Tag Archives: Wangaratta Festival of Jazz

Top Marks and thanks for all the memories

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues 2022
Friday 28 October to Sunday 30 October


Full marks to this festival – not because everything was perfect (it wasn’t), but because it returned, against the odds.

Also because of Mark, Mark and Marc, who, in the front row of the Wangaratta Performing Arts & Convention Centre on Friday evening, helped remind me of what this festival with such an august history is all about: experiences. Rich, memorable ones.

One Marc lives in Wang and has expertly photographed this festival over the years.

Mark and Mark are regulars who drove from Adelaide to hear and enjoy this feast of music, along with the company of those sharing it. We reminisced. We enthused. We were glad to be back. We kept running into each other at gigs, and ultimately at a well known cheese factory in Milawa on Sunday.

That happy-to-be-here feeling was shared by musicians as well as by patrons, whether they were returning after the postponement of the 30th anniversary festival in 2019 followed by an enforced two-year Covid-19 break, or coming to it for the first time. Yes, it was closely preceded by the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, heavy rain and falling trees prompted late venue changes, numbers were down and the program truncated, but on the plus side there were no queues.

Saxophonist Julien Wilson clearly felt elated in Holy Trinity Cathedral on Saturday morning when, in his first solo concert, he eschewed the use of pedals or effects, which are used in his two new albums Meditations and Mutations (see Bandcamp), saying “the room is enough” and choosing to play “some of mine and some standards”.

We delighted in hearing his expressive reedsmanship in this spectacular setting, demonstrating the versatility of his tenor and soprano instruments, the notes floating freely upwards, often well cushioned by air and intermittently percussive.

The lofty cathedral heights were also host to Scott Tinkler’s 7pm Friday concert with guitarist and fellow Tasmanian Julius Schwing, the shimmering horn notes soaring heavenwards like fluid spaghetti or rasping viscerally against the busy plunking, chattering sounds from the strings.

Late on Saturday afternoon, audience members in Holy Trinity experienced the deep growl of Helen Svoboda’s bowed bass together with the expressive, powerful playing of Kari Ikonen (Finland) on piano. Two pieces using Arabic scales called for microtonal adjustments to the grand piano – Taqsim in Maqam Saba and the dramatic, intense Rasthof Sieben in Maqam Rast. Solo pieces brought us the freneticism of Svoboda’s Happy Storm and Ikonen’s deeply evocative Toccatina. It was the perfect setting for such an engrossing duo encounter.

Also fascinating in the cathedral was the unusual pairing of classically trained Natasha Fearnside on bass clarinet with her partner in life Sam Anning on acoustic and electric bass. They played a suite, written during Melbourne’s Covid-19 lockdown, entitled She Gathered Strength in Her Skin. Inspired by the resilience of the city, plus ensuing regeneration and healing, this exploration of timbres felt liturgical, especially so because Anning’s vocal contribution was akin to a chant. The set refreshingly broke new ground.

Wanderlust, however, felt like putting on a pair of most comfortable slippers as this accomplished ensemble took to the WPACC Theatre stage on Saturday afternoon to celebrate their 30th anniversary. The septet led by Miroslav Bukovsky on trumpet treated us to a series of masterful solos in Delicatessence, Bronte Café and Mambo Gumbo before I had to leave, but there was time enough to share in the obvious merriment of irrepressible ’bone player James Greening.   

At noon that day in WPAC Theatre, Stephen Magnusson on guitar was gleeful as he joined Sam Anning bass and Dave Beck drums in a series of smooth segues from tune to tune, ending with pieces by Tom Waits and Archie Roach. There was plenty of swing and few sharp edges to a set palpably as much fun to play as to hear.

The fun with vocalist Jess Hitchcock’s concert at 8pm on Saturday came possibly from guessing who she’d be playing with – the line-up wasn’t in the two-page festival program or even on the website. The smiles came when we realised her band on this occasion comprised Andrea Keller piano, Tamara Murphy bass, Eugene Ball trumpet, James Macaulay trombone and Dave Beck drums. What a band!

