Tag Archives: STONNINGTON JAZZ 2009

Stonnington — Day 10

Frock — Father, Son and Holy Ghost

I was looking forward to hearing Frock live, though this would be different — the energetic and original ensemble of Craig Beard on vibes, Anthony Schulz on piano and piano accordion, Simon Starr on acoustic bass, Adam Starr on guitar and Daniel Farrugia on drums was airing some covers of songs by Don Walker, Nick Cave and Neil Finn, which they are about to release on a new Frock album. Dan Farrugia was filling in for Dave Beck and will play on the coming album.

Members of Frock at Chapel Off Chapel

They began the set with some fun, the band waiting on Farrugia, who appeared late, and started things off by stamping a beat and jangling keys as he assumed the drumming position for Neil Finn’s One Step Ahead. Schulz moved to the piano for Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand, allegedly “butchered” or arranged by Simon Starr. Beard said it was unusual for the band to play covers rather than original tracks, but the advantage was that they were “already hits”.

Beard and Adam Starr
Beard and Adam Starr

With Schulz back on accordion, Don Baker’s Breakfast at Sweethearts was proof of how well the vibes and piano accordion work together. Schulz played piano on Walker’s Saturday Night, followed by the well known (“Don Walker has a lot to answer for,” Beard said.) Khe Sanh, which had a rock feel.

Schulz and Beard
Schulz and Beard

Frequent allusions were made to Nick Cave as the Prince of Darkness (“If he was anywhere about here he would kill us”) before Beard’s arraangement of Cave’s Into My Arms. Neil Finn’s Message to My Girl followed, with Schulz on piano, then a long interaction between accordion and guitar for Schulz’s arrangement of the Tim and Neil Finn song Four Seasons in One Day. Then things turned serious. “We know where you live, Nick,” Frock announced before Mercy Seat — the opening was most effective, with drums, guitar and piano creating a sense of drama.

Daniel Farrugia
Daniel Farrugia

Daniel Farrugia
Daniel Farrugia

Frock closed with Simon Starr’s arrangement of Neil Finn’s History Never Repeats, which Beard suggested “suits this foggy New York evening”. The band’s move into covers was full of interest, though I would prefer its longer originals. The set showed me that Beard on vibes can make his presence felt in almost any musical situation, and that a few, sparing notes from guitar and piano work a treat. That said, I’d have liked to hear more from Adam Starr on guitar, but Frock departed on a high in a gentle frenzy of piano, drums and bass.

Craig Beard
Craig Beard in a reflective moment


Nichaud Fitzgibbon — Mood Swing

At times during Stonnington Jazz gigs at Chapel Off Chapel it has seemed hard for the audience to overcome a feeling of restraint when responding to the music, as if the venue is too formal. Perhaps it is because most members of the audience are seated as if for a play or concert, rather than a jazz gig. At other times the crowd has “woken up” and responded with vigour. From the moment Nichaud Fitzgibbon appeared onstage — with Phillip Rex on bass, James Sherlock on guitar, Dan Farrugia (again) on drums and Jex Saarelaht on piano — the mood was upbeat. Fitzgibbon was the consummate entertainer, projecting enough personality thorough her vocals to gee up the most sombre crowd.

Fitzgibbon and Sherlock
Nichaud Fitzgibbon and James Sherlock

As Fitzgibbon breezed through Don Walker’s How Many Times and the Tex Perkins and Spencer P. Jones number The World’s Got Everything, it was as if we were being caressed by her vocals, as well as by Sherlock’s guitar. Frequently paying tribute to her musicians, Fitzgibbon dubbed Rex “the king of bass” before launching into the Kylie Minogue song Two Hearts, and then Tom Springfield’s Seekers hit The Olive Tree, which featured Saarelaht’s exemplary skills.

Nichaud Fitzgibbon

Fitzgibbon was a sassy, saucy woman with vocals to match in the Paul Kelly song Be Careful What You Pray For, which she dedicated to “lots of greedy people”. Then we luxuriated in Saarelaht’s deep piano notes leading into Kelly/Ceberano’s tango Untouchable and Ross Wilson’s Mood Swing, the title track of the new CD.

