Tag Archives: Albert Dadon

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

IMG_2050_mono_1500x

Michael Tortoni takes a bow. Image: Roger Mitchell

 

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OF BIRD’S, BENNETTS AND BEYOND

Ravi Coltrane's quartet at Bird's Basement

Ravi Coltrane’s quartet at Bird’s Basement

REFLECTION

Ravi Coltrane at Bird’s Basement, Singers Lane, Melbourne on Sunday, March 6, 2016

IT HAS been said often in recent months, but there’s a lot of live music happening in Melbourne, plenty of it being jazz / improvised. That can’t be bad.

But as venues proliferate, the challenge remains to really get more Melburnians — and visitors to town — off their couches and out there listening, hopefully on a regular basis.

Change has been in the air for Melbourne’s jazz scene since the closing of Bennetts Lane Jazz Club after last year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival and the shift of regular Melbourne Jazz Co-operative gigs to Sonny Rehe’s Uptown Jazz Cafe in Fitzroy. Then Bennetts staged its most convincing Lazarus-like recovery pending the advent of developer David Marriner’s planned incarnation of the iconic venue in Flinders Lane  at a date to be fixed.

Patrons file into Bird's Basement to hear Ravi Coltrane

Patrons file into Bird’s Basement to hear Ravi Coltrane

Early this month (March 2016) Albert Dadon launched his Bird’s Basement club in the appropriately named Singers Lane close to Flagstaff Station, opening with seven nights of “jazz royalty” as reedsman Ravi Coltrane played two concerts a night in the slick, custom-built basement.

There had been much talk in jazz circles about whether the Bird’s Basement model of an early dinner show and a separate supper show would work, and how long the extensive resources of Dadon could sustain the new venue if he built it and crowds did not come. Ironically, that question came up recently in the small venue Conduit Arts in Fitzroy, host to many creative and superb performances over recent years. Now, it seems, Conduit Arts will be closing.

In this context, it was with great interest that I took my camera to Bird’s Basement for the supper show on the final night of Ravi Coltrane’s stint with Glenn Zaleski on piano, Kush Abadey on drums, Dezron Douglas on acoustic bass. Coltrane played tenor and sopranino sax. (The names of Coltrane’s band members were not listed on printed material at the club, as far as I could see. I am indebted to John McBeath for letting me know that I had two members of the line-up wrong in this post earlier.)

Bird's Basement has a blue note

The ambience at Bird’s Basement has a blue note

A few remarks about the venue. After years of feeling familiar and comfortable in the two rooms at Bennetts Lane, at which patrons find their own way to tables or single seats, I felt strangely formal in having Bird’s staff conducting patrons to seats.

I can say without reservation that all of the many staff at Bird’s were unfailingly friendly, welcoming and helpful. Ordering and delivery of drinks was smooth and payment at or shortly before the gig ended did not disrupt the music.

Being on my own, I was initially taken to a seat at the bar, but a more suitable vantage point for taking photographs was soon found.

Ticket purchase and seat allocation are no doubt still evolving, but I found the Ticketek process awkward and unsatisfactory. In the process of registering I ended up with two tickets in my checkout basket with no obvious way to remove one. Also, seat allocation was impossible without knowing the seating plan at Bird’s, which apparently changes according to numbers booked.

As for ambience, it’s all very blue and a little shiny. It seems a pity that patrons and waiting staff have to cross in front of tables to get to the far side tables, and there is no standing area at the back where the press of punters can build the sort of excitement often felt, for instance, in the small room at Bennetts. Bird’s Basement has a refined feel that may appeal more to those used to dinner with their music.

But musicians and patrons seem to agree that the acoustics are good, as may be expected in a purpose-built space.

Johnathan Blake

Kush Abadey enthuses from the drum kit

Now for a mention of the music. Given that this was the final night of seven paired performances, the attentiveness and enthusiasm of this quartet was pleasing. I was mightily impressed with Kush Abadey at the drum kit and Glenn Zaleski at the piano.

With Coltrane on tenor for his originals Coincide and Candlewood Path, Ralph Alessi’s Who Wants Ice Cream, and another brief piece, the quartet delivered compelling, intelligent jazz in which the leader left plenty of space for his young rhythm section to show its undoubted prowess. Abadey often seemed to drive proceedings.