Hitchcock, known for her work with Archie Roach, Paul Kelly, Deborah Cheetham and Kate Miller-Heidke, has had a love for jazz since the age of 17. She delivered songs including Taking a Chance on Love and Get Happy, using Ball’s arrangements, with power and ease.

An hour later, also in WPAC Theatre, it was a blast to watch and hear the four Antripodean Collective musicians given the freedom to do anything and take us anywhere with no restrictions other than the time limit. Scott Tinkler led this band of intense improvisers – Erkki Veltheim on five-string electric violin, Ren Walters guitar and percussion, and Simon Barker on drums – in a take-no-prisoners outing that displayed ferocity and vehemence, yet also some quietude between explosive attacks and extended volleys.

In a few instances Walters lifted his guitar and yelled into it, to powerful effect. This was a thrilling event.

Two opening night performances in the theatre provided totally different musical experiences that I’m certain were memorable and rewarding for the audiences as well as performers.

Iro Haarla shows her appreciation after a beautiful outing with Tamara Murphy and James McLean at Wang 2022.

In their first trio outing, Iro Haarla (Finland) on piano teamed with Tamara Murphy on bass and James McLean on drums in a performance brimming with space and interest. Haarla evidently loved the work of the two Australians – saying “Tam and James rock” – as they played five of her pieces plus Kindness Not Courtesy (Murphy) and M31 (McLean).

Haarla, who had alternated between concert harp and piano at the Melbourne jazz festival, was entrancing at the keyboard, dedicating her piece With Thanksgiving to “everything beautiful in this world” and the “good in my life”. McLean was superb throughout at the kit, and in the abstract Waterworn Rocks all three players energetically wove independent yet interlocking paths.

Light in the Sadness closed a beautiful concert that was good for the soul.

An hour later, the super group This World – Mike Nock piano, Jonathan Zwartz bass, Julien Wilson tenor saxophone and Hamish Stuart drums – treated us to an example of why jazz or improvised music offers so much.

They delivered attentiveness, mutual understanding, responsiveness and excellence in execution throughout, playing four pieces off their new album Another Dance, plus the title track from their first album This World and an encore, Riverside, featuring Wilson in a glorious gospel-imbued solo. It was an outstanding gig and a great way finish Friday night.

The decision to hold a program of free concerts in the WPACC Theatre on Sunday no doubt upset some who had paid for weekend festival passes. It also meant that, with five National Jazz Awards finalists competing in the WPACC Hall on Saturday, anyone wanting to hear them play had to miss other concerts over a period of three hours, including judging.

Also, to quibble further, the judges’ presentation to the winners took place in a private area, with results going out via social media, which seemed a pity for those who’d been in the audience to hear all contestants.

I chose the NJA option, unfortunately missing Ball Hanlon & Schulz, the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative’s drumming event “Indivisible” and Andrea Keller’s group PATsy.

Congratulations are due to Peter Koopman, Joshua Meader and Julius Schwing, who won – respectively – $7000 and a Pughouse Studio recording session, $4000 and $2000. As always it was undeniably a tough task for the judges – this year Stephen Magnusson, Fran Swinn and Carl Dewhurst. The band accompanying the contestants – Jo Lawry vocals, Brett Hirst bass, James McLean drums – were excellent.

I’m no judge. But I thought Harry Tinney from Canberra showed sensitivity and expression, as well as giving us some interesting information about his well chosen pieces, including Ambrose Akinmusire’s Henya. Theo Carbo also selected wisely and blew me away (almost literally in the front row) with his high volume shredding in A Short Film. I haven’t heard much since, but loved it.

The lean Sunday program meant I could attend my first ever jazz mass in the cathedral. Tim Neal played piano, his own Hammond and the newly restored Willis pipe organ – it’s a ripper. Rebecca Barnard sang with gusto and the sermon referenced slavery and the blues. The real star for me, other than the skull on Tim Neal’s shirt, was that pipe organ. I’d love to hear Anthony Pateras or a similarly inclined artist give it a whirl next year in a separate festival gig.