Saarelaht, Rex and Dan Farrugia
Saarelaht, Rex and Dan Farrugia

The link to Australian songwriters lapsed for Billie Holiday’s I Want More, “dedicated to all the ladies in the audience”, then Fitzgibbon harked back to her earlier album for Dave Fishbery’s I Don’t Believe You. Her voice was engaging and seductive, but the feeling conveyed was that of a woman who could immediately make you feel comfortable and who probably would give you credit for having more get up and go than was necessarily the case. This may seem an odd way to put it, but Fitzgibbon’s personality flowed out as if she was emanating a relaxed sense of confidence that would easily rub off on her audience. I could not help contrast her performance with younger vocalists Megan Washington and Gian Slater.

Nichaud Fitzgibbon
Nichaud Fitzgibbon

Nick Cave’s Bless was followed by Anthony Newly’s Feeling Good before the sustained applause brought Fitzgibbon back to stand beside the piano for an encore.

Nichaud Fitzgibbon
Nichaud Fitzgibbon

Then the sensuality and cheeky charm was turned full-on in the vivaciously sung You Turn Me On, Baby (Cy Coleman). We were left to reflect on the value of experience in a singer and on the consummate ease with which she could captivate an audience and enliven a venue.

Perhaps the main event for the last night of Stonnington Jazz had been over at the Malvern Town Hall for the second Sculthorpe Songbook concert, but at Chapel Off Chapel it had been an evening of fine music to end another fine festival.

The composer’s work torn apart

(A shorter version of this article appeared in the Herald Sun on May 22, 2009.)

Former students are turning their musical mentor’s work on its ear

PETER Sculthorpe has received more than half a dozen 80th birthday cakes so far, but his most valued gift may be to have his music pulled apart and rebuilt.
Tim Freedman, of the Whitlams, and vocalist Katie Noonan will play their parts in the reconstruction, but the Sculthorpe Songbook will be aired in two concerts at Stonnington Jazz primarily as a result of work by trumpeter Phil Slater and pianist Matt McMahon.

It may sound like a demolition job, but for Slater and McMahon, who were students of Australia’s great composer at Sydney University, the reinterpretation of Sculthorpe’s works is a tribute recognising what he gave them in his classes on composition.

“Often you get musicians interpreting composers from the past, but the composer we’re doing it to is alive in the room and we get to talk to him about his music,” Slater says. “He’s like a mentor who’s giving everything approval and inspiring us. It’s very brave of him to submit his music to … it’s not even interpretation — we pull it to pieces.”

An example of what’s in store from the Sculthorpe Songbook will be Freeman singing It’ll Rise Again, originally performed by the 1970s rock group Tully in the style of a rock opera.

“Jazz pianist Matt McMahon has completely rewritten the composition. It’s amazing what he does. He works out what the chords are and what features of the original to retain and what to play around with and just arranges specifically for Tim,” Slater says.

He concedes there is a risk that messing around with the works of a world-renowned composer or attempting to gild the lily will end badly, but says the new works try to tap into “part of Peter’s identity, the characteristics of his music, his sound — it’s more than just the notes he writes down”.
Sculthorpe began composing music about the age of seven, assuming after his first piano lesson that he should be writing music rather than practising the instrument.

“I went home and wrote music like crazy and took it to my teacher a week later and she was furious, and caned me,” he told ABC Radio National in 2004. “So I wrote under the bedclothes with a torch, for a year…”

Years later, while studying at Oxford, Sculthorpe tried to interest his peers in Japanese music, which he loved, and in Australian Aboriginal music. Their lack of enthusiasm helped him decide to pursue his own path. His compositions since have reflected a deep concern with social justice and regard for the land.

The deaths of women and children in Iraq were significant in his Requiem and the plight of asylum seekers in detention for String Quartet No. 16.
“I’m not sure that music can state those issues, but it can convey the feeling,” Sculthorpe says.

“For example, in the Quartet the last movement is called Freedom and it reflects the anger and loneliness of those in detention. But at the end they are dreaming of loved ones and being free, so the piece is ultimately uplifting.”

Sculthorpe turned 80 on April 29, but his workload shows no sign of slowing. He anticipates that a large piano concerto and two string quartets he will compose will have climate change as their focus.

“Australia is lagging on climate change, with only 5 per cent emissions reduction by 2020 and billions of dollars going to polluting industries. That’s appalling. But I have to find a metaphor for these compositions — it would be a little bombastic to use, say, the collapse of the ice bridge in Antarctica as a metaphor for climate change. I need something smaller.”

Sculthorpe’s love of music from Japan, Bali and other parts of Asia may find expression in the Songbook works for Stonnington’s festival.
The jazz musicians involved — Slater, McMahon, drummer Simon Barker, guitarist Carl Dewhurst and bassist Brett Hirst — have travelled to Japan and experimented with gamelan rhythms.

