Tag Archives: Jeremy Jankie

NOSTALGIA LIVES: THE JAZZLAB OPENS

The Jazzlab

Michael Tortoni makes a call in his new music venue, The Jazzlab.

PREVIEW:

The Jazzlab, 27 Leslie Street, Brunswick

I have a soft spot for nostalgia. I cling on to the familiar. In the jazz scene this year there have been some momentous changes, and I find it all too easy to wish things could stay as they have been.

When Adrian Jackson parted ways with Stonnington’s annual festival of Australian jazz, handing the artistic direction to a committee, I felt the resulting program had lost focus and lacked that special frisson that had been there when performers were brought together in unexpected and exciting combinations.

This year Adrian announced that he would not be retaining that role with the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues. Along with many musicians and fans of this wonderful weekend gathering, I deeply regretted this change and pined for a return to the status quo — a return, if you like, to the security of knowing that whatever budget constraints would assail the festival, there would still be the excitement of the unexpected.

Yet, also along with many diehard fans and musicians I suspect, the dawning realisation that Wangaratta in 2017 would be minus AJ (at least in his artistic director role) was tempered by the news that the festival’s “Programming Team” would include Melbourne’s Adam Simmons and SIMA’s Zoe Hauptmann. They have big shoes to fill, but their creativity and dedication to improvised music is undeniable. The unexpected, we hope, can be expected.

The final night at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in February 2017.

The final night at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club in February 2017.

In Melbourne, the Lazarus-like and, yes, iconic jazz venue Bennetts Lane closed its doors for the last time on February. When it closed for the first time I was overseas, but I heard that the farewell party then was a humdinger.

This year’s closure was a relatively quiet affair. As I left this wonderfully welcoming repository of live music, Megan Evans mentioned there were old posters by the door. I took home a large image of pianist Tim Stevens, which was a comfort.

My nostalgia and sense of loss was tempered by a few factors. Again change could not be arrested. And I was reminded of trumpah aficionado extraordinaire Scott Tinkler‘s blunt exhortation after Bennetts closed the first time: Get over it, there are many other venues for live, improvised music — Sonny’s Uptown Jazz Cafe, Paris Cat, The Brunswick Green, Lebowskis, 303 Northcote, Bar Open’s Make It Up Club, Bella Union to name just a few.

As well, we knew that new venues were on the way. Meg would be carrying the Bennetts Lane torch forward into a new city venue owned by David Marriner, at a date to be announced, but not early enough for this year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

Michael Tortoni makes some final tweaks to The Jazzlab.

Michael Tortoni makes some final tweaks to The Jazzlab.

And — we finally get to the point of this post — Michael Tortoni would be opening a new haunt for music hangs in a well-tuned warehouse in Leslie Street, Brunswick. Conveniently for Michael, artistic director of the MIJF, The Jazzlab will open in time to be one of the festival venues.

Jeremy Jankie

Jeremy before the bar opens.

The icing on the cake — though he hardly fits that description — is that our much-loved Jeremy Jankie of Bennetts Lane fame will be behind the bar at The Jazzlab.

I had a preview of this venue this week and all the signs are auspicious. It has the feel of the small room at Bennetts Lane (great feel, great acoustics) only larger.

Better still, my nostalgia can have free rein. The chairs are familiar. The tables are familiar. The wall clock is familiar. The stools are familiar (although much more comfortable now that they have been reupholstered). And the format is familiar. Patrons will be able find the bar with ease.

And what of the staircase, a valuable haunt at Bennetts Lane for photographers who wanted an elevated vantage point in a crowded room? Well, The Jazzlab’s stairs are much nicer, but I’m sceptical about photographers using them — we’d be on centre stage and under lights.

Expect musicians to descend the stairs, but don’t ask what they were doing up there. It’s hush hush.

Outside Tortoni’s warehouse Jazzlab there are signs of what’s to come. An acoustic bass appears on a nearby corner and a violinist sits atop the building.

Inside, behind the familiar tables, chairs and stools, there will be standing room. And that’s where you come in.

It’s “Doors 8pm, Music 9pm” for Fem Belling‘s quartet on Friday 7 April, followed by The Rookies from midnight.