Coltrane’s tenor forays included brief statements that said a lot without any attempt to dominate, leaving us wanting more. He closed the concert on sopranino, firing up on Billy Strayhorn’s Lush Life and John Coltrane’s Equinox, appropriately resisting any temptation to announce the latter with a paternal reference.

Bird’s debut week must rate as a success, but the real tests will come when international artists are not on the bill. And it will be interesting to see whether this venue linked loosely to New York’s Birdland will attract new patrons to live music or tap into the numbers already turning up to Bennetts Lane, Uptown, Paris Cat, The Brunswick Green and other Melbourne venues.

Bird’s Basement has a long way to go before it develops the rich history that adds significantly to a well-established and much-loved venue. But the music is what counts and nostalgia should not be overrated.

Rightly or wrongly, I felt that I ought to dress up for Bird’s — that it possibly was a bit flash for my taste and may attract a different crowd. If so, that could work and would help provide work for local musicians as well as imports. But let’s see.

Meanwhile, the following night I sat in a familiar chair in the small room at Bennetts Lane to hear Tim Stevens deliver 13 brand new and unnamed compositions with help from Dave Beck and Ben Robertson. It had a different feel.

ROGER MITCHELL

 

 

AND THE WINNERS ARE …

Graeme Bell

Jazz great Graeme Bell addressed last year’s awards via video.

AWARDS NIGHT

On Thursday next week, May 2, at the Regent Theatre Ballroom, the glitterati of the  national jazz scene will gather for the 2013 Australian Jazz Bell Awards.

Sadly, Graeme Bell, MBE, AO, after whom these awards are named, died last year, so it will be the first ceremony without him. One of the most respected Australian jazz musicians, Bell was unable to attend the 2012 awards night, but addressed the gathering via a video link. This year’s ceremony will feature a special tribute to this talented artist.

Hard-working and talented musicians often struggle to find the money to record and release their work, so the $5000 prizes in each category of these awards can make a huge difference. A Bell Award also looks pretty good on a musician’s CV.

No attempt to rate musicians’ work will satisfy everyone, but the 2013 Bell Awards judging panel is a talented bunch of luminaries, drawn from Australia and overseas, who are closely associated with improvised music. They are Adrian Jackson, Albert Dadon, Gerry Koster, Laurence Donohue-Greene, Martin Jackson, Michael Tortoni, John McBeath and Rob Burke.

The awards recognise and encourage excellence in the performance, creativity, recording and presentation of jazz in Australia.

In case you have not caught up with this year’s final nominees in each category, here they are:

Best Australian Jazz Vocal Album:
Chris McNulty – The Song That Sings You Here
Gian Slater/Jamie Oehlers – The Differences
Michelle Nicolle Quartet – Mancini

Most Original Australian Jazz Album:
Barney McAll – Graft
Yitzhak Yedid- Arabic Violin Bass Piano Trio
Marc Hannaford- Sarcophile

Best Australian Contemporary Jazz Album:
Jamie Oehlers Quartet Feat. Ari Hoenig – Smoke And Mirrors
Stephen Magnusson – Magnet
Bernie McGann – Wending

Best Australian Traditional Jazz Album:
Flap! – A Great Day For The Race
Shirazz – Enjoy Responsibly
Zohar’s Nigun – The Four Questions

Best Australian Jazz Song of the Year:
Barney McAll – Nostalgia For The Present
David Ades – Joe The Kid
Mace Francis – Land Speed Record

Best Australian Jazz Ensemble:
David Ades – A Glorious Uncertainty
Jamie Oehlers Quartet Feat. Ari Hoenig – Smoke And Mirrors
Murphy’s Law – Big Creatures & Little Creatures

Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year:
Steve Barry – Steve Barry
Callum G’Froerer – City Speaks
Samuel Pankhurst – Sarcophile

The winner of the Graeme Bell Hall of Fame – in recognition of an outstanding career – will be announced on the night.

The Australian Jazz Bell Awards

ROGER MITCHELL

Bell Awards winners

Winners of the 2012 Australian Jazz Bell Awards.