“Simon travels regularly to study with Korean drummers and we play with a traditional Korean opera,” Slater says. “Simon’s playing is so original and mind-blowing that it’s drawing attention from all around the world. It’s a fusion between American or Western jazz drumming techniques with Korean rhythms. As the drummer, he sets the tone for all of us, so we’re all plugged in to taking influences from these regions.”

Peter Sculthorpe will be at Stonnington to hear his works reconstructed as jazz. He may do some readings — possibly from Tim Flannery’s writing on the environment. But there is little doubt he will be quietly proud of the creativity that has emerged from seeds he planted in the minds of students Phil Slater and Matt McMahon.

Stonnington Jazz runs from May 14 to 23
Sculthorpe Songbook, Malvern Town Hall, May 22 and 23, 8pm.

Stonnington Jazz

Stonnington Jazz — Day 3

The Washington Grabowsky Project

On April 25, 2008, the audience at BMW Edge during the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival warmed to the endearing exuberance of Megan Washington, accompanied on piano by Paul Grabowsky. She was a real entertainer from the word go. And here she is:

Washington, Grabowsky 2008

Washington 2008

Then, at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz on November 1, 2008, Washington again wowed the crowds, this time accompanied by Grabowsky, Niko Schauble on drums, Sam Anning on acoustic bass, Stephen Magnusson on guitar, Jamie Oehlers on sax and Shannon Barnett on trombone. Here she is during that performance:

Washington at Wang 08

So we come to Stonnington Jazz 2009, when the same group of musicians assembled at Malvern Town Hall. The description I wrote in the Herald Sun after Wangaratta could have applied again on Saturday night: “When Megan Washington is breathless and excited, dancing a little jig, her voice rising and falling as if on a whim, you know she’s under the influence (of music).
The signs are unmistakable — and irresistible.”


Her arms, indeed her whole body, help to express emotions. At times she sits on the stage to listen, or stands with her hands clasped, as if in silent prayer, or her head bowed in admiration of the music being played. Vocally she seems at times to be so fragile, then suddenly moves so effectively from the delicate to the robust, from innocent to saucy. There is an impish sense of humour always lurking close to the surface, and she tells her Portugal bookstore story with the skill of a consummate performer.

Washington project

Washington seemed to captivate the audience from her opening number, Write Me A Song, performed with only Grabowsky onstage. Then the ensemble emerged (“We had the whole gradual rock entrance thing planned, but I think I just messed it up”, Washington said.) and Schauble took us solidly and swiftly into The End.
After the perceptive and intelligent lyrics of The Opposite of Love, dedicated to George W. Bush, Washington took a vote on applause during solos — the musicians won. Oehlers and Grabowsky had solos in Take What You Need, which finished with exquisite vocals.

Magnusson, Washington

After ensuring the patrons were connected, Washington sang Are You On My Side, which was a highlight of the night, from the Magnusson intro, through Barnett’s solo to the beautiful ending, with that question hanging in the air before Grabowsky closed the piece alone.

Grabowsky Washington

For The Custom of the Sea Washington took over the piano, leaving Grabowsky to sojourn briefly with the horns and guitar before he stood beside the piano and joined in the song. At the break we were left to reflect on just how well the ensemble worked and how well the musicians conveyed so much through controlled dynamics. Magnusson could make a minimal contribution so significant.


Curios and Cutaways opened the second set, which featured Barnett in some vigorous, swinging stuff, with Grabowsky carrying foward the insistent beat and Schauble using plenty of muscle. Washington’s vocals were high and breathy. Oehlers, who seemed not to be all that prominent during the evening, had a solo in Peaches Bones, and in the “creepy” Spiders and Silkworms Grabowsky and Washington were each plucking at the piano strings.


Poetry was a saucy number and a drama, with flashing lights, raucous horns and Washington dancing away amid the frenetic playing. The musicians undoubtedly had fun. In The Fisherman’s Daughter, Grabowsky’s hint of dissonance was a highlight, along with the harmonies from horns and guitar. Especially effective were Magnusson’s looping notes, at times played back in reverse and sounding like a pursuing echo. Washington seemed utterly possessed, or transported by the music, which must be a significant part of her appeal.


The encore was inevitable. It was Telepathy, “written when I thought I was in love with my best friend’s boyfriend — and he knew, but we never talked about it” — with only Grabowsky and Washington onstage. They had plenty of it.

There is no album of Washington with this ensemble, but it is in the works. Recording took place early this year, so keep your ears open.