Roger Mitchell

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THE PEOPLE WHO MADE BENNETTS LANE WORK

Some time this year, after the Melbourne International Jazz Festival is over and after what is sure to be one hell of a party, Melbourne will lose the venue which has been at the heart of improvised music in the city for many years. Who knows what will spring up in the way of alternatives to the iconic Bennetts Lane, but as jazz in this city moves on, Ausjazz has asked the people who worked there to reflect on their involvement with this most welcoming of live music venues.

Jeremy

Jeremy in a moment of quiet reflection on stage at Bennetts Lane.

JEREMY JANKIE

1.  Over what period have you been associated with BL and in what role(s)?
I’ve been at the club in various capacities since 1997. I started off building the website, then sitting at the door, then I got roped into bar work. From there I’ve moved on to managing the bar, doing sound, managing the club, and now I’m just that all-rounder guy that every venue needs.
2.      How did you come to work there? Was there a job interview?
I was sitting at the bar and overheard Michael and Meg talking about needing a website, I stupidly said “I can do that”.
3.      What was it like to work there?
Fun for most of it, stressful now and then, definitely an education on jazz.
4.      Could you enjoy the music or were you often too busy?
A bit of both, you don’t really get to ‘listen’ much, but every now and then there’s that lull in activity when you get to hear something because the entire room just stops to listen as something magical is happening on stage.
5.      Which was the most significant BL gig for you and who played?
The live recording for Chris Hale Ensemble (Chris, Steve Mags, Will Martina, and the late Will Poskitt), one of the few gigs where the entire thing was ‘magical’ as I mentioned above. It was an incredible gig which I still rate as one of the best I’ve ever seen, plus I got my moment on the recording when I accidentally dropped a plate. Sorry Chris 🙂
6.      What was your best experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
Harry Connick Jr. turned up with his band one night, a mate of mine was sitting in the audience and I wasn’t really working so I sat with him. Harry came and sat down on the other side of him, pulled a couple of Whoppers (the burgers) out of a bag and nonchalantly offered one to him. It was one of those completely surreal moments that showed musicians, no matter how high profile, were just normal people. We also had a couple paying their tab at the end of the night recently who told us that it was their wedding anniversary and that they had met on a blind date at Bennetts Lane. They’d been married for a few years and recently had a baby boy who they’d named Bennett. That was pretty cool.
7.      What was your worst experience at BL in dealing with punters and/or musicians?
I’ve had punches thrown at me a couple of times by people that really were in the wrong place and in the wrong state of mind (both punters and musos), but honestly they’re usually pretty good.
8.      Was the most obstreperous person you had to deal with at BL a musician, a punter, a photographer or a media person?
Musicians – they’re brothers too 🙂 I’m not going to name names, but it should be pretty obvious. They can be pains in the asses but great musicians, and we get along fine most of the time. I’ve had to drag a few punters out, including the one person who locked themselves in the toilet to try and see Prince. Media people are usually fine except for annoying photographers who take sneaky photos of you in bad poses and post them on the internet…
9.      Were audiences on the weekend or during festivals very different? If so, how?
Weekend audiences tend to like their jazz a little easier to digest, so they’re not really into the ‘hardcore’ jazz stuff, but honestly jazz is so broad a genre now that it’s hard to pigeonhole punters. People are a lot more informed now due to the internet, so they mostly know what they’re paying to see. As for festivals, I’m always entertained/perplexed at the number of people willing to pay premium prices to see a band that plays here regularly simply because they’re playing as part of a festival, but don’t turn up the rest of the year. They’re definitely worth the premium price, but you could be paying half as much and seeing the same band.
10.  How long was your longest continuous work shift at BL, and what was the occasion?
I’m going to take a stab and say one of the jazz fest gigs, probably 10am-4am
11.  Were your best times at BL during the gigs or after the punters left for the night?
Both — the Prince gigs were incredible, but after some of the early Cat Empire gigs Harry and Ollie used to do impromptu Macy Gray impressions which were hilariously fun. It’s all about ‘The Hang’
12.  Do you play an instrument?
I play terrible alto sax. I learned in high school, and I haven’t touched it since. I also had a couple of drum lessons with Danny Fischer who after the second one told me I was possibly the most uncoordinated person he’d ever met. Lucky he’s a mate 🙂
13.  If you have performed at BL, what was it like to be on stage rather than on the door or behind the bar?
That’s n/a unless you count introducing the band — and that’s pretty terrifying. Or mixing sound for a band, and then they decide to have a special guest vocalist at the last minute named Sting — that’s a no-win situation where if he sounds good it’s because he’s Sting, if he sounds bad, I screwed up. I’d rather be behind the bar thanks.
14.  What work or interests do you have outside BL, whether musical or not?
I did some work for an online game, a bit of website design, and I’ve just started booking bands part time at Cellar Bar in St Kilda.
15.  What plans do you have after the closure of BL?
I’m off to be a band booker at Cellar Bar (cellarbar.com.au), maybe a bit of travel, possibly see the sun again.
16.  What will you miss most about working there?
The people — we’ve had some great staff over the years, as well as some incredible musicians. I’m sure I’ll keep in touch with most of them though.
17.  Will there ever be another BL in Melbourne?
No. There will be replacements, and similar things to it, but you can never recreate it, and I don’t think anyone will try to. It was a rare combination of time/place/people that clicked and worked. That’s not to say there won’t be some great venues though, they just won’t be BL.
18.  What do you think made this jazz club so successful?
Me :p
More seriously, as I said it was the combination of a good location, and dedicated people who sacrificed their own time because they either loved what they were working for or felt the need to make it a better place for musicians to be musicians. Limits weren’t placed on what music could be performed (other than fitting that massively broad category of ‘jazz’), and it was curated in a way that while some gigs might not have a lot of people attending, other gigs could help subsidise that. It also helped get the word out there that if you wanted to go hear jazz, you could turn up any night of the week and find it at BL.

