Perfect pairing in full swing

22 March 2023

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

Sassafras and Jessie Gordon, Music on the Terrace 
Government House Garden, Sunday 19 March 

Artistic Director Mark Coughlan makes an inspired choice for the opening of the 2023 Music on the Terrace season – or, in this case, music on the lawn.  

The infectious swing and gypsy jazz of Perth’s superb Sassafras provides an upbeat and enjoyable program of variety and consummate musicianship on an idyllic afternoon in the gardens of Government House.  

Sassafras is joined by the incomparable Jessie Gordon. Whether singing in English or French, her confidence and professionalism showing why she is regarded as the doyen of Perth jazz vocalists. Gordon’s witty introductions and polished stagecraft draw in the capacity audience and quickly create an intimate relaxed ambience.  

Gordon’s renditions of La Mer (Charles Trenet’s 1946 hit came before Bobby Darin recorded the English version, Beyond the Sea), Sous Le Ciel de Paris and Ca Va Le Diable are delivered with the assurance of an artist who has researched the history of her repertoire. 

The audience enjoys a lovely autumn afternoon at Government House. Photo supplied

Gypsy jazz band Sassafras comprises Emily Gelineau (violin), Lachlan Gear and Aaron Deacon (guitars) and Pete Jeavons (double bass). The quartet take their initial inspiration from the 1930s partnership of legendary gypsy guitarist Django Rinehardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli, whose drummer-less Quintette Du Hot Club De France showed for the first time that virtuosic jazz was not confined to America. 

This virtuosity is universal today and is certainly evident in the outstanding soloing of all four instrumentalists. However, Sassafras takes the 1930s template to a contemporary musical setting. While retaining a repertoire essentially from this era, the tunes are given a far more modern arrangement. Midnight Sun is a clever 5/4 arrangement, while Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love owes much to the arrangement of Cannonball Adderley’s soul-drenched quintet. 

With an extensive range of tunes, it’s a challenge to present some – Bernie’s Tune, Undecided, Caravan, I Wish You Love – in a manner that is attractive to a general audience, but Sassafras pulls it off with aplomb.  

Tempo changes, key changes and ebullient cadenzas are all devices that Jeavons and his musicians employ. He has matured into a band leader and double bassist of considerable talent, with a passion and clear vision as to where the music should be going. 

With the concert split into two sets, allowing the audience time to buy wine to enjoy with their picnic hampers, it all makes for a delightful afternoon on the lawn. 

The next Music on the Terrace performance is Dazzling Strings: Mendelssohn’s Octet, Government House Ballroom, 30 April 2023.

Pictured top: Jessie Gordon and Sassafras make a great combination, delighting the audience with a swinging set. Photo supplied

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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. 

  • Big band’s approach speaks volumes

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

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