8 February 2016

A golden era


Brian Stewart launched his latest exhibition of jazz photographs at Smiths on Friday night. I must thank him for asking me to speak. Congrats to Brian. Here is my talk and a few pics of musos before and after the exhibition: a classical pianist outside, and the Collingwood Casanovas who played after.

Opening speech for launch of Brian Stewart's Golden Era 2009-2012 photo exhibition, Smiths Alternative, 5 Feb 2016

A Golden age : Canberra jazz 2009-2012

Thanks to Brian for asking me to launch this exhibition. I'm Eric Pozza, writer the Canberra Jazz blog and maintainer of CanberraJazz.net. I've know Brian through jazz several years not least as a fellow member of our mature quartet of reliable listeners

Brian's exhibition is entitled A Golden era of jazz in Canberra - 2009-2012. I first read the title as The and I was pleased to realise Brian actually called it A golden era.

Geoff Page spoke to me once of the then current golden era of jazz in Canberra, but I thought he went back further, perhaps 15/20 years. For the last few decades and for Brian's period, local jazz is largely a story of the School of Music, although there was some other jazz outside the school, eg, Hippo, AFATM. Before that jazz history was the Jazz Clubs (2 incarnations), jazz festivals, trad jazz (see John Sharpe. A cool capital: the Canberra jazz scene 1925-2005)

The Jazz school dates from 1985, think Don Johnson, Col Horweg, Mike Price, Tony Hayes/George Urbaszek, Harold Luebke and students Carl Dewhurst, Brendan Clarke, Nick McBride, Andrew Robson, Catherine Hunter, Kristen Cornwell, Idea of North. Following a review of the ANU SOM in ~2012, jazz suffered markedly and this golden era ended abruptly.

It's telling that all these photos are of people associated with the Jazz School / School of Music as students, teachers, graduates

There are only ~20 pics so they can't record everyone. Who are they? The students are Tate Sheridan, Calum Builder, Luke Sweeting, Joe McEvilly, Victor Rufus, Liam Budge, Rachel Thoms (student at the time), Tom Fell and there are others in the group shots. Some are still here, others are touring (even with Elton John, no less) or practicing further afield or now teaching. The teachers are John Mackey, Eric Ajaye, Miro Bukovsky, who all came to Canberra to work at the School of Music. The others all happen to be Jazz School graduates: Wayne Kelly, James Luke, Greg Stott, Mark Sutton. There are many others who don't make this small collection of photos, from this period and before. ~20 pics can only reveal so much. And most are associated with the SOM as teachers or past students

Jazz soloing is an individualist art but there's also a communal aspect - ensemble playing, big bands, harmony, even comping and accompaniment in smaller bands. We see different sizes of ensembles here. Smaller ensembles but also Kaleid vocal trio, Movement 9 (perhaps 10 players), Dan McLean Big Band (16 or so), ACT Jazz Collective. One thing I miss deeply is these big sounds and harmonies and rhythms, and we used to hear plenty. During Brian's period the School of Music had Miro's Recording Ensemble, John's Big Band and Eric's funky Commercial Ensemble.

I also see in these pics the flowering of venues over this period, so this is era of venues and visitors. The Loft (thanks to Luke Sweeting and Tom Fell), ANU venues, The Gods (thanks, Geoff Page), early Smiths, Street Theatre. Is Calum in the Old Parliament House garden? I see Tate is in front of this very wall hanging here in Smiths.

And the visitors who came for the School, to perform or teach, or to return home to see family, or to tour Eastern States. There are fewer coming now. Many from JazzGroove, Sydney, Melbourne, Australians on tour, some coming from OS. I remember names like Linda Oh, Jacam Manricks, Eric Mcpherson, Ambrose Akinmusire, Bill Cunliffe, John Riley, Eugene Wright, Eric Harland, Bad Plus, Bennie Maupin, Sean Wayland, Mark Giuliana, often heard in the Band Room at the School.

Jazz is a small community. Often our best musos are out making a living with weddings, teaching, corporate gigs. That's probably why jazz happens during the week: the musos are working for real money on weekends. We need the musos but we also need the supporters of creative music for it to survive (some of whom are also musos) eg Tom and Schoeb and Geoff to organise gigs, Brian and John Sharpe (and me, I guess) to record, Chris Deacon and ArtSound to broadcast, and perhaps most essential, the listeners: my Gang of 4 (Brian, Keith, Geoff, me@Smiths) and many others who attend

And what of the photography?

