Five things you need to know about WA’s new jazz supergroup

4 November 2021

A group of jazz industry leaders have announced today the launch of the Western Australian Jazz Project. Find out more about their plans to elevate jazz as an artform in WA.

The Western Australian Jazz Project has been launched and Rosalind Appleby finds out who is behind it, why they have formed a big band and how they they intend to build on the rich legacy of jazz in Western Australia.

1. Who is behind the new initiative?

The three directors of the new Western Australian Jazz Project are Adrian Kelly (managing director), Melissa Skinner (director and education officer) and Grant Windsor (artistic director). The three also perform in the band on trumpet, saxophone and piano respectively. The remaining musicians in the 17 piece big band are drawn from the cream of the WA jazz scene, including industry elders like saxophonist Simon Styles, trumpeter Marty Pervan, drummer Ric Eastman and trombonist Bruce Thompson. The band members are also shareholders in the company.

17 people holding their instruments and wearing black stand staggered across a concert hall stage
The 17 band members of the WA Jazz Project at the Perth Concert Hall. Photo supplied

2. Why was the WA Jazz Project formed?

The band has been formed to help activate the soon-to-be renovated Perth Concert Hall, with a vision to create a multifunctional venue like New York’s Lincoln Centre which hosts multiple organisations including opera, ballet, classical and jazz groups. Adrian Kelly says the group will also fill a vital need in the state for a flagship jazz organisation that will elevate jazz alongside the WA Opera, WA Ballet and WA Symphony Orchestra.

“Jazz is often seen as the lesser cousin but it is an artform just as much as an orchestra,” says Kelly. “No other music captures what an individual feels at that particular moment. And then the musicians come together as a band, working as a family with all the discussions going on. It is thrilling music, there is nothing like a big band in full flight. I play a lot of styles of music but big band is where my home is. It is such a joy to play, better than any rollercoaster.”

3. What will the supergroup contribute to the WA jazz scene?

Adrian Kelly remembers the thrill of being invited to play a gig with the Perth Jazz Orchestra and the mentoring he received from the elder statesmen of jazz in that now defunct ensemble. Nowadays there are few ongoing opportunities for young musicians emerging from the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra and WA Academy of Performing Arts Big Band.  

But this is set to change. The WA Jazz Project includes rising stars such as bassist Kate Pass and trumpeter Matt Smith and Kelly says the group will ultimately be an auditioned ensemble that will provide opportunities for mentoring of young jazz musicians.

“There is nothing like a big band in full flight… it is such a joy to play, better than any rollercoaster.”

4. How will it be funded?

WA Jazz Project’s first year of operation has been funding by strategic initiative funding from the Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries. It is anticipated ongoing funding will come from ticket sales and through a Patreon supporter program, with government funding for special projects such as regional tours, recordings and involving interstate artists.

5. What will a WA Jazz Project gig be like?

The big band’s first performance is 16 December at the Perth Concert Hall. The program includes an original composition by Kelly with a narrator introducing the different members of the band, set within a dissonant 12-tone harmonic palette. Also on the program is Ellington’s popular The Nutcracker Suite where Tchaikovsky’s familiar tunes are given a jazz rework, and other well-known Christmas songs.

This program template will underpin future gigs to ensure a combination of challenge, comfort and excitement. Kelly says audiences can expect a great night out that will help them understand jazz a little more.

“We want to build an audience who will trust us and try new things. We have some amazing educators in the band and it is important for us to demystify jazz a little.”

The band will perform up to five concerts in the first year, building to monthly gigs in the long term.

The Western Australian Jazz Project’s “A Very Jazzy Christmas” is on 16 December 2021.

Pictured top: Adrian Kelly, Melissa Skinner and Grant Windsor are the directors of the WA Jazz Project. Photo supplied

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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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