Tag Archives: Bernie McGann


Dr Tony Gould and the honourable Scott Tinkler

Dr Tony Gould and the honourable Scott Tinkler


Moreland City Phoenix Project, Saturday 12 December at 7.30pm, Cross Street Music Hall, 11-17 Cross St, East Brunswick

I don’t know who took the photograph above, but what a great shot of these esteemed gentlemen.

When I read the headline on the accompanying flyer — Handing over the baton concert — I jumped to the erroneous conclusion that Dr Tony Gould was to assume command of the band from the mercurial Scott Tinkler, exponent extraordinaire of trumpah.

Obviously I was wrong, because Gould is taking the patron’s baton after the death of that giant of Australian music, Peter Sculthorpe. And so the baton passes from one wonderful musician to another. Tinky, as the band leader is sometimes dubbed, will presumably stay at the helm.
So, after a hiatus of six months, the Moreland City Phoenix Project will rise again to perform in concert again on Saturday.
The “Handing Over the Baton” concert will open with Gould playing a Sculthorpe composition. That is surely reason enough to turn up. He will also perform with Tinkler.
The concert will also include compositions and arrangements by band member Cathy Connor (including an arrangement of a Bernie McGann piece) and  also a selection of new compositions by Jim Cuomo (also a band member), Sam Keevers, and Bob Sedergreen (arranged by Sonja Horbelt) and other composers.
Admission by donation.



Joseph O'Connor

Joseph O’Connor

REVIEW: Joseph O’Connor Trio / McDougall-Noy-Murphy, Chapel Off Chapel, Thursday 22 May, 8pm for Stonnington Jazz

As Sun Ra may have put it, space is the place, and both sets at the Chapel had plenty of that highly prized attribute in improvised music — space. OK, so in space no one can hear you scream, but when you listen to music that is open and airy, there may be room to dream.

James Macauley

James McLean

It was evident throughout the Joseph O’Connor trio’s set. There was an acceptance of space in Sotto Vocce in the way the three instruments — O’Connor on piano, Marty Holoubek on bass and James McLean on drums — acted cooperatively yet independently, intervening and then withdrawing as the piece developed. McLean’s sparse work on the drum kit had plenty of it.

Marty Holoubek

Marty Holoubek

In the standard Solitude, Holoubek’s bass was open, airy, relaxed and unhurried, with room to move. And the ballad Fractured Symmetry had notes splaying and spilling everywhere, with fragments, short runs and again that welcome space.

Originally from Brisbane, pianist Joseph O’Connor is completing a PhD course at Monash University. He won first prize in the National Jazz Awards at Wangaratta Jazz last year.

This outing demonstrated his delicacy of touch, expression (in Paul Bley’s Carla), his ability to enter a piece so lightly and convey just the right feel (in Ellington’s Solitude) and his gentle swing (in Noy’s Lady Lachs Schinken). Possibly it may have been good for O’Connor also to play some pieces allowing stronger, more emphatic work at the keys, with greater drive and dynamic variation. In other words, a taste of O’Connor let off the leash and a little more out there would have been nice. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of that in concerts to come.

That said, this was definitely a set of therapeutic or healing music that was good for the soul. It confirmed that the judges at Wangaratta chose well from a highly talented group of finalists in the National Jazz Awards.

And speaking of therapeutic music with plenty of space, the second set delivered more of both.

One of the greats (and great guys) of Australian jazz, Stonnington Jazz patron and drummer-bandleader Allan Browne, was unable to make this gig for health reasons. We wish him a quick return to the stage. Rory McDougall, who plays with Aaron Choulai, Sam Zerna and The Putbacks, stepped in.

According to bassist Tamara Murphy, pianist Andrea Keller had been in the line-up, but was away touring, so saxophonist Phil Noy stepped in. This trio began and ended the set with Bernie McGann — the recently departed saxophonist’s Brownsville to start and Murphy’s moving tribute Bernie to close. McDougall’s solo in this was assured and he engaged in some nice exchanges with Noy, who opened with a solo full of subtleties. Murphy’s playing is always interesting in the best sense — imaginative and never predictable.

