National Jazz Awards

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2018 national jazz awards

Media Release, 4 November 2018

Sydney drummer Alex Hirlian has won the annual National Jazz Awards (NJAs), Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues announced tonight.

In a hotly-contested final featuring 10 of the country’s best young jazz drummers playing with the professional NJA band, Alex narrowly beat Adelaide’s Angus Mason (2nd place) and Oli Nelson from Redfern, NSW (3rd place).

Head judge David Jones praised the outstanding quality of all the entrants, saying, “It was special hearing these great drummers playing so well, with such a supportive band behind them. They really are 10 of the most beautiful jazz musicians in this country, and it was such a tough call choosing the winner.”

The NJAs capped off a stellar weekend for the festival, with more than 300 artists from across the world performing 80 concerts over eight venues. From jazz stalwarts and blues lovers through to tourists and locals alike, there was music, food and venue choices to suit all.

Festival Chairman, Mark Bolsius, said more than 4,000 tickets were sold to the jazz and blues venue concerts, with tens of thousands more coming out in glorious weather to enjoy the free community stage and markets in Merriwa Park.

“The international acts in particular have been extraordinary,” Mr Bolsius said. “They may not have been household names when they arrived, but their names are now on everyone’s lips… audiences have been raving about the variety of acts and the fact that we’ve broken down genre barriers between blues and jazz. Several acts performed on both blues and jazz stages, and we’ve had a number of amazing collaborations between local and international artists that wouldn’t normally happen.

“There was something for every age group too, with Justine Clarke being a massive drawcard for the kids.”

Festival Lead Co-Artistic Director, Adam Simmons, said the new location of the community stage at Merriwa Park, as well as the Sunday markets and the hugely popular blues marquee, created an exciting and thriving festival vibe.

“We’re happy to report that the festival has been an unqualified success. There’s been a real buzz in town all weekend, well-attended and packed-out audiences everywhere. The musicians call it the ‘Wang hang’ because they get to meet so many other artists from around the world and interstate, and that creates new opportunities for creative collaborations.”

Festival Co-Artistic Director for Blues, Frank Davidson, added that his festival highlights were Red Hands, Ray Beadle, Zoe Hauptman, Evan Manell and Clayton Doley all ‘seamlessly blending jazz blues soul stirred in a big rhythmic cauldron’.

“Tina Harrod her band her celestial backing vocalists in the superb sound environment of the WPAC Theatre was a highlight: what a performer! Then the UK blues juggernaut with Matt Schofield trio Friday and Starlight Campbell band Saturday proved the blues is strong as ever. Thanks Wangaratta…see you for #30 next year!”

 Tim Firth, drums – NJA winner in 2011

In an interview before the 2011 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues, Tim Firth (who was to go on to win the award in 2011) spoke to about the festival and said:

It’s the best jazz festival in the country. Hands down. Playing at this festival is such an honour for me. One of my fondest memories is playing in the 2004 National Jazz Awards finals, alongside some my drumming idols. Then two years later I got to perform at the festival with James Muller’s Trio, Theaktet and Dave Panichi’s Septet. It was such a thrill for me playing with some of my favourite bands on that stage. It’s probably the biggest stage in Australian jazz. Playing at the Wangaratta Jazz festival really gives you the feeling like you’ve made it. I love it.

Ben Falle, Tim Firth, Dave Goodman

NJA final three drum contestants in 2011 – Ben Falle, Tim Firth, Dave Goodman