When it comes to jazz and blues festivals, Victorians are spoilt for choice. There’s Stonnington Jazz Festival showcasing Australian artists in May, Melbourne International Jazz Festival presenting top-line international and local acts in June, Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues in November (with the exception of this year), and several smaller regional festivals – but nothing that coincides with International Jazz Day. Until now.
Last year, Nikos Fotakis from AustralianJazz.net and the Paris Cat jazz club hosted an evening of jazz to celebrate International Jazz Day. But this year the Paris Cat’s owner, Serge Carnovale, went all out and launched the inaugural Melbourne Jazz Roots Festival to present a diverse range of local jazz, blues, roots and soul acts across a 10 hour event at a bigger venue.
The sophisticated location was outdoors at the Coopers Malthouse Theatre courtyard, sheltered from wind by the gracious mix of old and new architecture – the Malthouse building, Australian Centre of Contemporary Art and the headquarters of Chunky Move dance company.
The stage and audio set-up delivered quality sound to the appreciative audience, who filled the temporary chairing front of stage or fixed seating throughout the courtyard some shaded by the abundant trees, others by umbrellas at the tables. There was plenty of standing room to enjoy a dance.
Gas heaters took the chill off the air as the sun set and food trucks stayed open into the evening. The Coopers Malthouse Cafe was open until 5pm, and the bar continued serving until the events close. The Malthouse Theatre’s foyer provided shelter in case of rain but the weather was kind and the audience had dressed appropriately for the unpredictable Melbourne elements anyway. It was wonderful to look up at the open sky framed by bright lights of the big city backdrop in between the awesome range of performances.
The line-up started at midday with a showcase from VCA and Monash students; followed by a New Orleans tribute from the Toshi Clinch Big Band; a gorgeous Soul Trane set fromJamie Oehlers, Sam Keevers, Danny Fischer and Chris Hale; then a captivating performance from the all-female Spire Ensemble led by Xani Kolac.
As the sun went down the tempo went up with some southern soul-groove from The Meltdown, followed by The Black Jesus Experience with their hot mix of hip-hop, RnB and Ethiopian jazz. Emma Donovan and The Putbacks closed the evening with a funky set of soulful tunes.
Overall it was a fantastic showcase of local talent, in a fabulous central location providing a cool outdoor festival vibe with the bonus of comfortable seating and fixed amenities – no long queues, smelly portaloos, or crowd-crush. The Melbourne Jazz Roots Festival marks a welcome addition to the annual jazz festival calendar – let’s hope its back to kick off International Jazz Day celebrations in Melbourne every year.