Phil Noy

Phil Noy

In a beautifully controlled solo in The Opposite of Afar, Noy reached some distinctive high notes that I find it hard to describe, but they a had a special quality, being penetrating yet not at all forced.

Tamara Murphy

Tamara Murphy

Murphy’s solo in this seemed considered, deliberate and crafted with a lot of care — I’m not sure whether that will mean anything because I appreciate that much of what musicians perform ought to fit that description. But in this case that aspect seemed particularly evident.

During The Two Bears (Noy) I reflected that Noy was delivering a soft, yet full sound on reeds that was often floating as if on a cushion of air. There were no squawks and no sharp edges. His solo in Stablemates (Benny Golson) had just the right amount of swing. Great piece. Hoo Hoo, a ballad Noy wrote in Tasmania, had some more of those intriguing  higher notes plus a tiny vibrato, and Murphy produced a slow solo with enough space to let the light of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem lyric get in.

Rory McDougall

Rory McDougall

Maybe the Allan Browne vibe hung around for this concert despite his absence because this trio worked really well. McDougall’s brief solo in Staples (Noy) was great, and during the closing Bernie I was musing on the way in which the timbres of all three instruments were on out there to be enjoyed.

Space is indeed the place and there was plenty in the Chapel on this occasion.



Bernie McGann

Bernie McGann at work.

The music made that afternoon to an audience of one was some of the most vital, living, emotional and highly skilled producing of art that this listener had ever heard. Anywhere.

Sonny Rehe of Uptown Jazz Cafe has penned some words in tribute to his friend Bernie McGann, whose recent loss has been felt deeply in the jazz community. It is a privilege to pass them on:

Sonny Rehe

Sonny Rehe

It is difficult to describe someone so utterly dedicated to their art form, whose sincerity is so deep it just never stops flowing. You tend to run out of adjectives.

Effortlessly inspirational, Bernie McGann’s kudos can probably best be “described” by one Friday afternoon rehearsal at Uptown not so long ago, in preparation for a performance later that night. First to arrive, Bernie sat patiently puffing on a Dr Pat while the lazy afternoon sun thought about setting.

Slowly the rest of the band enters, beaming upon seeing Bernie’s face, and the instrumentation takes shape. Ready to begin, Bernie says a couple of things about the first tune, takes a pause and proceeds to count it in.

Having played through the melody, the band starts to relax, preparing to finish this tune off and move on to the next one, when out of nowhere like some angel from a far away time and place, Bernie sets off on one of the most heavenly, serious improvisations you’ve ever heard. I mean he starts swinging his absolute ass off, blowing so heavy it’s as if all our lives depend on it — at this very moment, now.

The band (all well known collaborators) in a mixture of shock and adulation, scuffles to wake up to the situation they’ve found themselves in, and within seconds everyone goes from their warm-up mode to their absolute A-game.

In this room with the soft sunlight coming in the windows, one man is throwing everything he has at the music he’s playing, and it’s mastery level.

What was essentially a “sound check” just transformed into the most serious musical circumstance, somehow including me as sole witness, furtive glances of acknowledgement coming from the band.

Bernie continues to play each tune in the session with the same full-spectrum committed dedication, taking full length, thoughtful, evolving solos. Each successive tune is approached as if this is the crystallisation of the masterpiece you’d been so close to making your whole life, as if THIS IS IT.

And this is at the rehearsal!

You have never seen such an attentive, inspired, excited and fully concentrated rhythm section. The music made that afternoon to an audience of one was some of the most vital, living, emotional and highly skilled producing of art that this listener had ever heard. Anywhere.

Still partly in shock at the end of the hit, the band shuffles about a little, not quite recognising the afternoon, while a relaxed Bernie sits down like a contented leader does after a successful event, peels a banana and eats a sandwich that his beloved wife Addie made for him that morning in Sydney.

The last night I ever hung with Bernie, after one of his most sublime performances, he was uncustomarily happy about the concert. When I asked him what he enjoyed about it, he replied, “I dunno, I just managed to find some space in there. That’s all I’m really after; just wanna find some s p a c e . . . .”

I’ll always remember that at our parting moment, dropping him at his hotel that night, Bernie was happy.


Uptown Jazz Cafe