Tag Archives: Billie Holiday

FESTIVAL TAKES TO THE SKIES

Hiromi

Hiromi is among artists who will fly Qatar Airways to Melbourne. (All About Jazz image)

Ausjazz blog previews the Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2012, which was launched on March 13:

The hubbub on level 24 of The Langham in Melbourne gave way to attentive silence yesterday evening as Murphy’s Law treated the assembled multitude to about four minutes of Big Creatures & Little Creatures: The Modular Suite.

The music was a welcome relief from the necessary formalities of the official launch of this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival, which will run from June 1 to June 10.

If the fragment of this commissioned work by Tamara Murphy was any indication, its full performance at Bennetts Lane as part of the festival’s Club Sessions will be compelling.

And if the question on everybody’s lips as program details emerged was how the festival’s focus under artistic director Michael Tortoni would differ from its direction under Sophie Brous, the real story of the night was about a key sponsorship.

As Melbourne’s music glitterati watched a promotional video about the delights of the Middle East state of Qatar, it was dawning on us all what a coup it was to bag Qatar Airways as a festival sponsor. The benefit is obvious — it will be much cheaper to fly in international artists, thus countering to some extent the isolation of Australia from the jazz hotspots of the United States and Europe.

So who are the big names and what is the flavour of this festival? Tortoni described the focus as “jazz royalty alongside the voice of a rising generation” and said MIJF 2012 was “all about what jazz is when the talking stops and the music starts”. Well, every festival has to have its catchphrases, but to take up his theme with another well-worn phrase, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

An initial glance at the program shows it is not overly adventurous, and represents less of a challenge — or an enticement — to audience groups on the fringes of more straight ahead jazz. The very popular multi-stage day of music madness and mayhem at Melbourne Town Hall will not take place this year, due to an absence of sponsorship and most likely of Sophie Brous. That’s a pity, because that gave the recent festivals a welcome edge that it must now fall to the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival to fill.

The main international artists include pianist McCoy Tyner revisiting the 1963 John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album, this time with vocalist Jose James and saxophonist Chris Potter.

Potter will also perform some of his own material with Sydney’s Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra as well as some commissioned Australian material. This should be exciting.

James will also feature in the Robert Glasper Experiment, “an Australian premiere event that smashes stylistic boundaries to reshape the future directions of jazz” by “taking hip-hop, R&B, soul and post-modern jazz to never-before-seen places”.

For lovers of Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, US vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater will visit Melbourne for the first time, and also from the ‘States’, Patti Austin will perform a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald with one matinee and one evening performance.

The familiar vocal extravaganza at the Palais this year is entitled “The Way You Look Tonight” featuring Katie Noonan, Vince Jones and Kristin Berardi in an opening night gala.

Likely to attract a much younger audience will be keyboardist-composer Hiromi (Japan/USA) who blends jazz with progressive rock and classical styles. Her first concert will open with US bassist Robert Hurst joining locals Jamie Oehlers and Dave Beck.

Hiromi’s second gig will be a double bill with the Israeli Eli Degibri Quartet, featuring 16-year-old prodigy Gadi Lehavi on piano.

A film-themed package will feature five-time Grammy Award winner and cinematic composer Terence Blanchard on trumpet (in a quartet with Brice Winston on tenor, Fabian Almazan on piano and Kendrick Scott on drums), Australia’s Joe Chindamo performing his arrangements of Coen Brothers film music and an ACMI Jazz on Film program.

The Salon at MRC will host three concerts with Monash University under the Jazz Futures banner featuring the Terence Blanchard Quintet, The Fringe (with George Garzone on sax) and Tarbaby (with Oliver Lake on alto sax).

The Fringe and Tarbaby will also perform at a new venue for this festival, the Comedy Theatre. These outings should keep us awake.
From Europe will come bassist Renaud Garcia-Fons, appearing in the Arcoluz Trio at the MRC after a real highlight opener of pianist Luke Howard with Janos Bruneel (Belgium) on bass.

Samuel Yirga Quartet from Ethiopia will feature the piano prodigy at the Comedy Theatre, opened by locals The Black Jesus Experience.
For lovers of the Hammond B3 (and I’m one), Dr Lonnie Smith (USA) will perform at Bennetts Lane.

