Tag Archives: Bird’s Basement



Michael Tortoni on bass at the launch of World’s Best Jazz Club: The Story of Bennetts Lane by David James.        Image: Roger Mitchell


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.



Michael Tortoni takes a bow. Image: Roger Mitchell



Barney & John McAll

The McAlls: Barney and John   (Image at right supplied)


Monash Art Ensemble CD launch: Barney McAll’s Zephryix, 7.30pm Thursday, April 19, Bird’s Basement, Tickets from $29 + booking fee

John McAll’s Black Money launches new album, Secular, 5pm Sunday, April 22, Bird’s Basement, Tickets from $27 + booking fee

You don’t often catch the brothers McAll together on stage, but this week they are coming close to that congruence — performing in the same venue only days apart.

The first — and possibly the only time — these polished and passionate performers appeared together was during the Stonnington Jazz festival on May 23, 2012 at Chapel Off Chapel.

The creativity of these siblings is always evident, although Barney’s flamboyance and energy contrasts with the elder McAll’s distinguished and more reserved presence. Both are capable of splendiferous feats on piano.

Grammy nominated Barney McAll has played on over 100 recordings and has released 13 highly acclaimed solo albums. In Thursday’s concert he joins the critically acclaimed Monash Art Ensemble to perform his six-part suite, Zephyrix.

Barney was commissioned by the Monash Art Ensemble to compose this piece during his residency at the Peggy Glanville-Hicks composer house in 2015. “Whilst there, I had flashes of an image … half man, half bird with one large wing on its right side, dressed in business attire,” he explains.

“Following the abstract advice of this image I decided to fuse the Greek God Zephyr with the mythical Phoenix to create a new beast; the Zephyrix. It’s a hybrid creature which, for me, symbolises the bridging of tensions that occur between our mundane struggles and the evils of life, and the liberating creative expression of our true selves.

“Zephyrix is the musical embodiment of that tension, encapsulating both the strain and release of this dichotomy. It seeks to explore the dialectic between struggle and serenity, and illuminate the myriad of unseen colours, tones and potentials that are held within a new and ever-emerging mind (Metanoia).

“The five birds of alchemy and transformation have been invoked to summon the Zephyrix: Black Crow, White Swan, Peacock, Pelican and Phoenix. They are the sign posts that guide us on our journey toward true serenity and real happiness.”

Zephyrix was premiered at Sydney Conservatorium’s Verbrugghen Hall in October 2015.

The Monash Art Ensemble acts to support the development of excellence in young Australian musicians, foster a culture of innovation among established Australian musicians and encourage community engagement with Australian musicians and music.

The ensemble, founded by Paul Grabowsky in 2012, has successfully embraced this concept and offers a pathway for talented students to interact with and build this basis for a strong and uniquely Australian 21st century musician.

The impressive line-up for the MAE performance of Zephyrix is as follows:

Barney McAll, piano
Jordan Murray, trombone
Josh Bennier, trombone
Paul Williamson, trumpet
Eugene Ball, trumpet
Lachlan Davidson, flute
Lara Wilson, percussion
Phil Rex, bass
Kieran Raffetty, drums
Jonathan Cooper, tenor
Zac O’Connell, alto
Joel Hands-Otte, bass clarinet
Harry Tinney, guitar

Black Money — Secular

I have always associated John McAll with wide-screen cinematic performances, the big stage and large productions, but his work with Black Money is edgy and often darkly humorous. The first Black Money album was recorded in New Jersey in 2007 and released in 2009. Alter Ego followed in 2012, recorded and produced by the ABC’s Mal Stanley. This is a rare opportunity to hear the elder McAll up close.

An inaugural graduate of the VCA’s jazz course, pianist and composer John McAll has been in demand as a musician over two decades. He was musical director and producer of shows At Last The Etta James Story and Here Comes The Night, which sold out Hamer Hall and the Opera House. This Van Morrison homage incorporated the MSO and SSO with McAll’s orchestrations.

Now John is taking a break from producing the latest Black Sorrows album and a busy international touring schedule to release Secular, the third album in a trilogy. Rumour has it there may be special guests along with his Black Money line-up.

John McAll on piano will be joined in this album launch by:

Tim Wilson alto flute
Carlos Barbaro tenor saxophone
Madison Foley trumpet
James Macaulay trombone
Philip Rex bass
Hugh Harvey drums

John McAll has worked with artists such as Gregory Porter, Ross Wilson, Wycliffe Gordon, Brian Abrahams, Renee Geyer, Kate Ceberano and Nichaud Fitzgibbon, as well as playing international concert stages with The David Chesworth Ensemble, Vika Bull and The Black Sorrows.

