honing’s concerns for Europe and love of works by Wagner and Richard Strauss were inspirations, but spelled out only in the music.
Yet words and music are often inextricably linked. That relationship can be fraught – how can what we experience in a live concert possibly be described adequately in a string of superlatives? Yet the strength in soul singer Tina Harrod’s exceptionally clearly articulated songs from her album City of Longing, performed on Sunday in WPAC Theatre, came certainly from her strong vocals, but also in the hard-hitting lyrics.
Vikram Iyengar in The Calling by Adam Simmons Image: Roger Mitchell
Festival artistic team member Adam Simmons introduced his deeply personal work The Calling, part of his The Usefulness of Art series of concerts, with words, yet it was the performance by his Creative Music Ensemble with Afrolankan Drumming System and Vikram Iyengar, helped by screened visuals, that conveyed the colour, noise, mayhem and moving moments of his journey so effectively.
In St Pat’s Hall on Sunday, multi-instrumentalist Adrian Sheriff and drum maestro Ted Vining took the audience on a fascinating journey that came with stories, but conveyed much via the simple musical exchanges between two accomplished players. I wish I’d been there for all of this.
In a festival that did not suffer at all from its forays into other traditions and cultures than the American jazz pantheon, there seemed to be – and these words are probably not ideal – concerts for the brain and concerts for the heart. In other words, some concerts took us on conceptual journeys and others just swept us up and carried us along with their vigour, energy or beauty.
Tilman Robinson at work with the AAO. Image: R. Mitchell
On Friday night in WPAC Theatre the Australian Art Orchestra presented Sometimes Home Can Grow Stranger Than Space, in which three composers – AAO director Peter Knight, Tilman Robinson and Andrea Keller – explored the lives of people damaged by war.
In Knight’s Sharp Folds, which offered glimpses of lingering parental grief, the individual words – voiced by Georgie Darvidis – were not all that easy to pick up amid the engrossing and intense accompanying music. Keller’s Bent Heart, which draws on the stories of three women, conveyed their angst so effectively that no words were needed, although the epilogue’s prayer “Cry heart but never break” stays with me. Robinson’s I Was Only A Child brilliantly drew on the rhythm and cadence of a recorded interview between a young student and a war veteran to show how awareness of war turns to nostalgia, its lessons unlearned. In content reminiscent of Lloyd Swanton’s monumental work Ambon, performed at Wangaratta in 2015, this AAO outing used music compositions and words most effectively, their messages lingering.
On Saturday evening in WPAC Theatre Sirens Big Band performed [A]part, trumpeter Ellen Kirkwood’s suite responding to world issues such as climate change, the refugee crisis and the omnipresence of the internet. As with Keller’s Bent Heart, this monumental work – comprising sweeping vistas, swelling and receding soundscapes and powerful solos from Sandy Evans on saxophone and Keller on piano – needed no words to convey drama, tension and agitation, as well as loss and suffering. Gian Slater’s vocal contributions were minimal but integral to this work, which was riveting from start to finish.
Alex Stuart performs with his quintet. Image: R. Mitchell
The quintet that expatriate Australian Alex Stuart brought from his home city Paris treated us to compositions from their album Aftermath, which explored the darkness in the world while celebrating its beauty and defiant joie de vivre. This versatile band – Stuart on guitar, Irving Acao on tenor saxophone and keyboards, Arno de Casanove on trumpet, keys and vocals, Antoine Banville on drums and Ouriel Ellert on electric bass – delivered sophisticated, varied and polished pieces in two outings. Stuart was unselfish in leading this collegiate ensemble, which displayed plenty of verve and drive along with intricacy and finesse in thoughtful compositions.
Sumire Kubayashi (Japan) at the piano. Image: Roger Mitchell
Another standout Australian artist with recent overseas experience was trumpeter Niran Dasika, who demonstrated confidence and soloing depth forged in Japan through playing a lot of gigs there. Clashing concerts prevented me hearing the whole of all but one of Dasika’s many festival outings, but on Sunday morning he joined Japan’s Sumire Kuribayashi on piano to play her Pieces of Colour compositions with Shun Ishiwaka (Japan) on drums, James Macaulay on trombone and Sam Anning on bass, with Adam Simmons on tenor saxophone for some pieces. This music was exquisitely beautiful, at times playful and also powerful, further proof that collaborations between Australian and Japanese artists bring great results.
I missed hearing the product of one such collaboration – James Macaulay on trombone leading the Hishakaku Quartet – in order not to miss superstars Andrea Keller on piano and Sandy Evans on reeds in an unprecedented duo at Holy Trinity Cathedral. Gender ought not to be an issue in music, yet this set of mostly ballads demonstrated the power, profundity and beauty of compositions and musicianship by two amazing women. Lilac Embers, dedicated to Richard Gill, was a delight.
