COVID the catalyst for songs of freedom

18 September 2020

The pandemic has had an enormous impact on jazz and Garry Lee says there was an atmosphere of joy and relief as WAYJO musicians returned to the stage last night.

‘Isolation Emancipation: Songs of Isolation & Freedom’, West Australian Youth Jazz Orchestra·
Lyric’s Underground, Maylands, 17 September 2020 ·

On Thursday night two of the West Australian Youth Jazz Orchestra’s three orchestras performed at Lyric’s Underground in Maylands, a new well-appointed venue that is ideal for big band jazz.

WAYJO’s press release explained: “The pandemic has seen months of isolated practicing and lost performance opportunities for musicians around the globe. WAYJO is excited to finally present this concert, working on themes of isolation and freedom that musically express what many have been feeling since March.”

Of course the notion of “freedom” has always been an underlying motive for the playing of jazz and, in the US, has acted as a soundtrack and sometimes catalyst for the African Americans’ fight for equality throughout the history of jazz. The concept of “isolation” also resonates with the serious jazz musician. Certainly jazz is usually played in an ensemble situation but the artist is required to undertake considerable, what is called in jazz, “wood-shedding” – practicing alone to attain mastery over his or her instrument.

From the outset of the performance there was an atmosphere of joy and relief from the musicians that they could perform to an audience. Led by Marty Pervan, the Tuesday Night Orchestra offered a range of jazz standards often featuring emerging vocalist, Jordan Boase. These included “Lover Come Back”, “Tea For Two” and “Everyday I Have the Blues” synonymous with Joe Williams and the Count Basie Orchestra. I especially enjoyed the band’s rendition of Horace Silver’s “Filthy McNasty”. Drummer, Felix Lemann, was a driving force throughout providing excellent brushwork and appropriate fills when required.

A short break and the capacity audience was treated to a most professional set by the Wednesday Night Orchestra led by Dr Mace Francis. There were some excellent solos and I greatly enjoyed the contribution of teenage trombonist, Andrew Nikolaenko – an Engineering student at UWA. Many of the musicians are currently studying Jazz at WAAPA including pianist, James O’Brien who played with maturity belying his youth. Vocalist, Lucy Iffla’s contribution was very well received. Her sassy approach to jazz vocals will surely enhance her profile in the years to come.

Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia” was well played by all and the composition “Desperate Times” underlined the current situation for jazz worldwide. It was composed for WAYJO by New York pianist, Jim McNeely (Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra) and underlines the relationships WAYJO has made on the international jazz scene. The concert concluded fittingly with a Mace Francis original, composed specifically for this performance – “Isolation Emancipation” – a blues-based tune that featured an excellent saxophone soli.

This pandemic has had an enormous effect on jazz and nowhere worse than New York City – the spiritual home of the artform – where live performances have not taken place since March. Many jazz clubs will not survive which creates a question mark for the futures of so many jazz musicians including former WAYJO members who have moved to New York.

However Thursday’s concert surely showed hope and optimism where so many young talented musicians supported by dedicated administration and musical directors provided an opportunity for a most enjoyable and well-received live performance in Perth.

WAYJO returns to Lyric’s Underground on 4 October & 1 November.

Pictured top: Sassy vocalist Lucy Iffla backed by the Wednesday Night Orchestra. Photo Justine Thornley

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Author —
Garry Lee

Garry Lee has played jazz vibraphone and guitar for over 50 years. He was a founding jazz teacher at WAAPA has also been a jazz writer, jazz composer/leader, Churchill Fellow and artistic director. Born in Essex soon after WW2, his favourite playground equipment was dismantled tanks and cannons.

Past Articles

  • Master leads apprentices in style

    Having conquered the world stage, legendary jazz guitarist Frank Gambale brings out the best in some of WAAPA’s rising stars, writes Garry Lee. 

  • Perfect pairing in full swing

    Sassafras and Jessie Gordon jazz up a delightful autumn afternoon with a sophisticated and swinging set, writes Garry Lee.

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