So this happened on Tuesday night at Melbourne’s Hamer Hall…
“Following thousands of jazz events taking place in 195 countries around the world, International Jazz Day 2019 came to a thrilling closein Melbourne, Australia with an extraordinary All-Star Global Concert at Melbourne Arts Centre’s renowned Hamer Hall,” reads the Media release.
Led by artistic co-directors Herbie Hancock(USA) and James Morrison AO,(Australia) and musical directorJohn Beasley(USA), the concert was streamed live by the United Nations and UNESCO and on www.jazzday.com.
It featured riveting performances by over 30 international artists: Cieavash Arian(Iran), William Barton(Australia), Brian Blade(USA), A Bu(China), Igor Butman(Russian Federation), Theo Croker(USA), Joey DeFrancesco(USA), Eli Degibri(Israel), Kurt Elling(USA), James Genus(USA), Paul Grabowsky(Australia), Antonio Hart(USA), Matthew Jodrell(Australia), Aditya Kalyanpur(India), Ledisi(USA), Jane Monheit(USA), James Muller(Australia), Eijiro Nakagawa(Japan), Mark Nightingale(United Kingdom), Jeff Parker(USA), Chico Pinheiro(Brazil), Tineke Postma(Netherlands), Eric Reed(USA), Antonio Sanchez(Mexico), Somi(USA), Ben Williams(USA), Lizz Wright(USA) and Tarek Yamani(Lebanon).”
The All-Star Global Concert could not open with a more apt way – a jazz version of a Welcome to Country ceremony, performed by didgeridoo master William Barton who engaged in a mesmerising dialogue with James Morrison. The trumpeter is, of course, Australia’s ambassador to International Jazz Day, having performed at the White House Global Concert in Washington, in 2016and at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, last year – after all, he is one of the very few jazz instrumentalists who can claim to be a household name in Australia.
Following this haunting, beautiful performance, another Australian national treasure, Paul Grabowsky played the first notes of ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’; he was joined by a dream team of Australian and American musicians – sparkling vocalist Jane Monheit, brilliant guitarist James Muller, rising bass star Ben Williams, Mexican powerhouse Antonio Santchez on drums and Mat Jodrell on trumpet, who was on fire, offering the first of many highlights.
For me, the highlight was definitely the Joey Defrancesco/ Eli Degibri/ Theo Crocker/ Brian Blade Quartet, playing Herbie Hancock’s ‘One Finger Snap’. Other people around me were marvelling over Somi’s electrifying afrobeat performance of ‘Lady Revisited’, whileLedisi brought the house down with her spine-tingling rendition of ‘Try a Little Tenderness’, backed by a fiery 10-piece band.
Another beautiful moment came with a haunting performance of ‘Melody in Esfahan’ a traditional Persian theme, featuring Cieavash Arian on kamancheh (a kind of persian lyrh), Morrison and Barton, Chinese piano prodigy A Bu, Saxophonist Antonio Hart, Ben Williams on bass, Brian Blade on drums and Indian tabla player Aditya Kalyanpur. It was a meeting of cultures that fully embodied the International Jazz Day mission and vision, that of Jazz being a univeral language, an instrument for peace and a diplomatic tool, in times of “turmoil” – as Herbie Hancock himself put it in his inspiring speech, stressing thathe is not only referring to “the countries that we’re calling conflict zones.”
To highlight this vision, the International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert traditionally concludes with John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ – a marvellous song, of course, albeit not particularly ‘jazz’, whatever that means today. It is easy to understand this choice, but I wonder if there is truly no other song, in the entire jazz songbook that is equally recognisable and sends the same message (Louis Armstrong’s pop hit ‘What a Wonderful World’ would tick all the boxes in my opinion, but I guess there is a reason it’s not my call to make.)
Nobody complained, of course; the audience was ecstatic, participating, clapping and singing along, calling the stellar cast to keep going and stay on stage for an uplifting coda.
All in all, it was a heartwarming, feelgood closing of yet another successful event.
Yes, the All-Star Global concert may seem a bit too formulaic and polished at times – I heard some people on their way out arguing whether it offers a pop approach on jazz – but the logistics alone of organising it and making it happen are impossible.
The only true issue with this particular edition was the lack of women instrumentalists, with the exception of the wonderful Tineke Postma. Such an omission is truly unacceptable in this day and age, and particularly after the #metoo movement and the ongoing discussion about the representation of women in jazz, a discussion currently happening both in Australia and the US. Particularly when it comes to Australia, in my opinion, any attempt to represent Australian jazz without the participation of Sandy Evans and/ or Andrea Keller, simply fails to accurately represent Australian jazz.
Let’s hope that this changes next year, when Cape Town takes the mantle to host the International Jazz Day All-Star Global Concert. We’ll be watching, as always.