Here’s a video of Black Money’s Jungle Love:



Joe Chindamo

Mike Nock and Albert Dadon watch as Joe Chindamo responds to his induction into the Graeme Bell Hall of Fame.


Australian Jazz Bell Awards 

The word is well and truly out on this year’s winners of the Australian Jazz Bell Awards and the Graeme Bell Hall of Fame recipient. The awards ceremony at Bird’s Basement on Monday 20 June were photographed and filmed by so many that it was often difficult for those at the tables to catch sight of those handing over the awards, the prize winners and the performers — which included the “house band” and winning artists.

This was the first of the Bells, named in honour of one of the greats in Australian jazz — the late Graeme Bell, MBE AO — to be held at Albert Dadon’s relatively new venue Bird’s Basement and the host showed obvious pride in his establishment and its capability to host such an event.

It worked pretty well. The food was excellent, wine flowed freely and Dadon even told the punters to keep quiet and listen while the band —  Phil Turcio on piano, Philip Rex on bass and Darryn Farrugia on drums — delivered upbeat and strong jazz. There was a good roll-up and, if anything, the numbers at each table, coupled with the fairly large chairs, meant there was less circulation by guests than in previous years because it was hard for some to get out of their seats easily.

The lighting — which I appreciate is not the point of the night — was nevertheless pretty awful, so that speakers at the mic were backlit by the screen behind and not lit at all from the front. (Those of us taking some photographs notice these things.)

This year, for the first time, nominations were accepted from voting members of the Australian Jazz Academy and the shortlist of nominees in each category judged by critics and jazz professionals from Australia and overseas.

Judges were Albert Dadon AM, Adrian Jackson, Martin Jackson, Gerry Koster, John McBeath, Carl Griffin, Thomas Glagow and Laurence Donahue-Greene.

Here are a few shots of the winners:

(I have left the other nominees in the list because they came close and deserve to share some glory.)

Best Australian Jazz Ensemble

David Theak

David Theak accepts the Bell Award on behalf of the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra.

Winner: Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra2015 Live Performance Compilation
Daniel SusnjarThe Daniel Susnjar Afro-Peruvian Jazz Group
Mace Francis OrchestraMusic For Average Photography

Best Australian Small Jazz Band (Up to 6 members)

Eugene Ball

Eugene Ball accepts the award on behalf of the Allan Browne Quintet.

Winner: Allan Browne Quintet – Ithaca Bound
Barney McAll + A.S.I.O. (Australian Symbiotic Improvisers Orbit) – Mooroolbark
Alister Spence TrioAlister Spence Trio: Live

Young Australian Jazz Artist of the Year (Musicians up to and including 25 years of age)

Olivia Chindamo

Olivia Chindamo with her Bell Award.

Winner: Olivia ChindamoKeep An Eye On Spring
James McLeanCounter Clockwork
Niran DasikaManticore (Phantom)

Best Australian Jazz Vocal Album

Kristin Berardi

Kristin Berardi accepts her Bell Award.

Winner: Kristin BerardiWhere Or When
Vince Jones + Paul GrabowskyProvenance
Olivia ChindamoKeep An Eye On Spring

Best Produced Album

Mike Nock

What a wonderful smile: Mike Nock accepts the Bell Award for him and Laurence Pike.

Winners: Mike Nock/ Laurence PikeBeginning And End of Knowing
Barney McAllMooroolbark
Angela DavisLady Luck

Best Australian Jazz Song/Composition of the Year

Barney McAll

Barney McAll speaks after receiving his Bell Award for Nectar Spur.

Winner: Barney McAllNectar Spur (Mooroolbark)
Julien Wilson QuartetWeeping Willow (This Narrow Isthmus)
Angela DavisA thousand Feet from Bergen Street (Lady Luck)

Best Instrumental Jazz Album

Barney McAll

Barney McAll accepts his Bell Award for the album Mooroolbark.

Winner: Barney McAllMooroolbark
Angela DavisLady Luck
Julien Wilson QuartetThis Narrow Isthmus

When the Hall of Fame inductee was announced, Joe Chindamo spoke for a while and then invited daughter Olivia to join him to perform. That was a fitting way to end the night.

Joe and Olivia Chindamo

Joe and Olivia Chindamo perform together as Bell recipients.

That’s about it for the evening, folks. Congratulations to those who came first and also to the runners up. It was my birthday and I left fairly early, so I have no gossip to impart.

My thanks to Prue Bassett.

I hope to post a few more images soon.

Roger Mitchell



Visit the Bell Awards website for more information.