Wangaratta Jazz Fest Goes Online!

By Andra Jackson.

Wangaratta Jazz Festival is the only major jazz festival anywhere in the world since the pandemic, to include live performances in front of an audience. The Detroit Jazz Festival and the Monterey Jazz Festival have just been held on line. The Wangaratta festival of Jazz and Blues organisers had hoped to have some live performances in Wangaratta. When Melbourne’s coronavirus lockdown and restrictions on travel to regional Victoria and between states made this impossible, they came up with a creative alternative.

By partnering with jazz organizations and blues venues in states with fewer restrictions, it has been able to program a number of jazz and blues performances in front of live audiences. All but two pre-recorded as will performances in Victoria.

New York based saxophonist Will Vinson will perform with the Jo Lawry Quartet in Adelaide. Lawry has sung with acts like Sting. They are performing at Adelaide’s Wheatsheaf hotel as is Lyndon Gray’s The New Cabal which is influenced by South Indian classical music. Both will be streamed live.

Blues acts Kings and Associates, Lazy Eye and The Streamliners are playing at Adelaide’s Governor Hindmarsh hotel for the festival. Beirut born Zela Margossian’s Quintet is taking part from Sydney’s 505 jazz club. Her music draws inspiration from her Armenian background. All these acts are before audience numbers permitted by their respective states.

This year the festival – which was cancelled last year – is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Instead of the usual weekend of concerts, the program has been extended to a week of concerts online from Monday October 26 to Sunday November 1.

The sense of the community spirit in the Australian jazz scene that is highlighted in interstate venues coming on board this year, is matched by the sense of legacy reflected in its programming.

A highlight is the focus on the contribution to Australian jazz of the late Allan Browne,  OAM. Trumpeter Eugene Ball played with Browne in one of his many diverse bands and is one of the festival’s co-artistic directors. He says the drummer was an important contributor to the festival from day one and the focus is honoring that. “The festival was extremely important to Allan. He used to base recordings and launches around that festival. Whole projects were born because of that festival.”

Ball says that underscores the significance of festivals. “A festival can mean so much to musicians in terms of an opportunity and a reason to create new works and that is the job of a festival.”

The program also launches a film provided by the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative of the 2016 memorial concert  it organised for Browne who died in 2015. Also on the festival’s program are performances from Browne’s wife and daughter, Margie Lou Dyer (keyboards and vocals) and Hayley Browne (washboards) with members of Dyer’s Quintet, Howard Cairns on bassist and Cameron Robbins of clarinet and Ball on cornet.

Browne was a co-founder of Australia’s famous jazz export to London and Europe in the late sixties, the Red Onions. In a rare performance o the same night, Red Onions’ trumpeter and saxophonist Brett Iggulden and guitarist John Scurry team with drummer Lyn Wallis, bassist Cairns and saxophonist Julien Wilson for a homage titled  Al’s Emotional Baggage Handlers.

Ball says that originally he and co-artistic directors, Zoe Hauptmann and Scott Solimo envisaged a far-reaching program with international artists and collaborations between overseas and Australian artists. Changing coronavirus restrictions forced around six major redesigns. It is now significantly different, he says. But he is proud that at a time when live gigs in Victoria have stopped because of the virus, the festival is giving morale boosting paid work to around 85 musicians plus technicians.

The challenge for the festival in going virtual is that potentially a percent of regulars won’t want to engage with music online, he says, “Wangaratta is a destination festival and one of its great strengths is that everybody who attends – musicians and audience alike – remove themselves from their daily environment and travel to be in this fairly distant place to give themselves over 100 percent to the experience of being at that festival.”

On the other hand other people around Australia and even overseas will be able to enjoy the festival for the first time and for a moderate price.

Other highlights include performances from pianist Barney McAll, an improvisation segment that includes trumpeter Scott Tinkler, the National Jazz Awards finals for singers, and footage from the 1986 Australian Jazz Convention. 

Tickets are now on sale at $15 a day pass or $79 a festival pass. For program and bookings: