Words By: Matt Norman
For a festival only established in 2012 and thus effectively still a toddler crawling its way into the city’s arts scene, the Perth International Jazz Festival puts on quite a show. Across the entire city on no less than 19 stages, local musos mingled with international superstars and provided a smorgasbord of entertainment for a steady stream of Perthites looking to get into the swing of things.
From the “Jazz Quarter” at Brookfield Place to a smattering of venues through Northbridge and the Cultural Centre, last weekend Perth was kept awake by fidget of drums, the haste of double bass and the long sighs of saxophones as jazz reigned over the last three nights of May. Our very own WAAPA and WAYJO musicians joined esteemed locals such as Fiona Lawe Davies, Allira Wilson, Howie Morgan and Trisk. Also gracing the line-up were international names like Timo Vollbrecht and Rachel Claudio, who brought a fresh twist to her performance with rap and live sampling elements. Headliner Richard “The African Sting” Bona was no less than virtuosic on the bass, earning his reputation as one of the genre’s very best. The weekend was superb from start to finish.
Despite its sheer quality and quantity, the Festival doesn’t seem to quite gain the attention it deserves. Though crowds have been growing steadily over its short lifetime, it still hasn’t quite reached the buzz that other festivals generate. The crowd was mixed but predominantly older, and though the free segments of the weekend were well-attended, the ticketed stages never quite felt full. The planning of the event, however, cannot be faulted – from the smooth running of a geographically spreadeagled set-up to the quality of catering and the selection of performers, hardly a thing could be faulted.
Perth, it seems, is getting to like jazz a little better, but it still needs time.
Behind thick doors on dark streets, the Perth jazz scene has been slowly and quietly expanding and diversifying. On Friday nights in Mt Hawthorn, The Jazz Cellar is accessible through an old phone booth and down a flight of stairs (that’s so Melbourne, I hear you cry). With an intimate setting and a BYO rule on both food and drinks, this is an affordable way to enjoy fine music and a classy night out. The Ellington Jazz Club, meanwhile, continues to offer a broad array of high-quality local and international acts, along with an array of other entertainment. On the 18th June, for example, Perth’s first ever ‘Slam Jam’ will see poets performing their work over live music, and is bound to be an event for the history books.
There still seems to be a gap that needs to be bridged, and it’s not clear if it’s to do with age or style or marketing – but the collective product being offered by the Perth jazz scene is worth more than people are paying for it. On the positive side, this is exactly how a scene grows; first, it’s a well-kept secret loved by the regulars, and before long it’s the place to be. If this is the future of jazz in Perth, it’s well deserved. There are clearly a whole lot of people sweating blood to provide the punters of this city with top-notch jazz, complete with all the trimmings.