Brian has maintained an online photography collection for many years, covering jazz since ~2007 but also other themes: landscape, people. This is Cyberhalides, referencing silver halides and the traditional negative, darkroom printing process of black & white photography.

Cyberhalides / Cyberhalides Jazz

And the technical matters?

From Brian, we can expect sharp monochrome, shallow depth of field (common in his jazz photography under low light), plenty of contrast, raw imaging and post-processing, snappy glorious printing. What of his photographic eye? See how he sets off people and locations. The photo of Tate mirroring Larry Sitsky is an opportune work of genius - how lucky is that? But in photography, like in much else in like, you make your luck. Or how he captures the moment. See Liam's vocal engagement, Eric's drive and commitment, Miro observing John's thoughtful tenor investigation, James playing while watching Mark, John musing on Greg's solo. That's a reminder for all musos: to listen, to watch, to stay attentive to the other musicians you are playing with.

And something I like in a photograph: Brian is discreet. It's a key skill in photographing people generally, and in not annoying listeners. Using a silent camera where required, timing SLR exposures so as not to invade the sound, moving unobtrusively to set up a pic

Getting back to the music ...

This all reminds us of the ANU School of Music, of course. Brian's namesake, ANU VC Brian Schmidt is instituting a community consultation and report process under Andrew Podger (Larry Sitsky is one advisor). We should all consider how we can input and hope for a positive outcome. As an aside, it's interesting that Brian Schmidt first came to Canberra with the Alaska Youth Orchestra and played in Llewellyn, so that's something hopeful. Maybe there will be another golden era to come.

And another hint of renewal is that we now hear of the return of regular Thursday night jazz to Smiths from February. Good news and thanks to Nigel.

For those who are in these photos and to Brian who has made this record, thanks for the art and the entertainment, and let's all hope for a resurgent jazz future in Canberra.

So, with this champagne across the bow, I launch Brian's exhibition ...

Brian Stewart (photographer) launched A golden era : Canberra Jazz 2009-2014, his exhibition of recent jazz photographs, at Smiths Alternative. Eric Pozza spoke. The Collingwood Casanovas bluegrass band followed.

6 February 2016

A new man?


Sam Dastyari spoke at the Politics in the Pub and I agreed with all he said but I remain unconvinced. It's relevant that the first question was from Ben Oquist, now head of the Australia Institute, referencing how he moved so far from the political warrior of the NSW Labor Right to this almost-Marxian position. Strange, that. Not impossible, of course, but worthy of some reticence. SD is young (now 33?) and has been involved in Labor politics at an organisational level since age 16, so he's had time, and it's a common enough thing for people involved in politics to change ideas, often markedly. They live with it every day; they think it; they should be prepared to honestly reconsider positions. So where is he now? He spoke about "Who really runs Australia". He had thought Parliament, PM, institutions have that power, but PMs change (recently very frequently). His answer is the major companies. He mentioned 10 (four banks, three miners, two grocery, one telco (you can guess the names) but I expect it could expand to the BCA group. He told of being shocked on coming to Canberra, of changing ideas of where power resides, of marketing budgets for political causes and ubiquity of lobbyists. He argued not just that they have influence, but that they drown out all other influence. He reminded us of the richest 7 Australians having the wealth of the bottom 20% and similar stats. Interestingly, he said the answer is in the market, through increased competition (I'd add, for influence, not just profit). He reminded us of bank corruption and lack of action and FOFA, of the mining campaign against the "super-profits tax" (which would actually have helped smaller miners, but at the cost of the biggest players). He mentioned the fightback in support of FOFA, by COTA, Choice, Seniors, victims, Australia Institute. He suggested things are boiling, the public is seeing though the marketing lines, anger and frustration is building as shown by politics outside parties, of left and right: Bernie Sanders, Trump, Jeremy Corbyn, National Front, Golden Dawn.