An engaging set by Merinda Dias-Jayasinha in her quartet at Merriwa Cheese Factory was warmly received after lunch on Sunday.

Back in town the WPACC Theatre was crowded later for two large ensemble outings. Many were up dancing during the laid back Public Opinion Afro Orchestra performance that closed the festival – much earlier than in previous years – at 6.15pm. There would be no late-night jam session at the Pinsent Hotel this year.

My best final festival moments came earlier, when Travis Woods and the Horns of Leroy welcomed musicians from Jazzaratta on stage, along with energetic vocalist Thando, to bring us Fat’s Domino’s I’m Walkin’, in which young percussionists Henry and Hamish stole the limelight.

It was a fun way to finish.


PS: I popped in for a few minutes to hear the Fran Swinn Quartet – look for her new album Old Idea/New Idea on Lionsharecords. Sources close to me said the Angela Davis Quartet was great, as was Showa 44, and Michelle Nicolle Quartet’s Bach project. Clashes were inevitable in such a tight program. I felt for Jiem, the quintet from Sydney who had a half-hour slot.

PPS: More images to be added in due course.



Adam Simmons, third from left, takes a bow on stage at the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre Theatre during the 2018 festival. He has now bowed out of his role as co-artistic director.


There will be no Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues in 2019.

This esteemed festival will take a break before celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2020.

In a media release embargoed until 10am today — Friday 1 February, 2019 — the festival board announced it had voted to postpone the festival’s 30th anniversary celebrations.

The 30th festival will now be held in 2020.

“It was not an easy decision to make, but we all voted with the best interests of the festival in mind, and we will be working towards delivering a landmark festival in 2020,” said Festival Chair Miriam Zolin.

The news release went on as follows:

While the 2018 festival was widely enjoyed and praised for its exciting program of local and international jazz and blues, the organisation, like many small arts organisations, has faced a number of operational pressures in recent years.

The recent resignation of co-artistic director Adam Simmons, and departure of long-term festival managers Nolan Media Events last year, has underscored the need to look strategically at the festival’s operating model, and its long-term sustainability.

“The board is committed to ensuring the future of the festival, and for now that means taking some time to look at the way we operate and plan for the years ahead,” said Zolin.

In the lead-up to this decision, the festival has held discussions with its funding partners, including the Rural City of Wangaratta and Creative Victoria. In December the Board took part in a strategic planning day which pointed clearly to a need to look at the festival’s operational and fundraising models.

“The Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues has always been resilient in the face of change, and this decision will offer an invaluable opportunity for us to take a breath and revisit the festival’s structure,” said Zolin.

The Festival Board will work closely with its partners and the community to map out a future for the festival that ensures the festival’s vision and purpose stay strong.

“Just like the music that this festival celebrates, we’ll continue to be creative,” said Zolin.

“In 2019 we will develop a sustainable model for delivery of the festival into the future, and we need time to make sure we get it right. We will build on the success of 2018 and previous years to make the 30th festival one that celebrates all that Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues has contributed to the jazz and blues scene in Australia and in bringing the local Wangaratta community together.”

“We acknowledge and thank all of those who have played a role in our extraordinary story to date and look forward to working together on this next chapter for Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues.”

As well, festival chair Miriam Zolin’s media release provided some background about the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues:

In 1989 a group of Wangaratta business people suggested the idea of a music festival to Wangaratta Council. Council funded a feasibility study which concluded that a festival in Wangaratta could offer a point of difference from other music festivals, with a program based on modern and contemporary jazz. The first festival took place in 1990. The festival also hosts the National Jazz Awards with its associated prizes and prestige. The professional careers of previous winners and finalists have been significantly boosted, making the NJAs a hugely important in developing a future for Australian jazz and improvised music. Programming for the first 27 years was overseen by the inimitable Adrian Jackson OAM, who was honoured in the 2019 Australia Day Honours List with an Order of Australian Medal acknowledging his services to music. Since its inception, the festival has been a huge influence in the Australian jazz scene, as well as a significant contributor to artistic and cultural life and economic development in the Rural City and the broader North East of Victoria. The festival continues to work in close partnership with the Rural City of Wangaratta.

