Welcome a new festival

In my last blog I discussed the challenges of putting together a festival programme, particularly when that festival is in a stage of evolution. This year’s Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues boasts an exceptional line up of jazz and blues artistst but we have also introduced some exciting ‘cross-over’ acts, as I refer to them.

These performers will introduce a new audience to our festival but importantly, to the wonderful world of jazz and blues. I have been very careful to identify artists who demonstrate not only high musicianship but also have jazz & blues credentials. I have been delighted with your response to names such as Russell Morris, Joe Camilleri and Thirsty Merc from the initial surprise to one of welcome delight to see how these fantastic artists will interpret the genre.

Like great jazz and blues music, festival programmes can sometimes have a free spirit and changes to band personnel are inevitable so it is opportune to update you on a couple of changes.

Carl Dewhurst was not available to play guitar in James Morrison’s Superband; would it be ok if they featured James Muller instead? Oh, alright, I guess he’ll do.

CR Humphrey of Old Gray Mule was pleased to advise that he would be bringing Cameron Kimbrough (grandson of Mississippi blues legend, Junior Kimbrough) to play drums this year. It turns out that some personal issues prevent Cam from touring at that time, so instead we will hear an old colleague of CR’s, CW Ayon, on drums and vocals. This will make it a reunion tour, as CW was with Old Gray Mule from 2010-13.

I’ll keep you posted on any other changes but for now I’m really happy with this year’s line up and starting to look forward to the festival. Don’t forget that tickets are limited so if you haven’t secured your Gold Pass or Festival Pass do so now.

Farewell an old friend

I note with sadness the passing of Allan Browne on June 13. As drummer, bandleader, poet, raconteur and character, Al was one of a kind. For those of us who got to know him, he was a warm and generous man, with a marvelously dry, understated sense of humour.

Many of Al’s friends and colleagues wrote some eloquent tributes on Facebook, and elsewhere. One that I thought was especially heartfelt and evocative was by Tim Stevens, one of the many younger-generation musicians whose growth was aided enormously by Al’s mentoring, friendship, support and encouragement. I commend his tribute, to be found on his website.

One of the discussion points that often comes up regarding the selection of bands is that some artists appear regularly, which reduces the chance for other artists to ‘get a turn’. I make no apology for having booked Al regularly. One reason was the sheer diversity of bands he would assemble, from the very traditional to the very modern. Among my favourite memories of Al playing at Wang over the years was the final concert of the Red Onions (Al declared that they couldn’t use the Onions name any more, since Bill Howard’s passing), and a performance of ‘Five Bells’ by his Australian Jazz Band which drew a standing ovation from a full house in the old Town Hall.

The other reason was, triggered by the gravity of Al’s health issues, the knowledge that he wouldn’t be with us forever. I felt I should make the most of the chance to present Al with one or more of his latest projects. For 2015, I had planned to book Al’s band with Julien Wilson, Scott Tinkler and Philip Rex. We had even discussed a collaboration with Tim Rogers, which may have raised some eyebrows. Not to be, sadly. But have no doubt, it would have all worked out, mate.

On a more positive note, it’s fair to say that Australian singer-pianist-composer Sarah McKenzie (who played at Wangaratta last year) is enjoying a rapid rise on the international circuit. Now living in Paris, she is being represented by Burkhard Hopper, something of a heavy-hitter whose clients have included James Morrison and the late Esbjorn Svensson.

Sarah’s recent gigs include opening for Jamie Cullum at the Jazz Open festival in Stuttgart and a concert on the very picturesque stage at the Antibes Jazz Festival, her band including the very swinging American drummer Gregory Hutchinson. I would have liked to catch that set.

Look forward to seeing you in Jazz country.