In recent weeks much focus has been given to the and decision by the Music Board of Arts Victoria to cut funding to the Melbourne Jazz Cooperative – one of Melbourne’s longest standing organisations championing jazz and creative music. As rancour spreads amongst musicians and music-lovers alike over cuts , it is important to remember that other grass-roots organisations exist in the city that run on little or no funding at all, just the dreams and aspirations of certain motivated individuals. One of these is the Melbourne Improvisers Collective (MIC) which since 2010 has delivered regular nights of music.
The brainchild of Monash University classmates Travis Woods and Sam McAuliffe, MIC was created to provide a platform where emerging improvising musicians could play, present new projects and meet like-minded musicians. The Collective presented its first show at Gertrudes Brown Couch (an unassuming bar in the heart of Fitzroy) in November 2010 featuring bands Olive Tree, James Carter Quartet and Nick Haywood Trio. Steadily growing into a stalwart organisation on the Melbourne scene MIC presented 26 performances in 2012 (an average of one a fortnight) most of which featuring three different ensembles. That this was achieved without funding is a testament to current organisation staff Woods, Liam Werrett and Claire Cross.
In a working relationship that has lasted for almost three years, MIC continues to present monthly programs of music at Gertrudes Brown Couch the most recent of which beginning on February 5th. This relationship seems to have been beneficial not only for both venue and promoter but also for the Melbourne music scene as a whole. ‘Gertrudes Brown Couch has been very supportive of our jazz nights,’ says MIC founder Travis Woods. ‘They are always very happy to have us and have us in their top priority for any gig booking. We have also helped expose jazz and improvised music to them, now they constantly book jazz gigs there venue that aren’t hosted by the MIC.’ In what started as a booking error on the part of the venue, the MIC has made a home of the Gertrudes Brown Couch downstairs bar instead of the larger and more subdued band room. ‘All the [MIC] gigs were supposed to be Upstairs in the band room,’ explains Woods, ‘but on the very first night they double booked it and when we got there we found out we had to be in the downstairs bar.’ This small space allows for an intimacy impossible to capture in larger venues, says Woods: ‘In February 2011 we had booked MOPTET, Jenny Barnes trio and Paul Williamson’s ‘inside out’ Quartet. Not only was the music amazing but the room was full to capacity, I remember seeing people sitting down on the floor within centimetres of Paul Williamson during his set. The energy and atmosphere was amazing.’
From these humble beginnings, the Collective has grown to present concerts at venues all over Melbourne. ‘We have presented a number of gigs at Uptown Jazz Cafe, an album launch at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club and a special event at Conduit Arts,’ muses Woods. ‘All these venues have been very accommodating and we are looking forward to working with them in 2013.’ The Bennetts Lane album launch was alto-saxophonist James Carter’s debut offering After All in September of 2012. The launch show is one of Woods’ proudest moments as a promoter: ‘It was a great night of music, but also a successful outcome in the sense that we are there to help emerging artists find gigs and develop their music. James played in our first program in November 2010, so it felt very gratifying to hear and see him present his first album at Bennetts Lane nearly two years later.’
MIC’s performance at fledgling arts and performance space Conduit Arts featured well known Western Australian tenor player Jamie Oehlers backed with Perth pianist Tal Cohen as well as Melbourne mainstays Phil Rex and Hugh Harvey. It is heartwarming to see grass-roots arts organisations band together and Woods is quick to point out the importance of new spaces such as Conduit and smaller organisations. ‘We are currently working on a project to help create awareness about the Melbourne jazz scene and all the smaller organisations like MIC, Lebowski’s [Monday night’s at 303 in Northcote] and Conduit Arts,’ says Woods.
The Melbourne Improvisers Collective and organisations similar to it are some of the most important in any music scene. They provide a platform from which musicians can meet, present their more daring projects and be inspired. MIC is definitely a musicians’ organisation, with events run and attended by many of Melbourne’s finest musicians. Appreciative listeners of improvised music can expect an inspiring aural experience at any of their shows.
Read more about Tilman Robinson on AustralianJazz.net
Photography by Claire Cross – Corgonzico Photography
MIC February Program
Tuesday 12/2/2013 Tom Barton / Gusto the Bodysnatcher / Luke Sweeting Quintet
Tuesday 19/2/2013 LOMAX / Richard Rose Group / Rob Burke Trio
Tuesday 26/2/1013 Felix Watson Ensemble / Bloom / Carlo Barbaro Quartet
All shows at Gertrudes Brown Couch, 30 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.
Tickets $10 at the door.