SARAH McKENZIE SEXTET at Chapel Off Chapel
The first set was my last for this year’s Stonnington Jazz. A family commitment meant I had to leave before Paul Williamson and Friends, and could not make it to the Sunday gig with David Jones and Friends. I was not all that happy with my photographic efforts for this “last” gig. I was probably already switching out of festival mode and into family mode for my dad’s 90th birthday bash next day.
Sarah McKenzie Sextet
The sextet line-up was Sarah McKenzie on piano and vocals, Pat Thiele on trumpet, Carlo Barbaro on tenor sax, Hugh Stuckey on guitar, Sam Anning on bass and Craig Simon on drums.
Hugh Stuckey and Sam Anning
Hugh Stuckey and Carlo Barbaro
They played McKenzie originals Blues for Monty, Don’t tempt me and I got the blues tonight, as well as Cole Porter’s You’d be so nice to come home to, Sammy Fain’s That old feeling, and Duke Ellington’s Solitude.
McKenzie graduated from WAAPA with a Bachelor of Jazz (Composition) and has won a string of awards — the Jack Bendat Scholarship, the Hawaiian Award for “Most Outstanding Jazz Graduate”, the Perth Jazz Societies Award for the “Most Outstanding Group of the Year for 2008” and the 2009 James Morrison Scholarship for vocals (after being a finalist in the scholarship for six years).
Pat Thiele and Sarah McKenzie
As I’ve said previously, vocals are not my first preference when it comes to improvised music, but I regard each vocalist I hear as an opportunity to be educated. So what can I say about McKenzie’s performance? I think it is a big plus that her renditions of her original pieces had the same feel as the Cole Porter and Ellington classics, because the heritage of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday do seem important to this 22-year-old singer. Close your eyes and listen to McKenzie and it could be a much older woman singing, there is such power, depth and maturity in the voice. There is also warmth and conviction — when McKenzie sings “You’d be so nice to come home to”, she sings as if she has someone in mind. You know it’s not you, but you wish, in that moment, that it could be. That is a sign of how well the singer is projecting the feeling. And clearly McKenzie, as was evident when she sang In My Solitude, is not scared of emotion. She seems to be quite an open person, at least in her stage persona, and that is engaging.
McKenzie’s style of piano is expressive but forceful and that goes well with the hard-driving energy of the sextet. This is robust jazz and it will appeal to audiences who like strong grooves and a swingin’ vibe. McKenzie has the appeal — often people make a point of saying that she has the talent to match her looks — to be an ambassador for jazz. But should that burden be placed on a young musician who simply loves to perform?
New York Bound: Sam Anning
McKenzie announced after her first song that Sam Anning — who was not playing at quite all the Stonnington Jazz concerts — has won a full scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music in New York, NY. Congratulations to Sam. His departure will leave a huge gap in Melbourne and many bands will miss him. The Sarah McKenzie Sextet will be one of those.