This news will be a huge shock to many dedicated fans who have travelled to Wangaratta for many years on the weekend before Cup day to enjoy this feast of music – jazz and blues, featuring national and international artists – available at venues in one location and accessible via a daily or weekend pass.

It is a bold move to postpone such a festival for a year just as it prepares to celebrate 30 years in which many, many musicians have created memorable and often unexpectedly exhilarating moments for so many patrons.

Will this be a hiccup that opens the way to a brighter future for this annual gathering at which fans mingle in the streets with musicians and the anticipation of experimentation is often in the air? Or will this signal a parting of the ways for rusted on fans? Let’s hope it is the former.

And what will the streets of Wang be like on that weekend in early November, without the buzz, without the crowds and queues, without the blues marquee and without the bustle and hustle of patrons heading for yet another gig?


Bring on 2020 and the 30th Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues.


PS: Those who have a regular booking for accommodation, remember to touch base with the local providers so they know you’ll be back, albeit a year later than anticipated.


Ellen Kirkwood Ellen Kirkwood performs in [A]part with Gian Slater and Sandy Evans.    Image: Roger Mitchell


Wangaratta Festival of Jazz, November 2-4, 2018

Music speaks for itself. That’s what visiting saxophonist from Holland, Yuri Honing – a man of few words – told the audience in Wangaratta’s Performing Arts Centre Theatre on Saturday night during his quartet’s second festival outing.

He’s right, of course. The music delivered at Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues this year conveyed some powerful messages and crossed cultural boundaries without needing the embroidery of words.

Honing, with his acoustic quartet Wolfert Brederode (Holland) on piano, Gulli Gudmundsson (Iceland) on bass and Joost Lijbaart (Holland) on drums, spoke eloquently with his tenor saxophone in two concerts featuring compositions from their 2017 album Goldbrun. These guys knew each other and the pieces well, the horn soaring and gently musing over the responsive rhythm section in long explorations that varied in energy and intensity, but often seemed darkly brooding. Honing’s concerns for Europe and love of works by Wagner and Richard Strauss were inspirations, but spelled out only in the music.

Yet words and music are often inextricably linked. That relationship can be fraught – how can what we experience in a live concert possibly be described adequately in a string of superlatives? Yet the strength in soul singer Tina Harrod’s exceptionally clearly articulated songs from her album City of Longing, performed on Sunday in WPAC Theatre, came certainly from her strong vocals, but also in the hard-hitting lyrics.

Vikram Iyengar

Vikram Iyengar in The Calling by Adam Simmons  Image: Roger Mitchell

Festival artistic team member Adam Simmons introduced his deeply personal work The Calling, part of his The Usefulness of Art series of concerts, with words, yet it was the performance by his Creative Music Ensemble with Afrolankan Drumming System and Vikram Iyengar, helped by screened visuals, that conveyed the colour, noise, mayhem and moving moments of his journey so effectively.

I have reviewed The Calling previously from a performance at fortyfive downstairs, but for Wangaratta festival patrons this must have surely been a lively, energetic and virtuosic musical journey full of colours, flavours and fun, yet also most moving.

In St Pat’s Hall on Sunday, multi-instrumentalist Adrian Sheriff and drum maestro Ted Vining took the audience on a fascinating journey that came with stories, but conveyed much via the simple musical exchanges between two accomplished players. I wish I’d been there for all of this.

In a festival that did not suffer at all from its forays into other traditions and cultures than the American jazz pantheon, there seemed to be – and these words are probably not ideal – concerts for the brain and concerts for the heart. In other words, some concerts took us on conceptual journeys and others just swept us up and carried us along with their vigour, energy or beauty.

Tilman Robinson

Tilman Robinson at work with the AAO.    Image: R. Mitchell

On Friday night in WPAC Theatre the Australian Art Orchestra presented Sometimes Home Can Grow Stranger Than Space, in which three composers – AAO director Peter Knight, Tilman Robinson and Andrea Keller – explored the lives of people damaged by war.

