Features/What to SEE/Music

All that jazz for everyone

25 October 2022

The Perth International Jazz Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a banquet of tasty and different flavours from Australia and overseas. Whether you’re a jazz aficionado, curious to dip your toes in, or just love good music, there’s something for all, writes Ara Jansen.

Trying to define jazz? It’s going to be a rather long discussion to figure out what this musical style encompasses. Just know that when you go to the Perth International Jazz Festival (PIJF) in November, you’ll have a choice of genres as broad as they are different – but all designed to entertain. 

Whether it’s traditional jazz, swing, experimental, big band, world, improv or the blues, you’ll be able to hear them at the festival, which invites artists from across town, around the country and overseas to show you how they hear and define jazz.   

PIJF celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and artistic director Dr Mace Francis says they are especially proud to have reached the milestone despite COVID, because they were still able to hold live performances. It’s also the fifth festival for Francis as artistic director. 

A smiling man with a beard looks directly into the camera, trees in the background. It is Perth International Jazz Festival artistic director Mace Francis.
Artistic director Mace Francis says it’s important to enjoy art anywhere. Photo: Jessica Carlton

This year’s program features a wide variety of jazz – truly something for all tastes. As a small homage to its first decade, some of the performers from the early festivals are making a return, including the Mace Francis Orchestra, which played at the first festival back in 2012.  

“It’s a nice way to wrap the first 10 years up in a bow by bringing back people who performed in the first festival,” says Francis. “That also formed a loose theme if anything.”

More than 250 artists will perform, with many playing in numerous combinations across some 20 venues. There are ticketed and free community events, with several shows before the official opening on 4 November.

One of the festival’s strengths is the wide variety of artists on offer, enabling a diverse program, both in Perth and the South West. It’s not solely musical performances this year, either, as the festival goes into new territory with shows such as Jazz x Skate at Old Habits Neighbourhood Bar, where electro jazz duo Bad Whip will set the scene with drums and synth, and the Soggy Bones Crew skaters will tear up the bowl. 

Preceding the festival (October 29 and 30), four jazz films will be screened – The Jazz Ambassadors, Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise, The Girls in the Band and Jazz on a Summer’s Day. They’re free but BYO seating and snacks. Between movies on Sunday, you’ll be able to take a swing class, before dancing away the early evening to the big band Artemis Orchestra.

A male musician sits at the piano, headphones over his ears, eyes cast thoughtfully into the distance. A hat sits on the piano in front of him.
It is jazz pianist Tal Cohen.
Pianist Tal Cohen is a renowned improv artist. Photo supplied

At the State Library, and running until 10 December, “Snap Shot” is a digital display of West Australian music photography from the archives, taking in everything from big bands in ballrooms to punk in dingy pubs and backyards. The Rechabite x Jazz Dinner, on 3 November, features contemporary jazz from DJ Tash Thomas and Bad Whip with a curated menu.

The musical variety has also allowed the festival to make use of different venues – both the expected, such as The Ellington, parks and a winery, and the unusual, such as a cave, cinema or private venue. 

Known for its big heart, disco appeal and catering to a LGBTQIA+ audience, the terrace at Connections Nightclub embraces a New York rooftop party and welcomes “Over the Rainbow” on 3 November. Perth jazz queens Ali Bodycoat and Libby Hammer give the swing treatment to a classic collection of songs including Gershwin, Bacharach and David, Cole Porter and the odd disco gem. 

Yallingup’s Ngilgi Cave is the venue for a live, standing-only show featuring a one-of-a-kind performance from Jessica Carlton and Kate Pass. They’ll be bouncing their jazz off the stalactites, stalagmites and helictites to create a magical musical soundscape you’ll probably never hear again.  

Two dark-haired musicians, one holding a trumpet, the other a bass, smile into the camera. They are Perth jazz artists Jessica Carlton and Kate Pass.
Jessica Carlton and Kate Pass will be performing amid the stalactites. Photo supplied

“People associate jazz with certain types of music,” says Francis. “You have to find your style of jazz and we’re trying to cater to as many as possible. We also want to give people a broad perspective of what jazz is. We encourage everyone to just experience the art form and allow them to enjoy it in different ways.

“It’s important that we can enjoy art anywhere. We’re trying to put it in different spaces, manmade and natural spaces. We’re excited to look at more of these opportunities in the future. Different spaces also bring different audiences, different expectations and different experiences. Someone might not want to go to a serious jazz venue, but they might go and listen to it in a space they feel more comfortable in.”

Francis says even matching artists and venues has been a joyful challenge and has forced him to consciously consider what the venue will add to the music, as much as what the artist will bring. 

“Jazz doesn’t always need a big PA system and it’s not a music necessarily designed for a stage or arena because it can be big anywhere. Or it can be played accurately at a low volume and being mostly acoustic, gives it a place almost anywhere.”

An audience is shrouded in darkness looking up at a group of five musicians on the stage, all playing different instruments. They are Perth group Dorado.
Dorado is part of a great local line-up for the festival’s 10th birthday. Photo: Ewa Ginal Cumblidge

The choice of styles offers another way to filter your jazz during the festival. For example, if Latin is your favourite flavour of jazz, international guests David Chiverton should be on your list, alongside Meretrio and locals De Cuba Son and Dorado. If improv is your thing, then don’t miss Miami-based pianist Tal Cohen, local favourite Jamie Oehlers, sax player Julien Wilson or female quartet Aura.

For those who are not jazz fans but would like to test out the festival, Francis suggests approaching performances with an open heart and open ears. 

“I love checking out new music and listening to new music. I love finding new bands and being open to taking risks. I think it has been of great benefit to our festival that there are other people like that.”

A great thing about a jazz festival, Francis says, is the opportunity to bring together people with different influences and see what happens.

The “1, 2, 3 – Liberty Theatre Sessions” bring together soloists, duos and trios in a former arthouse cinema, with a program featuring some musicians who have been performing together for years and others who have been specially curated for the festival. Groups such as ReinMali mix in RnB and soul, while the trio Trisk improvise a blend of fusion, hip-hop and world. 

Three musicians are spread across a stage in front of tall windows covered in column. One is to the left, sitting behind his drum kit, another has his back to the camera facing his keyboard, with the guitarist standing in the middle to the rear. They are Perth trio Trisk.
Local improv ensemble Trisk make a welcome return to the festival. Photo supplied

“This kind of music is a refreshing change and there’s an audience which loves it. You get to hear serious jazz in a serious venue and relax and listen to groovy tunes that are fun and satisfy your jazz nerdiness,” Francis says.

“That’s why music is so exciting. You can always be surprised and thrown into a state of wonder when you least expect it. Plus, I love that one style could be a gateway musical drug to other styles of jazz.” 

The festival website allows a search by genre and plenty of the artists have attached audio samples, so you can have a bit of fun picking what you’d like to see and hear.

The Perth International Jazz Festival is in Perth from 4-6 November before heading to Busselton and Yallingup on 12-13 November.

Pictured top: Perth singers Ali Bodycoat and Libby Hammer join forces for ‘Over the Rainbow’. Photo: Ultimate Imagery

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Author —
Ara Jansen

Ara Jansen is a freelance journalist. Words, bright colour, books, music, art, fountain pens, good conversation, interesting people and languages make her deeply happy. A longtime music journalist and critic, she’s the former music editor of The West Australian. Being in the pool next to the playground is one of her favourite places, ever.

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