Jazz in the spotlight

25 October 2019

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Rosalind Appleby chats with Roscoe James Irwin, one of the high profile artists flying in to perform alongside the cream of the West Australian jazz scene at the Perth International Jazz Festival.

“Australia has its own jazz voice, I think. A uniqueness to the way we play – perhaps from the social culture or the personalities that have influenced the industry, but we have a unique sensibility in the way we present jazz in this country. And that is something that needs to be celebrated.”

Roscoe James Irwin’s enthusiasm is evident down the telephone line as he takes a break from touring to chat about the seventh Perth International Jazz Festival. The Melbourne trumpet player is excited to be part of something that celebrates the uniqueness of the Australian jazz scene.

His concert ‘Lost in a Dream – The Musical Life of Chet Baker’ is one of the centrepieces of the festival which runs November 8-10. It will be a rare chance for Perth audiences to witness Irwin – best known as a sideman in The Cat Empire and The Bamboos – presenting one of his own projects.

Irwin’s tribute to Chet Baker sits within a diverse festival program that ranges from very progressive contemporary jazz to more conservative shows. He promises it will be both accessible for newcomers and not too light for hardcore jazz fans, with quite a lush, cross-disciplinary flavour.

Irwin will engage 20 string players from the WA Youth Orchestra plus top local jazz musicians Chris Foster (piano), Nick Abbey (bass) and Mike Perkins (drums) to play his arrangements of Baker classics. Irwin’s various jazz hats include band leader and arranger and he has been likened to Sufjan Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel for his folksy, mellow style of singing and trumpet playing. Baker, whose warm, light style helped usher in the cool jazz of the 1950’s, is a good fit.

Chet Baker, a troubled jazz legend.

“The sound of Chet Baker’s trumpet and voice resonated with me when I was about 13. He has this mellow, soft sound and his playing is so melodic. It really clicked with me in a unique way.”

“I didn’t want to do a standard tribute, I wanted to capture the feel and the mood of the golden age of 1950’s California. So my arrangements include strings and a rhythm section to capture that hazy, cinematic Hollywood feel.”

‘Lost in a Dream’ had rave reviews from sell-out shows at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival and Irwin is looking forward to bringing the story to Perth.

“Chet was the James Dean of jazz, he was such a star but his fall was so tragic and sad. My show is a celebration but also a eulogy.”

Irwin is also excited about the prospect of checking out some of the other artists performing in the festival, which has been curated by Mace Francis, artistic director of the WA Youth Orchestra.

“Mace has created a truly international festival. He hasn’t just looked to North America for international artists, there are also musicians from Japan, Europe and South America. It is important to amalgamate the Australian jazz sound with all of that.”

Highly regarded Japanese pianist Fumio Itabashi and his quartet. Photo supplied.

The festival will place highly-regarded Japanese jazz pianist Fumio Itabashi and his quartet alongside some of Australia’s most adventurous improvisers: Daniel Susnjar (drums), Simon Jeans (guitar), Niran Dasika (trumpet), Simone De Haan (trombone) and Dylan Hooper (tenor sax). Japanese saxophonist Akane Ezawa will co-lead a quintet with Perth trumpeter Ricki Malet. Other international artists include Brazilian trio Meretrio, and orchestration trail-blazer Chelsea McBride who will bring the contemporary modern big band the Socialist Night School from Toronto to Perth.

Top tips on what gigs to get to?

“I am really looking forward to seeing the Kristen Berardi and Sam Anning duo, I’ve never seen them live before. Tal Cohen I’ve never seen because he’s been in New York for so long. And Veronica Swift, she won’t have trouble getting an audience, she’s just an amazing swing vocalist from the US.”

The Perth Cultural Centre and surrounds will play host to more than 50 concerts, many featuring local jazz musicians, from Friday to Sunday.

The Perth International Jazz Festival runs November 8 – 10.

Pictured top: Roscoe James Irwin will bring to life the style and feel of Chet Baker.

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She was co-managing editor and founding board member of Seesaw Magazine 2018 – 2023, is author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine (UK). She loves park percussion instruments.

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