In Knight’s Sharp Folds, which offered glimpses of lingering parental grief, the individual words – voiced by Georgie Darvidis – were not all that easy to pick up amid the engrossing and intense accompanying music. Keller’s Bent Heart, which draws on the stories of three women, conveyed their angst so effectively that no words were needed, although the epilogue’s prayer “Cry heart but never break” stays with me. Robinson’s I Was Only A Child brilliantly drew on the rhythm and cadence of a recorded interview between a young student and a war veteran to show how awareness of war turns to nostalgia, its lessons unlearned. In content reminiscent of Lloyd Swanton’s monumental work Ambon, performed at Wangaratta in 2015, this AAO outing used music compositions and words most effectively, their messages lingering.

On Saturday evening in WPAC Theatre Sirens Big Band performed [A]part, trumpeter Ellen Kirkwood’s suite responding to world issues such as climate change, the refugee crisis and the omnipresence of the internet. As with Keller’s Bent Heart, this monumental work – comprising sweeping vistas, swelling and receding soundscapes and powerful solos from Sandy Evans on saxophone and Keller on piano – needed no words to convey drama, tension and agitation, as well as loss and suffering. Gian Slater’s vocal contributions were minimal but integral to this work, which was riveting from start to finish.

Alex Stuart

Alex Stuart performs with his quintet.    Image: R. Mitchell

The quintet that expatriate Australian Alex Stuart brought from his home city Paris treated us to compositions from their album Aftermath, which explored the darkness in the world while celebrating its beauty and defiant joie de vivre. This versatile band – Stuart on guitar, Irving Acao on tenor saxophone and keyboards, Arno de Casanove on trumpet, keys and vocals, Antoine Banville on drums and Ouriel Ellert on electric bass – delivered sophisticated, varied and polished pieces in two outings. Stuart was unselfish in leading this collegiate ensemble, which displayed plenty of verve and drive along with intricacy and finesse in thoughtful compositions.

Sumire Kubayashi (Japan) at the piano.

Sumire Kubayashi (Japan) at the piano. Image: Roger Mitchell

Another standout Australian artist with recent overseas experience was trumpeter Niran Dasika, who demonstrated confidence and soloing depth forged in Japan through playing a lot of gigs there. Clashing concerts prevented me hearing the whole of all but one of Dasika’s many festival outings, but on Sunday morning he joined Japan’s Sumire Kuribayashi on piano to play her Pieces of Colour compositions with Shun Ishiwaka (Japan) on drums, James Macaulay on trombone and Sam Anning on bass, with Adam Simmons on tenor saxophone for some pieces. This music was exquisitely beautiful, at times playful and also powerful, further proof that collaborations between Australian and Japanese artists bring great results.

I missed hearing the product of one such collaboration – James Macaulay on trombone leading the Hishakaku Quartet – in order not to miss superstars Andrea Keller on piano and Sandy Evans on reeds in an unprecedented duo at Holy Trinity Cathedral. Gender ought not to be an issue in music, yet this set of mostly ballads demonstrated the power, profundity and beauty of compositions and musicianship by two amazing women. Lilac Embers, dedicated to Richard Gill, was a delight.

Evans was among the host of jazz luminaries to perform in WPAC Theatre on Sunday in the dectet Ten Part Invention, introduced by the ensemble’s founder, John Pochee. In a spirited set that included Roger Frampton’s And Zen Monk, Paul Cutlan’s Nock on Effect, Evans’ Fortea Two and Miroslav Bukovsky’s no holds barred Plain Talk, this band showed why it remains at the peak of large ensemble achievements in Australia. My highlight was reedsman Andrew Robson’s Poets Must Keep an Eye on the Moon.

Germany’s Trio ELF was an instant hit with audiences at their Saturday evening concert in WPAC Theatre and on Sunday in the newly styled St Pat’s Hall with tables and a bar. Walter Lang on piano, Peter Cudek on acoustic bass and Gerwin Eisenhauer on drums added a little electronic wizardry and lots of humour to their melodically and rhythmically appealing compositions. Their approach made excellent use of sudden dramatic dynamic variations, beginning each piece with a simple tune repeated, adding effects, pumping up the volume and intensity via bass and expansive work from Eisenhauer, before returning to the fluid simplicity of the piano notes. Their cover of punk band Blink 182’s Down was a favourite.

