Tag Archives: Michael Tortoni

SO WHO DID RESCUE MELBOURNE’ S JAZZ?

Tortoni

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

FOR THE RECORD

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.

ROGER MITCHELL

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Michael Tortoni takes a bow. Image: Roger Mitchell

 

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FINDING COMMON GROUND

Maceo Parker with The Meltdown in A Tribute to Ray Charles.

Maceo Parker with The Meltdown in A Tribute to Ray Charles.  (Image supplied)

QUICK PREVIEW

Melbourne International Jazz Festival, 1-10 June, 2018

Program details are now out for the 21st MIJF, which this year aims to demonstrate that “jazz can happen anywhere”. Over 10 days more than 100 events will feature almost 400 Australian, international and emerging artists.

The usual detailed preview of the festival will be published when time permits, but here is a taste of what’s on offer.

There will be 26 venues across the city, from the Hamer Hall to small clubs, as well as cafes in Melbourne’s west. Among free festival community events will be Jazz Massive – a participatory mass-music making event on the lawns of State Library Victoria.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival Artistic Director, Michael Tortoni, says this year’s festival illustrates that jazz is the common ground that brings together a diversity of artists, genres and experiences.

“This year our program focuses on the waves of influence that jazz has – both within itself and also the influence it has on other music genres. We are really excited to showcase some of the future directions of this vital and ever-evolving art form,” Tortoni says.

Madeleine Peyroux

Madeleine Peyroux                      Image: Shervin-Lainez

International artists will include funk legend Maceo Parker (USA) paying tribute to Ray Charles, jazz-blues chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux (USA), the “(inter)stellar” Sun Ra Arkestra (USA) and Yemen Blues (USA). Modern masters will include Branford Marsalis (USA), Gretchen Parlato (USA), Christian McBride (USA) and Terri Lyne Carrington (USA); alongside future masters such as Nubya Garcia (UK) and Francesco Cafiso (Italy).

Australian artists on the festival program will include The Others, a collaboration between Paul Grabowsky AO, James Morrison and Kram that wowed the audience in its debut at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues in 2017, Harry James Angus’s new project, Struggle With Glory, and Brenton Foster as the recipient of the PBS Young Elder of Jazz Commission.

Melbourne-based Barney McAll will premiere two works: Trilogy of Cycles at Birrarung Marr’s Federation Bells and Sweet Sweet Spirit featuring music by the great gospel composer Doris Akers at Darebin Arts and Entertainment Centre.

The festival’s international exchange program with the Tokyo and Singapore jazz festivals is supporting the development and world premiere of The Gravity Project, which brings together contemporary Japanese and Australian improvisers Paul Grabowsky AO, Masaki Nakamura, Kuniko Obina and Aaron Choulai and the Chok Kerong Trio from Singapore.

Jazz Out West returns with local DJ, radio broadcaster and music personality Mz Rizk as guest programmer, focusing on experiences not usually found in a jazz festival, including a cross-genre tribute to high priestess of soul: Nina Simone and emerging crossover artists Thando, Cool Out Sun, KillaHertz and Kalala & The Round Midnights.

Free events will include the return of Sound Walks throughout the city, lunchtime concerts at St James and the long-running artist workshops and Close Encounters series, which has expanded to include career development workshops led by industry experts and practitioners including Chelsea Wilson (Brunswick Music Festival), Fem Belling (The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra), and Marcus Strickland (Christian McBride’s New Jawn / Twi-life).

Family-friendly festival events include Lah-Lah’s Big Jazz Adventure and the Melbourne Mass Gospel Choir at Southern Cross Lane.

There are some venue changes. Sonny Rehe’s Uptown Jazz Cafe is not on board this year, which is a pity as it has contributed substantially to the line-up of artists in past years. The Toff in the Town was a last-minute inclusion last year, but won’t feature this year.

Club Sessions will be held at The Jazzlab in Brunswick,  Dizzy’s Jazz Club in Richmond, Lido Jazz Room in Hawthorn and Southside Jazz Room in Elsternwick.

Larger concerts will take place in Hamer Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre, 170 Russell and Darebin Arts Centre. Jazz Out West gigs will be spread over a wide range of venues.

Full program details are now available at the MIJF website.

ROGER MITCHELL

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