FROM CROWD TO CROWD

Crowds stream up the stairs at Melbourne Town Hall to hear The Greek Project.

Crowds climb the stairs at Melbourne Town Hall to hear The Greek Project.

PICTORIAL UPDATE: Sunday 1 June, 2014

Ausjazz visits two very different Melbourne International Jazz gigs that attracted large audiences:

Crowds about to take their seats for The Greek Project.

Crowds about to take their seats for The Greek Project.

How different can two concerts be? Hardly more so, it seemed, than The Greek Project at Melbourne’s town hall and Chris Dave with The Drumhedz at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club.

I had the chance to go to both. This is not a review (that’s for later), but a reflection on how it can work to leap from music melding the traditions of Greece with compositions of seeker and dreamer Charles Lloyd to the eclectic adventures of drum virtuoso Chris Dave and members of the rotating line-up in The Drumhedz. I had my doubts, but it worked.

It seemed most of Melbourne’s Greek community came out to hear Lloyd with “the voice of resistance”, revered singer Maria Farantouri. They left buzzing about the event.

The Greek Project musicians on stage at Melbourne Town Hall.

The Greek Project musicians on stage at Melbourne Town Hall.

I was given a ride to Bennetts Lane (thanks Debra), wondering — if truth be known — whether I was going to be a fish out of water at this fourth sold-out gig by Chris Dave and band over two nights. People were being turned away at the door as I entered.

Jeremy introduces Chris Dave and Drumhedz to a packed house at Bennetts Lane.

Jeremy introduces Chris Dave and Drumhedz to a packed house at Bennetts Lane.

Well, what a blast this turned out to be. I’ll say more in a festival review later, but this gig taught me two worthwhile lessons: don’t accept all the advice you are given about what will be good, don’t use YouTube clips as a guide to a live set of music.

Chris Dave

Chris Dave

Chris Dave and The Drumhedz played til late — so late the trains had run out when the music faded. There was an encore that, for me at the end of a busy day, went on a bit long. But this outing was definitely not dull.

Isaiah Sharkey on guitar and Marcus Strickland on sax.

Isaiah Sharkey on guitar and Marcus Strickland on sax.

I tried to get a decent snap of the crowded house at Bennetts, but pretty much failed. The image below does have people in it if you look closely.

I would like to hear the opinions of anyone who was at either of these two concerts on Sunday evening. Leave a comment. Especially I’d like to know what the many drummers and other musicians in the crowd thought about The Drumhedz.

ROGER MITCHELL

Around midnight and Bennetts Lane is jam-packed for the fourth Drumhedz gig.

Around midnight and Bennetts Lane is jam-packed for the fourth Drumhedz gig.