Big band’s approach speaks volumes

5 December 2022

Western Australian Jazz Project proudly proclaim to do jazz differently and Garry Lee finds plenty of reasons to appreciate that difference.

‘Music on the Terrace’, Western Australian Jazz Project · 
Julie Michael Garden, Government House, 4 December 2022 · 

A beautifully mild early summer afternoon in the exquisite Julie Michael Garden of Government House proved an ideal setting for the mellifluous sounds of the Western Australian Jazz Project. 

The concert marked the last for 2022 of the Government House Foundation’s Music on the Terrace series, under the artistic direction of concert pianist, conductor and educator Mark Coughlan. 

“Jazz done differently” is WAJP’s slogan and for me that difference was volume. It was at an acoustic volume and therefore not loud, which contrasts dramatically with the typical sound mix that jazz endures today, especially in the big band setting.  

Western Australian Jazz Project is a 17-piece big band following the tradition of big bands led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Buddy Rich and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. I am privileged to have heard all these bands live in decades gone by and, like WAJP, they all performed at the acoustic volume.  

A group of musicians, mostly on trombones and trumpets sit in front of lecterns, playing music. They are in a pretty outdoor setting, with light shining through lush trees. They are part of the Western Australian Jazz Project.
Western Australian Jazz Project get in the swing. Photo: Nic Babic/Artshoot Media

The superb setting flanked by large shady trees created a natural amphitheatre that focused the un-miked sounds of trumpets, trombones, saxophones and drums towards the enthusiastic audience. 

The concert commenced as a guitar trio, with a clever modulating arrangement of Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Like Someone In Love”. Guitarist Simon Jeans, double bassist Kate Pass and drummer Ric Eastman are among WA’s finest practitioners on their respective instruments.  

Artistic director and tenor saxophonist Niels Rosendahl made it a quartet for the apt “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and provided a polished and well-crafted solo. The quartet then became a septet with the addition of Ben Hodgkin (trumpet), Jeremy Greig (trombone) and Hannah Kim (piano). Their performance of Wayne Shorter’s “One by One” – the title track of a 1979 Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers album – provided an opportunity for blistering solos, especially from Hodgkin. 

This was followed by the entire band, with managing director and trumpeter Adrian Kelly doing a fine job introducing the audience to how a jazz band is structured. Commencing with the rhythm section, Kelly outlined the roles of each instrument (bass, guitar, drums, piano), and then section by section (saxes, trombones, then trumpets), logically layering their roles above the swing feel of the rhythm section.  

The band then went into the old chestnut “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, one of the most popular big bands of the 20th century. “Christmas Time Is Here”, featuring a masterful trombone solo from Greig, closed the first set. 

A musician wearing dark pants and a white buttoned-up shirt stands behind lecterns, blowing into a saxophone. He is in outdoor setting, with lush greenery behind him. 
He is a member of the Western Australian Jazz Project.
There were plenty of opportunities for musicians to show their solo stripes, too. Photo: Nic Babic/Artshoot Media

The entire band performed throughout the second set, providing a contrasting repertoire of arrangements from the vault of the most exulted leaders and arrangers in the history of jazz – from the Overture to Duke Ellington’s The Nutcracker Suite (originally composed, of course, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky) to Thad Jones’ “Groove Merchant” and Sammy Nestico’sA Warm Breeze”.

The set also included the Duke’s “In A Mellow Tone” and “Take the A Train”, vehicles for excellent solos from Matt Smith (trumpet), Lachlan Glover (trumpet) and Catherine Noblet (trombone).  

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was an appropriate encore, concluding a most enjoyable concert with a well-thought-out repertoire that combined music familiar to the audience with lesser-known tunes. 

Jazz worldwide has long been guilty of a strong gender imbalance, so it was good to see Noblet, Kim, Pass and Mel Skinner (alto saxophone) in the line-up.

Formed in 2021, Western Australian Jazz Project is a very welcome addition to our state’s jazz scene. 

Pictured top: The audience enjoys a repertoire featuring a mix of familiar and lesser-known tunes. Photo: Nic Babic/Artshoot Media

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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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