Then questions. We need more than a Federal ICAC: he suggested a Serious Fraud Office to investigate public and private fraud (apparently the UK has one). There is always resistance to giving up power; Labor must change or be "part of a shrinking pie". Previous exposure to power is useful to recognise power in Parliament, but his experience didn't prepare him for the Commonwealth Parliament. Tax is "boring shit" but essential for fairness. An example? The largest cleaning company in Australia pays less tax than each of its cleaners (!) [I can only think of Warren Buffett: "There's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning". Quoted in "In Class Warfare, Guess Which Class Is Winning" by Ben Stein, in The New York Times, 26 Nov 2006]. He argues the suggestion that multinationals will leave Australia because they are taxed is bunkum: they are here for profit and profit is what is taxed. BTW, he doesn't query tax or making profit - he's actually no Marxist - but he does argue for competition and distribution of influence. He sees the big local corporations as more the problem than multinationals. The solution? The "market-based solution is a competitive environment". ACCC does great work given its "devastating" budget cuts. The "effects test" would have been good for competition. Another example: credit cards, where interest may be 22% while the cost of money is 2%. Surprisingly and interestingly, he argued that the Labor's centre left had been very successful, referencing the timespan post 1960s. Healthcare, education, multiculturalism and finance matters were on the agenda under Whitlam and are essentially in place (an interesting view and impressive evidence: we are different from then). But the centre-left needs to think where to next. He suggests decentralisation of power. There were questions of the decline of institutions, not least Parliament and Public Service, but maybe times have changed and institutions are not natural, but can change (another interesting thought). In response to a question about Murdoch and News Ltd not being in the "Top 10", he spoke of dominance, but shrinking power. Then of employee empowerment in the past by awareness that they kept their jobs with profits; but now managers are measured on an ability to restructure to reduce visible profit and tax. The High Court's latest decision on refugee returns to Nauru and the US 14th Amendment was raised; the debate is "so polarised, so emotional" that conversation is impossible. And a final few words on decentralisation of power and the twisting effect of fund raising (eg, US pollies spend 85% on their time on fundraising, so influence is inevitable, even without corruption). He admitted his major fund-raising role in the NSW Right.

So, his thoughts, or at least his words were good. I remain skeptical, perhaps too cynically, by this easily spoken pollie, but I'll watch and listen more over time. Certainly, I liked what he said and I was not alone in that.

Sam Dastyari (Labor, Senate) spoke at Politics in the Pub for the Australia Institute.

4 February 2016

Post-bop lives forever


Jason Bruer introduced his band, Hammerhead, saying "it's the music that turned us all on to jazz". They were playing hard bop, a tribute to Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers, some originals in the style and with a format to suit, piano bass drums as rhythm section and a front line of three horns, trumpet tenor alto. It's somewhere near how I came to jazz (more closely, it was Dizzy and bop, ten years earlier) and it's a style I still love immensely and, from the reaction in the audience, is loved by many. This concert went down a treat. Lovely harmonies up front, big fat tones from the three horns; a driving, unyielding, regularity from the drums and deep groove from bass and some rich harmonic colour and intriguing rhythmic hits from the piano comping. They mostly played walking swing but there was funky fours and six feels and some lovely '70s modern jazz syncopation as well. The first set was all walking fours, at least in the solos. The heads could be sycopated. Wayne Shorter The Summit and later Hammerhead and Jason Bruer's homage, Wayne's world. Bobby Timmons' famous tune Moanin' worked so well with this combination. Then a bittingly fast head on Jason's Breaking bad. The second half had more modern feels, if still in the tradition. An Eddie Harris tune was funky and Joe Henderson Power to the people was a syncopated 8 feel. Pat Metheny Sometimes I see was a lovely ballad. Jason had two more originals. I loved Sixth sense, a 6/8 reminding me of my formative album, Norman Connors Love form the Sun. For Art's sake was another post-bop dedication and a finish on Cedar Walton Mosaic, an up-tempo post-bopper. This was manor from heaven for me and obviously many the in audience. This music is so approachable and attractive: individualist in solo; supportive in coming; satisfying in fat melodies. And the playing was a dream. Post-bop likes a simple, stated phrase for development. Ray was playful in this; Kim was rich and full (someone mentioned good lungs on young players); Jason was more obtuse and abstruse. Nice combination. Duncan on drums was absolutely steady, unwavering, not overly busy with embellishments. Brendan is an unstoppable force and proved it again in accompaniment, as well as laying some detailed and quick solos. Greg's comping was a dream, intriguing and coloured, both leading and responding, and solos were to match. He took one solo passage, unaccompanied, dismantling and reconsidering, before returning to top. Nicely done and quite a change. As my foot tapped and I thought of the variation on unyielding groove, I wondered if this was the dance music of its days. Great stuff and much enjoyed.

Hammerhead played at the Gods. They comprised Jason Bruer (tenor), Ray Cassar (trumpet), Kim Rawson (alto sax), Greg Coffin (piano), Brendan Clarke (bass) and Duncan Archibald (drums).

