Liz Carnovale: ‘Diva Month at Paris Cat is a celebration of all our female artists’

There are some people who just radiate positive energy, it just beams out of their eyes, and smile and fingers and toes. If you’re lucky to come across them, you cannot be unaffected, they just make you understand that everything is possible. Liz Carnovale is one of those people, her warmth, optimism and can-do attitude is infectious and this partly explains why Paris Club is such a feelgood place. Co-manager – along with her husband, Serge – of what is arguably Melbourne’s sexiest venue, Liz Carnovale is in charge of booking all these acts that have made Paris Cat one of the staples of the city’s jazz scene. With an eye for talent, an ear for music and a hug for everyone, she is leading the way within the jazz community – and she just got together a wonderful roster for the club’s annual Diva Month.

Liz Carnovale – singer/artist

What is the Diva Month?
Diva Month down at the club is a celebration of all our female artists. We started this annual November Diva Month in the second year of The Paris Cat after we had great interest from female singers wanting to perform at the club. Our guests really responded well to this concept! We are now in our 12th year and continue to add more and more fabulous acts to this month as the Melbourne scene grows! The purpose of this Month is not only to celebrate but pay tribute to the incredible female artists this city has to offer!

What is different this year round? Did you set any specific goals?
To be honest, I don’t program with a specific goal for any of my months; each month just tends to unfold naturally. It’s like putting a puzzle together, really. I try to make sure it’s always got lots of variety and colour to keep each month fresh and exciting for our guests to view! When programming each Diva month I like to include 3-4 new acts. By including new talent it gives the event a point of difference. This year we are debuting seven new female artists and I’m also excited to feature Grace Knight again, after she had four sold out shows earlier this year at the club! Grace was excited to be able to perform her show in such a unique and intimate setting, at our Parisian Loft Performance Room. After the success of these four shows, she wanted to come back again. It just so happened that this fell on our Diva Month! When artists book in advance it does help me to start shaping the month and allows me to sit back and make sure each month has incredible variety.

Which of the Diva Month’s Gigs are you most excited about?
Oh, there are so many amazing, talented shows that I have programmed for this month! And I guess because I program them all, I have a soft spot for all my artists and their projects! I genuinely do feel passionately about each act I book and get excited to make sure each show is a success for my artists! When I book them, they become an extension of my family, ha ha, they’re all my babies and I want to promote, market and celebrate their shows with all my heart and fill the room so their music can be listened too and enjoyed by many. I know that sounds a bit corny, but it’s really how I feel about them; I admire them all so much! But to answer your question, and I guess to name a few artists, we ve got the incredibly talented Rebecca Mendoza and Fem Belling featured in our Diva Month, along with Anea Duratovic who has recently returned from London and now based back in Perth – all outstanding Jazz Vocalists. We have Georgia Brooks Swingtet and Miriam Crellin debuting this month and the gorgeous Tamara Kuldin bringing her very popular Gents of Jazz Project! We also have plenty of tribute projects featured this month to transport you to what I call “Your Happy Place”: Alyson Murray kicked off our Diva Month with a Sarah Vaughan Tribute, we have Soul Chic returning with their Eva Cassidy Experience and Hannah May sings Norah Jones feat. Oscar Neyland. For guests that are interested in more soul/pop acts, this month we have Deandre Brackensick (US) and Angela Librandi debuting at the club and the super talented Jess Fairlie returning. See? Once I start i can’t stop; the month is FULL of incredible acts!