Recently formed Quattro Club’s Saturday morning outing sported such an array of whistles and bells that I tried closing my eyes to concentrate on the feast of exploratory textures and timbres. Joel Hands-Otte played Bb Clarinet, bass clarinet, bamboo flute and a plastic pipe. Dan Gordon played tuba and bass flugelhorn. Mirko Guerrini played curved soprano sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, xaphoon, Pakistani flute and melodica. Niko Schauble was at the drum kit. It really was akin to kids building a series of projects with Lego blocks, yet without haste and with plenty of assurance. It possibly did not always hang together, but I loved the adventurous, unscripted approach.

Two long-form suite performances that I had heard previously and liked a lot, but did not get to at this festival – trumpeter Reuben Lewis’s I Hold the Lion’s Paw on Sunday and Cheryl Durongpisitkul’s Follow Me Through the Red Ash on Saturday – drew praise from many who attended.

One of the standout cultural collaborations at Wangaratta was The Three Seas, bringing modern jazz together with West Bengali folk music. Matt Keegan on saxophone joined Steve Elphick on bass, Raju Das Baul on vocals and khamak, Deo Ashis Mothey on vocals, guitar and dotora, and Gaurab Chatterjee on dubki, drums in two warmly engaging and virtuosic displays of musicianship on Friday and Sunday evenings. The interaction of Keegan with amazing vocalist Das Baul exemplified the close bonds formed among all these musicians, demonstrating again how well music succeeds in crossing boundaries.

I caught only part of another successful collaboration on Sunday afternoon when Julian Banks on saxophone joined Indonesian master percussionist Cepi Kusmiadi on the kendang sunda, a set of two-headed drums, along with James Hauptmann on drums and Chris Hale on bass. And I copped some justified criticism later that evening for not letting on in time that the Garden Quartet – featuring Iranian musician Gelareh Pour on kamancheh and voice, Mike Gallichio on electric guitar, Arman Habibi on santur and voice, and Brian O’Dwyer on drums – should not be missed.

Expectations can be dangerous. A restrained acoustic set in WPAC Theatre by guitarist Ben Hauptmann’s “ideal” septet of accomplished musicians was not what I had anticipated. It was a great line-up – Arne Hanna and Franco Raggatt on guitar, Harry Sutherland on piano, festival co-programmer Zoe Hauptmann on bass, James Hauptmann on drums and Evan Mannell on percussion – and there was no denying their musicianship, but selections played seemed more akin to French folk than jazz, and the pieces did not vary greatly.

I had no idea what to expect from the only US band, FORQ, which comprises Henry Hey on keyboards, Chris McQueen on guitar, Jason “JT” Thomas on drums and Kevin Scott on electric bass. In their final outing of two at the festival on Sunday night in WPAC Theatre they delivered an energetic rock-infused set, but nothing to rival the work of popular Snarky Puppy, of which McQueen is a member.

The fully pumped Orszaczky Budget Orchestra, fronted by Tina Harrod and Darren Percival on vocals, closed out the festival in St Pat’s Hall with a set so loud that I sought relief for my ears towards the back. I liked the setting of “Club St Pat’s” but missed the final night jam where musicians and fans mingled and celebrated music performed and music enjoyed.

To sum up in words what often speaks for itself, the eclectic mix of improvised music at 2018’s festival again delivered plenty to satisfy fans, again on a limited budget and this time without big internationally renowned names or a lot from the American songbook. Culturally diverse offerings worked well, as did the significant European contributions.

Some new, festival-initiated collaborations between visiting and Australian artists would have been icing on the cake.

Words were important in some instances, and the forceful messages of “concept-based” concerts by the AAO and Sirens will play on in my mind for some time.


More images of the festival will be posted when time permits.