1 February 2016

Amongst the artz


Visitors out of town and quiet amongst the institutions. Megan and I took an afternoon for a short visit. Not Tom Roberts or the celestial empire, although they look great and are planned. Just to see the new thematic layout in the National Gallery and the switch of Australian downstairs and International upstairs. I liked it. I especially liked the occasional walls of profusions of artworks. These galleries have lots of painting; I'm not sure why they don't show them off to the max. They do at the AGSO and Palazzo Pitti and the like. They are touching on it here, and those busy spaces are the most inviting judged by the numbers perusing. Maybe the sex and beach theme helped in one gallery. I liked the lower ceilings for Blue poles and Hockney's Grand Canyon was hugely better hung where it now is. Perhaps a busier wall would have helped but it worked. Our local Ex de Medici gets a seriously prominent spot, as does another local, Patricia Piccinini, and there's more poignant humour with a Refugee astronaut. Not everything is moved: Asian, Indian, Aboriginal and such galleries are in place, but this change deserves a few visits. On the way, we dropped in to the National Portrait Gallery to find Dirk, Lachlan and Stewart playing and modelling in the foyer. An amusing concept. Jazz musicians play; amateur artists draw. Nice.

We visited the National Gallery of Australia. Dirk Zeylmans (tenor), Lachlan Coventry (bass, guitar) and Stewart King (guitar) were playing for live (not life) drawing in the foyer of the NPG.

30 January 2016

Post-hol civ


Nice to hear some civilisation and see a mate in Civic. This was Mile Dooley playing outside the upstairs entrance to DJ's. I caught him before Christmas. He's had a break for some Christmas family camping, but was there again on Friday. Nice solo piano on a nice Yamaha grand. Standards like Autumn leaves and suchlike, nicely embellished and twisted. I stood over him and caught some great piano bass work on Night in Tunisia. Very nice. Jazz is seen as the undemonstrative tinkling of the bourgeoisie by some and pop and rap has the politics and affinity. Not sure I totally agree, but, whatever, Mike does it well.

Mike Dooley played solo piano at the Canberra Centre.

27 January 2016

Nxtgen

Everything seems black at the moment. Finance is crashing; terrorism is spreading; Abbott's warriors are incredibly still vocal; Trump is incredibly winning his primary; climate-related natural disasters are increasing (I checked this to see whether it's just an artifact of media reporting; it's not); our music school is diminished. But Ross Gittins wrote today to "ignore the gloom" and I caught a nice period concert by a next generation group from the Sydney Con. So there remains hope. This was Ensemble Pendulum. They are recent, perhaps current, students in the Historically Informed Performance stream at the Con. They played courtly, dignified, often danceable, music of CPE Bach and Haydn and Telemann and Locatelli. They played on gut (despite the rigours of changing humidity and Canberra's dryness) with baroque bows, and the flute was wooden. They featured a borrowed harpsichord in Flemish style of the appropriate era. They played with keenness and enjoyment and drive and their performance was loud with reverb in the central hall at the Gorman Arts Centre for a small but appreciative audience, perhaps starved of music after the Summer break (other than the AYO which someone did mention). Thanks to the ensemble for their visit and the delightful and decorous music so nicely played.

Ensemble Pendulum are Annie Gard (violin), Theo Small (flute), Thea Turnbull (viola), Jemma Thrussell (cello), Esther Kim (harpsichord) and Nathan Cox (harpsichord). EP performed in the central hall at the Gorman Arts Centre.

23 January 2016

Man interrupted

I was distracted by family matters for this final AYO concert. I heard CPE Bach and William Walton by TV from the foyer. The Bach sounded lovely in its dignified way, if nothing like the real thing, but the Walton didn't come over so successfully on these little speakers. Perhaps the audio should be better in the foyer, but then TV is standard. I got in for Genevieve Lacey playing three Bach reinventions by Elena Kats-Chernin and they were both convincing with truly impressive recorder playing and a joyous and respectful revision by Katz-Chernin. Alexander Orchestra under Brad Cohen played Stravinsky Suites for small orchestra no.1,2 and they were variously restrained and riotous so very satisfying. Then the ultimate major work of the night and of the Camp, the huge Bishop Orchestra under Erik Nielsen playing Schoenberg Pelleas and Melisande. I remained distracted but caught a huge work of grand scope and strangely not split into movements. One to revisit under different circumstances.

Genevieve Lacey (recorder) performed with the Smalley Chamber Orchestra. The Bishop Orchestra under Brad Cohen performed Stravinsky. The Alexander Orchestra under Erik Nielsen performed Schoenberg. Both performed at Llewellyn Hall for the Australian Youth Orchestra National Music Camp 2016.

