Expanding the Art Form and Following New Directions

Tradition and innovation play it out in old favourites and cross-genre collaborations at Stonnington Jazz 2014.
Expanding the Art Form and Following New Directions

The Melbourne Rhythm Project. Image by Lucia Rossi. 

Dedicated jazz fans, newbies and avant-gardists alike are all catered for by the Stonnington Jazz program which draws on rich historical roots and explores other genres to chart future directions for Australian jazz.

On 25 May, the Alan Lee Quartet Reunion brings vibraphonist Alan Lee back to the stage with old friends Tony Gould (piano), Derek Capewell (bass) and Ted Vining (drums). One of the most respected bandleaders on the modern jazz scene in Melbourne in the 60s and 70s, Lee draws inspiration from John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

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Traditionalists can also celebrate as one of Australia’s best-loved jazz bands, The Syncopators, mark their 30th anniversary in a concert exclusively for Stonnington Jazz. On 24 May, original frontline players Peter Gaudion (trumpet, vocals), Richard Miller (clarinet, saxophone, vocals) and Chris Ludowyk (trombone, vocals) are joined by special guests including Steve Grant (piano) and Peter Baylor (guitar, banjo).

Other artists resist the call to convention. For Paul Grabowsky and Virna Sanzone, The Italian Project represents an opportunity to explore Sicilian folk songs in a way which brings out a hidden meaning in the original context.

‘The whole point of the project is really to reinvent the music, to bring it into a new context, a context that’s contemporary but also a context that feels relevant to me and the people in the band,’ says vocalist Virna Sanzone, who debuts at Stonnington on 23 May.

Researching over 600 songs from music libraries, private collections and references handed to her on scraps of paper from her father, Sanzone considered the pieces from multiple perspectives. ‘Were the songs well known? Had they been largely forgotten? When were they written and what was the context?’ she says.

From the subtleties of Jula de Palma and Rosa Balistreri to Roberto Murolo’s ‘Lla Rri Lli Rra’ from Fellini’s Le Notti di Cabiria, the resulting repertoire are all songs that express a particular feeling that Sanzone illuminates.  

The Sicilian language imparts another dimension to the performance. ‘The sound in Sicilian is very convoluted and rich and has a whole lot of curves and corners and edges,’ Sanzone explains. ‘The Sicilian language brings out different qualities both tonally and in terms of the direction it takes you expressively.’

The all-Australian festival travels from Sicily to Brazil, where Panorama do Brasil headlines a night of rhythmically vibrant, melodically persuasive jazz on 17 May. Led by drummer-percussionist Al Kerr, Panorama do Brasil presents the musical styles of several regions on Brazil with special guest, Doug de Vries.

On 18 May, The Sugarfoot Ramblers prove what’s hot about the contemporary Melbourne jazz scene with these twenty-something musicians playing classic American and Australian jazz repertoire with flair and authority. Travis Woods (trumpet), James Macaulay (trombone), Jason Downes (clarinet), Brett Thompson (banjo), Marty Holoubek (bass), Daniel Berry (drums) share the stage with elder statesman Jason Downes (clarinet, saxophone).

Answering the festival’s call to party, The Melbourne Rhythm Project combine jazz band, The New Sheiks, with a group of dancers led by choreographer Ramona Staffield on 18 May. They bring their skills at tap-dancing, the Lindy Hop and more with music that is custom made for Stonnington Jazz. BYO groove! 

For the full program see Stonnington Jazz 2014

Peta Mayer

Wednesday 14 May, 2014

About the author

Peta Mayer has a PhD in English Literature from University of Melbourne