In the Club Sessions, Motif from Norway will feature along with Robert Hurst and the Luca Ciaria Quartet from Italy.
Allan Browne Sextet will celebrate the launch of Conjuror — a collection of his jazz poetry — in two sets which should be a festival standout. Sandy Evans will join Lloyd Swanton and Toby Hall for a special closing night celebration presented with the Melbourne Jazz Cooperative.

The Melbourne International Jazz Festival opens on June 1.

ROGER MITCHELL

STONNINGTON JAZZ 2010 — DAY 10

SARAH McKENZIE SEXTET at Chapel Off Chapel

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Sarah McKenzie

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
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.

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Hugh Stuckey and Sam Anning

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Pat Thiele

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
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.

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Sarah McKenzie

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).

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
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.

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Sarah McKenzie

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?

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
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.

 Sarah McKenzie Sextet
Sarah McKenzie

TO HELL AND BACK, THE BEAT GOES ON

INTERVIEW / STONNINGTON JAZZ 2010

Allan Browne

Before his quintet ushers the Stonnington Jazz audience into
A Season In Hell, Allan Browne tells ROGER MITCHELL of his personal journey to the brink

ALLAN Browne has had his season in hell. In 2002 the drummer was staring death in the face and escaped by undergoing a lung transplant operation that meant time away from his beloved drum kit.

But the self-taught and self-effacing musician, who was consumed by a love for traditional jazz before being enticed away by the freedom he saw in Jack DeJohnette’s interaction with pianist Keith Jarrett in the late 1960s, found serious illness had some benefits.

Enforced idleness enabled Browne to reawaken his interest in poetry and literature that years of “living fast” had put on hold.

“Being very sick was an enormous help, because I was just at home,” Browne says. “I read Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past in a year at home and it was a really beautiful, sustaining thing because I thought I was dying, so it was a great way to go out.”

On recovering, Browne found he wanted to play more and more music.

“There was a spiritual difference too. Facing death and being given another chance is really an incredible way of becoming deeper spiritually — a way of helping you understand yourself.”

Browne’s love of Kenneth Slessor’s poetry was the inspiration for the Australian Jazz Band 2006 album Five Bells, and with his quintet in 2007 he released The Drunken Boat, inspired by the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud.

Now the quintet, comprising composers Eugene Ball (trumpet) and Geoff Hughes (guitar) along with Browne, Nick Haywood on bass and Philip Noy on alto and bass saxophones, has released A Season in Hell, inspired by Rimbaud’s prose poem.

“It’s a very dark record. It’s not violent, but it’s dark,” Browne says. “It’s Rimbaud’s response to his time with poet Paul Verlaine, who ran away from his wife to become Rimbaud’s lover. It’s the pages of the diary of a damned soul.”

Such dark subject matter has produced deeply moving music. “The harmonies are pretty modern,” Browne says. “Phil Noy is one of the stars — he just plays so beautifully. And we recorded it in a big room, as Miles Davis did with Kind of Blue. We were trying to get an acoustic vibe.”

Browne brings a love of melody and equality to the ensemble.

“I’m coming from a melodic place because my whole background was learning melodies. I can tell the introduction to any Billie Holiday song, I can tell you what song it is. Or any Louis Armstrong Hot Five or King Oliver, practically, or Jelly Roll Morton. That’s always in me and it makes me play differently.”

“The only reason I liked the George Lewis band back in 1960 was that in the whole six-piece ensemble everyone was playing together. That’s what I like about jazz. Now when I play with Marc (Hannaford) or Sam (Anning) or the quintet we are all playing together, we are not backing each other.”

Browne, who celebrates 50 years in jazz at Stonnington Jazz this afternoon (Sunday), will perform A Season in Hell with the quintet as well as a set of New Orleans trio music from the twenties with his wife, Margie Lou Dyer, on piano and vocals, and Jo Stevenson on clarinet.

He could easily become emotional.

“Honestly, you go to another plane psychologically. It’s a spiritual thing really, it’s that important,” Browne says of his most moving gigs.

“There are times when I just cry on stage. I think, ‘This is just amazing. This is what I did all that practice for this week and why I put up with not earning any money and not having any superannuation. This is worth it. This is something that other people don’t know’.”

Allan Browne Celebrates 50 Years in Jazz at 2pm today, Chapel Off Chapel

Ausjazz blog will cover many of the gigs at this festival, which runs until May 30. For details of concerts, visit the festival website.

A condensed version of this article was published in the Play section of the Sunday Herald Sun on May 23, 2010