21 January 2016

Penultimate

This was the third orchestral concert of the AYO National Music Camp and the penultimate concert for the series. It was a beauty and much anticipated, for the Beethoven 7 and the John Adams. The Carl VIne was less anticipated. In the end, I enjoyed John Adams, played by the Smalley Chamber Orchestra with a conductor. I was intrigued by the loops and the minimal but continuing changes, mulled over the history of the concept of loops given their ubiquity in much contemporary electronic music (and my recent desire to purchase a looper), although I did feel the piece carried on somewhat. Not so all minimalism, but this was quite early and new. But how well played it was, and clearly conducted by Monica Curro. Then Carl Vine Tempest Suite. This was unanticipated because I/we did not know what to expect, other than Australian composer, but how much I enjoyed it. Luscious, balletic music with romantic flourish and expanse. An unexpected gem played by the Alexander Orchestra under Brad Cohen. I followed the conducting and had no idea where his 1 was, but his flourishes seemed to draw nice dynamics from the orchestra and it sounded great. Then the Beethoven symphony no.7 after the interval. I was floored. Typical Beethoven, which I am now coming to recognise from playing a few. Dogged, always moving, never clumsy, incisive starts, canons, quick scherzo and the rest with some dastardly difficult lines for bass and presumably equally so for the other parts. Pretty much scalar, but long scales over the whole neck and back again, and again. Congrats to these kids who can perform such a feat at this true speed. I stand in awe.

The Smalley Chamber Orchestra performed Adams under Monica Curro (conductor). The Alexander Orchestra performed Vine and Beethoven under Brad Cohen (conductor). Both performed at Llewellyn Hall for the Australian Youth Orchestra National Music Camp 2016.

19 January 2016

Having all the fun

We tend to think of the big bertha orchestral concerts as the peak and they are the best attended and best timed and the ones that get broadcast from AYO to ABCFM, but the Brass/Percussion concert was a thing of great joy and great beauty in its own right (and rite). The first notes were from the large brass ensemble and they glowed with bell-like clarity and corporeal rotundity. This band was trumpets, trombones, horns with a few drums in support. They were playing Strauss Vienna Philharmonic fanfare. What's not to like about a fanfare? Dignified, projected, joyous, warm, full. We were told it was written following his divorce from his second wife. Amusing, too, if true. And so it continued. The percussionists got up for a traditional African drum chant from Burundi. This reminded me of jazz drum solos and not the only time in the night. Then a smaller mix of brass for Rimsky-Korsakov Mlada Procession of the nobles and a string of horns for a Wagner prelude (Act 3) from the Mastersingers of Nuremberg. I felt this last one could be maudlin at times and the tone of the horns lends itself to this. The horns then snuck in an off-program rendition Bernstein Magnificent seven theme. Great. As the compere reminded those old enough to remember, "As a matter of fact, I've got it now". A smaller group of brass with harp and two percussion played the three movements of Shostakovich Jazz suite. That felt at home, especially with the jazz waltz first movement. Then a drum nonet playing Michael Colgrass Three brothers. Nice; reminders of jazz drum solos, again, and some lovely sharp and even sticked bongos that stood out a mile. A trombone ensemble came next. Trombone must be the most luscious and pure of the brass instruments. They played three renaissance dances from Holborne, then a lovely harmony-rich rendition of Gershwin Someone to watch over me. Such melodic sentimentality can never be out of place. Then the larger brass ensemble with the delicate to insanely heavy Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet suite and a cute Love of three oranges march, again Prokofiev. And to finish? I didn't quite catch the intro, but this turned out to be a huge medley of classical and pop themes collected by the percussion ensemble itself. This was truly fabulous and entertaining and worthy of the standing ovation. Sandwiched by intro and finis of 2001 (=Also sprach Zarathustra) with everything from Mozart and Bach and Ravel and Beethoven and Katchaturian to tango and La Marseillaise and West Side Story and Sinatra. All held together with cool jazz feels, some great kit drumming, plenty of marimbas and vibes and glocks and a cavorting conductor and even a ballroom dance accompaniment from two performers to [I did it] My way. This concert was joyous and beauteous but not just that. If I get the chance, I think I'd like to come back as percussion or brass. As long as they count right, their jobs are not too busy and very prominent. They have all the fun (tongue clearly in cheek).

Various AYO Brass and Percussion ensembles played a range of musics with and without various conductors at Llewellyn Hall.