Gigs Reviews

Experience The Perth International Jazz Festival

Words by: Sam Herriman
Image credit: PIJF

Taking over some of the most renowned venues in the city and hosting a feast of local, national and international talent, this coming weekend will see the third edition of the Perth International Jazz Festival (PIJF) rumble into town.

Following on from rave reviews over the past couple of years, the festival has once again attracted some big name artists to headline the program, including celebrated bassist Richard Bona from New York. The unique mix of experienced jazz musicians coupled with some of the most exciting prospects in the local scene provides the people of Perth a fantastic opportunity to hear the best in the business whilst supporting the development of young talent.

Founded by the artistic director Dr. Graham Wood – himself a performer in this year’s festival – with assistance from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), the Western Australian Youth Jazz Orchestra (WAYJO) and JAZZWA,  the festival’s purpose is ‘to promote jazz to the wider community,’ by ‘[bringing] inspiring music…to Perth in an accessible and vibrant way.’

Through the success of events such as PIJF and complemented by the burgeoning jazz program at WAAPA and a number of venues dedicated to showcasing local talent, Perth is beginning to establish itself as a national leader in innovation and excellence in jazz performance.

Jazz music occupies an interesting place in the contemporary music scene. With its indelible influence on today’s popular music, jazz – and its plethora of varied sub-genres – still maintains a strong following across the globe.

With origins rooted in the horrors of the slave trade era, jazz music incorporates elements of African, Latin and Western musical traditions. At the turn of the century, the sub-genres of ragtime, blues, swing and dixieland came to prominence in various parts of the US, as jazz began to infiltrate the public consciousness.

Perhaps most importantly, the city of New Orleans – and in particular its African American population – has been inexorably tied with the evolution and explosion of jazz music and even today is considered the hometown of the genre. The PIJF will be paying homage to tradition, with Brookfield Place masquerading as a New Orleans style quarter on Sunday night.

Anyone familiar with stories such as The Great Gatsby (although perhaps not the hip-hop heavy Baz Luhrmann adaption) and Boardwalk Empire will know that in the prohibition era jazz was the biggest thing in live music, appearing in all its glorious decadence at speakeasies and dancehalls around the States. Jazz’s connection with illicit alcohol made the stuffy bourgeoisie begin to decry the flourishing genre as ‘immoral,’ and an attack on traditional values.

With its newfound popularity, elements of jazz began seeping into the more reputable and upstanding (read: traditional/old) genre of classical music. The stigma around jazz music as some sort of lower art form quickly began to disappear and the public approval of the genre saw jazz became a nationalised institution and intrinsically linked to an idealised America of the mid-20th Century – a perception that persists to this day. As the cultural domination of the US permeated across continents in the 1950’s, so too did the influence of jazz spread throughout the world.

Since its brief period of unrivaled popularity, jazz music has faded into the background of the mainstream, albeit after passing on many of its sensibilities to rock and roll music. Despite this, the scene continues to thrive and evolve as it blends different styles and ideas to create a multitude of new and exciting sounds. From big band to fusion to funk jazz to afrobeat to regional styles what’s fascinating about jazz is its continual fluidity and diversity of sound – as best shown by the emphasis placed on improvisation.

That diversity will be on full display at the PIJF, with artists hailing from any number of different backgrounds coming together to celebrate the ebullience and artistry of live jazz performance.

Combining both ticketed and free, community events the PIJF offers something for everything, from the knowledgeable jazz enthusiasts to those completely unacquainted with the genre. Jazz is truly taking over the city, with headline events at Brookfield Place and the Cultural Centre and beloved venues like the Ellington, The Laneway Lounge and the Moon playing host to a number of artists over the weekend.


With over 45 acts appearing across the jam-packed weekend choosing how to spend your time can be a pretty daunting task. I fully recommend heading over to the official website to see how the different acts ‘fit into the jazz genre’ and find out what you can expect from their live show, so you can plan the weekend according to your tastes!


Grammy nominated Barney McCall is an acclaimed pianist and multi-talented musician hailing from Melbourne and residing in New York. From 7:30-10pm hear his trio perform unique, contemporary music at the familiar and friendly New York style Ellington Jazz Club.

Stick around for the late night/early morning shift and catch some of the world’s leading improvisers make it up as they go along at the intimate jam sessions – an event that’s running every night across the weekend.

Info and tickets


The Northbridge Piazza is the place to be on Saturday arvo, with three quality acts from 11-4:30. Fresh off a tour of the State in 2014, the venue kicks off the day with the talented kids from the Hale School Jazz Band who will be performing some jazz classics.

They will be followed by the fascinating trio Soundgun, who ‘offer reinterpretations of contemporary songs by their ‘pop heroes,’ including Bjork, Sigur Ros and Radiohead as well as some of their own original work.

Finishing off the afternoon will be the Perth Jazz Society Big Band. Comprised of some of the leading jazz practitioners in Perth and featuring works from local composers – including the premiere of a specially commissioned piece – the program promises to bring a lively day in Northbridge to an entertaining end.



Finish off your weekend with a bang by heading down to one of the headline events at Brookfield Place for a vibrant evening of music and dance. From 4 -9pm audiences will be treated to exceptional and varied performances over three stages. Feast your ears and your face with top notch food and drink from the surrounding bars and restaurants.

Don’t miss Junkadelic who’ll be roaming around from 7-8 showcasing their rowdy, funky and rhythmically powerful cross genre style, or the Zydecats, who’ll be closing out the night with their eclectic mix of tunes from across the jazz genre on the main stage from 8-9.

Info and tickets


The biggest event of the weekend features a massive line-up of exhilarating jazz practitioners. Starting from 11:00am across four stages – including a free stage outside PICA – in the cultural centre this is bound to be a joyous celebration of jazz performance.

Capped off with a set from the headline act Richard Bona at the museum stage from 7:30pm there are quality artists everywhere you look. Vivian Sessoms (NYC), Rachel Claudio (Paris), Barney McCall (NYC) and Tina Harrod (SYD) are just some of the acclaimed artists on stage throughout the day.

For only $25 (plus a booking fee) a ticket this is an incredible opportunity to experience the power, brilliance and jubilation of world-class jazz music live in the heart of Perth.

Info and tickets (


Across the weekend the Perth Jazz Society will be presenting four unique and talented local acts at the New Orleans themed Laneway Lounge.  From 6-8pm on Friday night catch the Gemma Farrell Group, whose leading lady is back performing in Perth after honing her craft both nationally and internationally.

At the same time on Saturday, the Pete Evans quartet takes to the stage. The performance will feature Evans on the drums as they present his own intricate compositions written both during his time as a student in Melbourne and since his return to Perth.

Playing a late afternoon set from 4:30-6:30 on the Sunday will be The Newhouse Collective. Emerging from the artistic visions of front man Tim Newhouse, this cross-genre act combines improvisational and experimental flair with original and innovative contemporary works for a performance that’s not to be missed.

Closing out the weekend from 7:30-9:30 on Sunday will be Shameem, who’s back in town after a successful national tour to promote her second album. The songstress’ smooth, sultry voice complementing pieces that blend the sensibilities of soul, R&B and jazz, are sure to make for a charming and captivating evening.

Info and tickets