Evans was among the host of jazz luminaries to perform in WPAC Theatre on Sunday in the dectet Ten Part Invention, introduced by the ensemble’s founder, John Pochee. In a spirited set that included Roger Frampton’s And Zen Monk, Paul Cutlan’s Nock on Effect, Evans’ Fortea Two and Miroslav Bukovsky’s no holds barred Plain Talk, this band showed why it remains at the peak of large ensemble achievements in Australia. My highlight was reedsman Andrew Robson’s Poets Must Keep an Eye on the Moon.
Germany’s Trio ELF was an instant hit with audiences at their Saturday evening concert in WPAC Theatre and on Sunday in the newly styled St Pat’s Hall with tables and a bar. Walter Lang on piano, Peter Cudek on acoustic bass and Gerwin Eisenhauer on drums added a little electronic wizardry and lots of humour to their melodically and rhythmically appealing compositions. Their approach made excellent use of sudden dramatic dynamic variations, beginning each piece with a simple tune repeated, adding effects, pumping up the volume and intensity via bass and expansive work from Eisenhauer, before returning to the fluid simplicity of the piano notes. Their cover of punk band Blink 182’s Down was a favourite.
Recently formed Quattro Club’s Saturday morning outing sported such an array of whistles and bells that I tried closing my eyes to concentrate on the feast of exploratory textures and timbres. Joel Hands-Otte played Bb Clarinet, bass clarinet, bamboo flute and a plastic pipe. Dan Gordon played tuba and bass flugelhorn. Mirko Guerrini played curved soprano sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, xaphoon, Pakistani flute and melodica. Niko Schauble was at the drum kit. It really was akin to kids building a series of projects with Lego blocks, yet without haste and with plenty of assurance. It possibly did not always hang together, but I loved the adventurous, unscripted approach.
Two long-form suite performances that I had heard previously and liked a lot, but did not get to at this festival – trumpeter Reuben Lewis’s I Hold the Lion’s Paw on Sunday and Cheryl Durongpisitkul’s Follow Me Through the Red Ash on Saturday – drew praise from many who attended.
One of the standout cultural collaborations at Wangaratta was The Three Seas, bringing modern jazz together with West Bengali folk music. Matt Keegan on saxophone joined Steve Elphick on bass, Raju Das Baul on vocals and khamak, Deo Ashis Mothey on vocals, guitar and dotora, and Gaurab Chatterjee on dubki, drums in two warmly engaging and virtuosic displays of musicianship on Friday and Sunday evenings. The interaction of Keegan with amazing vocalist Das Baul exemplified the close bonds formed among all these musicians, demonstrating again how well music succeeds in crossing boundaries.
I caught only part of another successful collaboration on Sunday afternoon when Julian Banks on saxophone joined Indonesian master percussionist Cepi Kusmiadi on the kendang sunda, a set of two-headed drums, along with James Hauptmann on drums and Chris Hale on bass. And I copped some justified criticism later that evening for not letting on in time that the Garden Quartet – featuring Iranian musician Gelareh Pour on kamancheh and voice, Mike Gallichio on electric guitar, Arman Habibi on santur and voice, and Brian O’Dwyer on drums – should not be missed.
Expectations can be dangerous. A restrained acoustic set in WPAC Theatre by guitarist Ben Hauptmann’s “ideal” septet of accomplished musicians was not what I had anticipated. It was a great line-up – Arne Hanna and Franco Raggatt on guitar, Harry Sutherland on piano, festival co-programmer Zoe Hauptmann on bass, James Hauptmann on drums and Evan Mannell on percussion – and there was no denying their musicianship, but selections played seemed more akin to French folk than jazz, and the pieces did not vary greatly.
I had no idea what to expect from the only US band, FORQ, which comprises Henry Hey on keyboards, Chris McQueen on guitar, Jason “JT” Thomas on drums and Kevin Scott on electric bass. In their final outing of two at the festival on Sunday night in WPAC Theatre they delivered an energetic rock-infused set, but nothing to rival the work of popular Snarky Puppy, of which McQueen is a member.
The fully pumped Orszaczky Budget Orchestra, fronted by Tina Harrod and Darren Percival on vocals, closed out the festival in St Pat’s Hall with a set so loud that I sought relief for my ears towards the back. I liked the setting of “Club St Pat’s” but missed the final night jam where musicians and fans mingled and celebrated music performed and music enjoyed.
To sum up in words what often speaks for itself, the eclectic mix of improvised music at 2018’s festival again delivered plenty to satisfy fans, again on a limited budget and this time without big internationally renowned names or a lot from the American songbook. Culturally diverse offerings worked well, as did the significant European contributions.
Some new, festival-initiated collaborations between visiting and Australian artists would have been icing on the cake.
Words were important in some instances, and the forceful messages of “concept-based” concerts by the AAO and Sirens will play on in my mind for some time.
More images of the festival will be posted when time permits.