AFTER days of sunshine uncharacteristic to British Columbia, Canada, it is a grey day in Prince Rupert. That seems appropriate as I feel a deep sense of loss, sharing at a distance what many are feeling — a sense of disbelief that Allan Browne is no longer with us.
He was supposed to be the host for the final night at Bennetts Lane. He was supposed to carry on the tradition of Monday nights, at Uptown. He was supposed to always be there, to bring us warmth and laughter and the love of music that welled deep within him and emerged so often in that heartfelt endorsement from the drum kit, “yeaaaaahh”.
Others have written tributes to Al in the past few days that have moved us and brought tears and a realisation of what he meant to so many. His presence — and now absence — has been in my mind so much since I heard the news. Not unexpected, it may be, as Adrian Jackson observed, yet hard to accept all the same.
Allan once wrote of his close friend and fellow musician, the late bassist Gary Costello, “I still can’t get used to the past tense, a future without Gaz is unthinkable yet. We both loved e.e.cummings …” Well, I’m certain that many of us will be thinking that a future without Al Browne is unthinkable yet, and that we won’t get used to talking about him in the past tense.
This was supposed to be a review of this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival, which would have been hard enough after the wrench from that bustle of gigs and the imminent closure of Bennetts Lane into the mode of international travel. Now it must be about Al Browne, whose quintet brought us a new work, Ithaca Bound, inspired by Homer’s Odyssey. Allan’s odyssey has ended, but his journey will remain with us.
The recent loss of Ornette Coleman is also deeply felt. His great contribution to improvised music will also sustain us long into the future.
It feels as if the jazz scene in Melbourne is in a period of major change. Bennetts Lane is closing, but, as Marc Hannaford points out, there are many outlets for jazz in the city. Also, new venues will arise from the ashes of Bennetts — they will have to develop their own character and characters over time.
Cuts to the ABC meant that Gerry Koster, host of Jazz Up Late, had to move on. Let’s hope he can bring his breadth of knowledge and taste for adventure into something new, because the demise of his program was a significant loss. As was the separation of Adrian Jackson from the programming of Stonnington’s festival of Australian jazz. The new arrangement may have soul, but I am yet to be convinced that it has that rare ability to bring us exciting and unexpected juxtapositions of players in what has been one of my favourite festivals.
Funding shortfalls have also curbed the nurturing and mentoring role of Martin Jackson’s Melbourne Jazz Cooperative. It will have a new home at Sonny’s Uptown Jazz Café, which is great, but it may be necessary to mount a public campaign to gain more financial backing for this vital cog in the Melbourne jazz machine.
But we move on. Jazz is, after all, about improvisation. The musicians make decisions on the run every time they play, and we mostly love the results. What will the rest of this year and the next bring to the Melbourne scene? We await that with interest.
Vale Allan Browne. See ya, mate.
In 2010, before his quintet ushers the Stonnington Jazz audience into his quintet’s suite A Season In Hell, Allan Browne tells of his personal journey to the brink: CLICK TO READ THE INTERVIEW