Toshi Clinch: ‘Jazz Melbourne aims to grow Australia’s musical footprint through performance and education’

If you are based in Melbourne and are into big band jazz, then you’re probably aware of Toshi Clinch. If not, great – you have a lot to find out about this dedicated, passionate musician who has been exploring the big band/ jazz orchestra potential through a series of projects, such as the Paris Cat Big Band and his Big Band Through the Ages festival.

Now he’s taking this passion for jazz orchestras to the next level – in partnership with James Farrough, they created Jazz Melbourne, a big band project with a significant educational component. The new orchestra is making its debut at Chapel off Chapel with a performance called ‘Gillespiana’ – a tribute to the music and legacy of Dizzy Gillespie, featuring one the finest jazz trumpet players in Melbourne, if not internationally: Mat Jodrell.

So yes, if you’e based in Melbourne and are into big band jazz, you don’t want to miss out on this.

Toshi Clinch

What would you say to a stranger to make them come to Chapel Off Chapel this weekend?

This weekend will feature one of the best big bands in Australia performing a suite of music that has only been performed very few times in the last 50 years. The concert will feature a mixture of works by Dizzy Gillespie, that span multiple styles and genres. Both evenings the band will be bringing a high level of energy to every second of the performance. We only expect that the audience will respect the performers and sit back and enjoy the show.

Why did you decide to do a tribute to Dizzy Gillespie?

The primary reason I selected the music of Dizzy Gillespie is that it is energetic, powerful and deeply satisfying to perform and listen to. It goes to the extremes in every way, from instrument ranges to tempos, and is a true musical test for the performers. Gillespie was one of the early pioneers to mix Afro Cuban music with jazz in the United States, and the works we have selected for this performance pay homage to his incredible musical diversity. One of his biggest regrets was when he had to disband his own big band. I think it is fitting that the first performance for the Jazz Melbourne Orchestra is performing the works of that ensemble and that we can continue his legacy in the large ensemble format.

‘Gillespiana’ features Mat Jodrell; how would you describe his contribution to this project?

Mat Jodrell is one of the key figures for this project as he is playing the feature role of Dizzy Gillespie in the concert. He brings a lot to the table and in my opinion is the whole package as a musician. At rehearsals he offers a great wealth of musical knowledge and a virtuosic ability on trumpet, as well as a professional attitude and a seemingly never ending level of excitement for music. There are some musicians that are able to elevate the level of those around them, and in every interaction I have had with Jodrell, he has been able to do this regardless of whether it be with professionals or beginners.

Mat Jodrell

For those who have never heard him play, or may not be aware of who he is, I would highly suggest having a look at this list of people he has worked with. It is a who’s who list of Jazz that includes the likes of Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Benny Golson and well known ensembles such as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Jodrell also has recorded on many different albums both as a sideman and as a band leader, such as his latest release Insurgent. I feel honoured to have him as the featured soloist for the Gillespiana concerts and cannot wait to hear him on both nights.

How different is this gig to your regular gigs at the Paris Cat?

Other than the venue, this performance is different due to the scale and preparation of the entire project. As with all of my concerts I try to put in 100% of my energy into the music, but with this specific set of concerts I am able to go further due to a larger performance budget and venue size. This concert will also be the public face of Jazz Melbourne, whereas the Paris Cat performances are usually associated with my name. My goal with the Jazz Melbourne Orchestra is to create a world class big band in Melbourne that performs regularly at larger concert hall style venues. This would be similar to how the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra operates in the classical music field but specifically for a big band instrumentation. To achieve this, Jazz Melbourne needs to start somewhere, and ‘Gillespiana’ is the first concert toward this goal.

What is the Jazz Melbourne story?

Jazz Melbourne is a new arts organisation that primarily focuses on Jazz Education within Victoria. The business was officially created in late 2019 as it transitioned from the previous title ‘Big Band Through The Ages’. Under the previous name it began in 2018 with a two week jazz festival focused primarily on big band music. The festival saw multiple international artists visit Australia and work with over 1500 students collectively. From that point I knew it had to continue and in 2019 we started a Youth Big Band program to help accommodate the same experience but over the entire year. Last year the program had two full youth big bands and saw them perform over 20 times with 8 guest artists, and midway through the year I decided to expand the structure further to include short educational courses and a professional level ensemble. With this expansion I partnered with James Farrough, and we changed the name to Jazz Melbourne as it better represents the objective of the business and is far simpler to say than Big Band Through The Ages. The mission statement for the business is to grow Australia’s musical footprint through performance and education.

If you could choose any musician – no restriction whatsoever – to join Jazz Melbourne, who would that be?

Well in this case it would have to be Dizzy Gillespie. It would be absolutely amazing, especially for this specific performance.

You have built an impressive – and immense – repertoire, ranging from jazz standards to Disney soundtracks to Nintendo game music; how would you describe your approach to repertoire?

I never go into a concert specifically thinking about the repertoire. I try to envision the whole project and what I would like to achieve first. After that is sorted I will then deal with repertoire alongside all of the other factors. For instance the Not-So-Big Band which performs well known themes was setup as an educational ensemble for students to work with professionals in a professional environment. I chose the repertoire as it was relevant to what the students have grown up hearing, and also what is more popular for today’s audiences. As this repertoire is better known, it allows me to arrange the music and have the audience follow my musical intentions.

This differs from older standards where the audience may not know the music at all, and it is not as obvious what might be arranged vs original in the music. The Not-So-Big Band is also trying to tap into the same mentality as the mid 1900’s where musicians would often take popular songs and reimagine them, such as popular broadway songs like ‘Summertime’. In contrast, an ensembles such as The Paris Cat Big Band, operate as a repertory ensemble. The band’s primary purpose is to perform the works of jazz artists such as Duke Ellington or Quincy Jones. At the end of the day, I want to have as many different musical experiences as possible and I will often create projects to grow musically.

What does jazz mean to you?

For me jazz encompasses my entire life. I was introduced to jazz at a young age by some fantastic teachers in high school. I was immediately hooked, and ever since then I have continued to grow and love jazz.It is a never ending hole that I find myself lost in on a daily basis. It is a form of expression that can go deeper than words, and can represent everyone. It can take performers and listeners to places unattainable by other means, and has a tradition that links everyone together. Ultimately, I feel it is more than just music, and requires extreme dedication.

Which tune best describes your current state of mind?

‘Evening in Paris’ by Quincy Jones.

Jazz Melbourne presents Gillespiana at Chapel off Chapel on Friday 28 and Saturday 29 February