Liz and Serge Carnovale, with Tamara Kuldin at the Paris Cat Jazz Club

Paris Cat regularly features women-led bands (mostly led by vocalists) – why is Diva Month different?
We highlight November as our official Diva Month, but yes, I do program a lot of women-led bands and we do tend to focus our weekend shows heavily on vocalists, whether they are male or female, as we’ve found this is what our base want to see! In saying that, I’m certainly not closed off to booking instrumental or male bands, as you can see we have plenty of them featured throughout the year; if I think they have the right feel for our weekend slots, I’ll book them! We have quite a few Instrumental bands that do really well down at the club – Mingus Thingus, Pickpocket, Neon City Pilot, Niels Rosendahl Quintet, Dig We Must and Jack Pantazis who has put together two incredible projects this year (Sin-cro-ni-city and his Wes Montgomery tribute) that our base have LOVED! This year we have also introduced our Take Five Instrumental Showcases, directed by James Mustafa which have been a big hit and we are very excited to now host the Daryl Mckenzie Big Band on the last Monday of every month – this band is on fire! These are just to name a few

How did you get involved with the club?
My husband Serge actually came over to London to visit me back in 2005 whilst I was living overseas and we travelled to Paris to experience all the amazing Jazz clubs the city had to offer – it was there that we came up with the name ‘The Paris Cat Jazz Club’. It was my husband’s dream for many years to open his own Jazz Club in Melbourne and really the fit out and concept of the club is all his vision! He has one of the most determined and creative minds in the industry. His eye for interior design was able to re-create a touch of Europe in the very heart of Melbourne for all to experience and enjoy. His passion for Jazz Music and wanting to create a place for Musicians to play and for people to listen and appreciate their music has always been his dream. I became more heavily involved in the business when our babies were very little. Serge being a builder by trade, as well was working during the day and then going to the club at night, it was hard in those early days. I watched the emails mount up and thought I’ve got to step in here and answer these enquiries. From there, I naturally fell into the role of programming and relished on it! I started to explore the idea of double shows on our weekends, as the bands were there, but I just didn’t have the room on my roster! By staggering the shows, I was able to create more space for more musicians to play their music. When we added the extra performance room, the Parisian Loft, four years ago, that was my opportunity to really be able to program like a crazy person, ha ha! I added the triple show concept to our weekends and our base have loved it!

What has your relationship with music been before that?
I’ve had music surround me all my life! I started Classical music as a singer from the age of 12 and carried this on into my final VCE studies. I began a Bachelor of Music at Monash after Year 12 but stepped away from the course to pursue a career in Modern vocals. I completed a course in Dance and Musical theatre and it was at that time that I met Serge via his Corporate Band, The Funky Film Express. Although I’ve put a hold on my music aspirations these past ten years, as I have been raising our beautiful and very cheeky babies, Madison and Jett, who keep me VERY busy, it has been amazing to be able to still be in a creative environment nurturing others with their Music! I’ve recently gone back to my singing and am writing a little, so who knows, I might look at developing this some more in the future – in all my spare time, ha ha!

What has been the highlight?
Certainly hosting Robbie Williams and his crew on two occasions was a highlight at the club! But watching the business grow from a small little basement room to a three-level CBD venue and now having just opened our sister club in Bali early this year have been great achievements by all involved, including our staff, musicians and guests.

Robbie Williams swinging on the Paris Cat stage
Serge and Liz Carnovale, with Robbie Williams

What is the best part of running a jazz club?
The best part about programming and running the club is discovering so much incredible talent which is right here in Melbourne! The scene is constantly evolving and developing. I’m proud that we have been able to create a space for musicians to play, be it musos just starting their career, or those who have been in the scene for many years and who are re-discovering new projects! The club really does have something for everyone!

What did you find out about yourself in the process?
Ummm, I guess that I have an obsession with programming! Ha ha! And that my passion for Music and the Arts is well and truly a part of me! If you have met me in person, I’m pretty out there and Im a very excitable personality, so I feel very lucky to be working in such a creative industry where I can put all my creative energy to good use!

What does jazz mean to you?
Jazz to me allows the musicians to explore their music freely without any restrictions. They are able to take us on a journey not knowing where we will end up, which makes it all the more exciting! I guess it’s how I feel about The Paris Cat; we started with a vision and have allowed the venue to naturally develop and evolve. Its grown from a little baby into this institution, where guests and musicians come together with at least one thing in common: a Love of Live Music! The club is on its own musical Jazz journey, constantly evolving and growing.

Which song best describes your current state of mind?
‘Express Yourself’

Diva Month is under way at the Paris Cat Jazz Club