Every year brings a couple of familiar challenges. First, how to match the musical standard of last year’s festival ; and second, with so many accomplished and interesting bands submitting an application, deciding which ones can’t be included this time around.
This year posed a further challenge: a new format with new spaces presented the opportunity to vary the programming approach, and perhaps make better use of some artists with “cross-over” potential, to introduce a new generation to our festival and to the world of Jazz and Blues.
We all agreed that there is an inherent contradiction in presenting a program full of daring, creative, original jazz, and expecting that program to have instant appeal to the typical punter in the street. At the same time, you don’t build an audience for jazz and blues by presenting music that has nothing to do with jazz or blues.
We decided the best approach would be to feature several artists who would be known to the general public, whose music is readily accessible, and who still display a high level of musicianship. An obvious choice on these criteria was James Morrison, so fans at the new, Hume Bank Gardens Stage will be able to hear him in action, proudly fronting a band of students from his own Academy.
Joe Camilleri, who has always been a big fan of jazz and blues, will perform there with his larger band, The Voodoo Sheiks as well as doing a more blues-based show at the Blues Marquee with The Black Sorrows).
People may think of Wilbur Wilde as a rock & roll saxophone player, or an entertainer from radio or television, but he has a very long track record as a jazz player and bandleader and that is the side of Wilbur we will present at the Gardens Stage.
Originally from New Zealand, pianist-vocalist Gerard Masters is a big fan of Neil Finn and Tim Finn, and he suggested a program of jazz arrangements of some of their classic songs. Finn-Land is sure to go over well, especially as the two featured vocalists, Emma Pask and Darren Percival have developed their following and profile in recent years, following their involvement in the hit TV show, ‘The Voice’
It might appear inconsistent to have the popular rock band Thirsty Merc on the lineup, but Rai Thistlethwayte, Matt Smith and Phil Stack are very highly respected jazz players, and their Acoustic format gives them a chance to stretch out, perhaps bringing their jazz instincts to the fore, as they put a new spin in some Merc favourites.
Artists like Paul Williamson’s Hammond Combo, Los Cabrones and Black Jesus Experience may not be as well known to the general public as they should, be but I am sure they will win plenty of new fans. And some local favourites, like bluesman Luke R. Davies or the Blues Brothers 3677, will help convince some of the old Reid Street regulars to purchase a ticket for the weekend.
Apart from the Gardens Stage lineup, we have a lineup that absolutely upholds the stylistic balance and standards of previous years. For the hardcore jazz fan, there are enough unmissable shows in the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre and other concert venues to make the Gold Pass a very wise investment.
US trumpeter, Dave Douglas, made his first visit to Australia to play at Wangaratta Jazz in 2002 and we’re thrilled to have him returning this year as one of the leading trumpeters and bandleaders on the international jazz scene.
Dave will be leading his Quintet with saxophonist Jon Irabagon, pianist Matt Mitchell, bassist Linda Oh and drummer Rudy Royston. He will also play a duo concert with Paul Grabowsky ; and a concert with the Monash Art Ensemble to officially launch the album he recorded with them last year.
Having Dave’s band here allowed us to present a return visit from Linda Oh — who grew up in Australia, and has led her own bands at Wangaratta in previous years. This time, she will lead a quartet featuring guitarist James Muller, and a duo set with vocalist Gian Slater. Pianist Matt Mitchell will play a solo concert in the cathedral.
The Canadian saxophonist Jane Bunnett has long been passionate about Cuban music, and we will hear why, when she leads her all-female band, Maqueque Veteran US bassist, David Friesen will perform two solo concerts, and a set of duets with an old friend, pianist Mike Nock.
There will be some special presentations from Australian bands, too. I’m especially pleased to present Lloyd Swanton’s extended suite, ‘Ambon’. A stellar 12-piece band will perform music that Lloyd wrote, inspired by his uncle’s experience as a Japanese POW on Ambon.
James Morrison will play a set in the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre with his Superband featuring US saxophonist, Jeff Clayton. Zac Hurren will perform the music of his close friend, the late David Ades, written for David’s yet-to-be-released final album.
Traditional jazz fans will look forward to hearing favourites like Peter Gaudion and Geoff Bull, and maybe discovering a younger band like The Lagerphones
Over at the Blues Marquee, we have three bands from the USA. The most famous of course is Canned Heat, returning as part of their 50th anniversary tour. The brilliant harmonica player, Harper, will bring his band from Detroit. And we will welcome the return of Old Gray Mule, led by guitarist CR Humphrey, this time with drummer Cameron Kimbrough, and special guest, Broderick Smith on harmonica and vocals.
We will be featuring Aussie legends Russell Morris and Joe Camilleri, and the stars of the younger generation, like Ash Grunwald, James Southwell and Alex Hahn.
The festival will feature the finals of the National Jazz Awards, featuring Bass this year, competing for $21,000 in prizemoney, and recording studio time.
I hope this gives you some insight into the many factors that need to be considered in developing a festival programme. It can be a tough process, however I am very happy with the outcome and I sincerely hope you enjoy the line-up we are presenting for your enjoyment. We look forward to welcoming you to Jazz country in 2015