Melbourne Jazz Co-Operative – 30 Years Of Presenting Jazz

by Andra Jackson

Back in the Melbourne of  the early 1980s, the city had become almost a jazz-free zone, with the exception of the annual two-night Moomba Jazz Festival and the occasional gig. Big name overseas jazz artists still toured. But unlike in the fifties and sixties when Melbourne was a caldron for experimental jazz,  local jazz-minded musicians – especially those playing modern jazz – struggled to find a platform to present their music. By the early 1980s, the Jazz Action Society of Victoria and the Moomba Jazz  Festival had folded. A frustrated saxophonist, Martin Jackson stepped into the vacuum in late 1982, and launched the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative.

He had nothing more than a grant of $3000 and a vision for nurturing creative and experimental jazz performance and composition. The Melbourne Jazz Co-operative announced its arrival with a concert at RMIT’s Glasshouse Theatre on the Australia Day weekend in 1983 with a Sunday afternoon concert. On the bill was the Paul Grabowsky Trio, making its debut, with the young Grabowsky on piano, the late Gary Costello on bass and Allan Browne on drums. Jackson’s group, Odwala (with the late Jamie Fielding on piano), also played.

Allan Browne | photo by Roger Mitchell

From that humble beginning of presenting 12 concerts a year at the Glasshouse over the following three years,  the Co-operative has expanded to three decades later, running more than 100 concerts a year since 1998. This Australia Day weekend, the Melbourne Jazz Co-operative celebrates its 30th anniversary. It is revisiting that historic first concert by presenting the Paul Grabowsky Trio with its original drummer, the MJC chairperson and Don Banks and Bell award recipient Allan Browne (with Frank Di Sario on bass) that went on to become one of the most prolific and artistically acclaimed trios on the Australian jazz scene, scooping two ARIAS.

Melbourne Spoleto Festival in 1990: pianist/composers Mike Nock and Mickey Tucker both in concert with String Quartet at Melba Hall. This led to a wider inclusion of jazz in subsequent festivals.

At that very first concert, the co-op paid each musician $40 each. But as it grew -with venues changing from the Hot House, to the Limerick Arms to Bennetts Lane in 1993, it has been able to set a benchmark and pay Musicians Union rates. It has been able to do this because over the last thirty years, it has secured grants annually from both Federal and State government arts funding bodies – a recognition of the place and importance of jazz as an art form.

As the co-operative prepares to celebrate its milestone anniversary, Arts Victoria has not contributed to the program budget for 2013. While the Australia Council has consistently seen fit to fund the co-operative for 31 consecutive years, the Baillieu State Government has declined to put in any corresponding funds this year. In contrast, the NSW State Government has kicked in $130,000 to support its two local jazz advocacy groups (SIMA and Jazzgroove).

Jackson says the impact of it is that the co-operative will have to slash its planned program of paid performances for 2013 by 50 per cent, with the other 50% being run by remunerating musicians purely on a ‘door deal’ basis (the same as the majority of other gigs in Melbourne).

Barney McAll | photo by Roger Mitchell

In rejecting the co-op’s funding application for its program for 2013, the State’s Arts Ministry has galvanised the local jazz community who are rallying a groundswell of support. So far over 1200 signatures (including most of Australia’s leading jazz artists) have been collected in an on-line petition protesting at the funding knock-back. A hard copy petition is also being circulated and will be presented to State Parliament in February. Musicians have also spontaneously organized their own gesture of support that will be unveiled before the MJC’s 30th anniversary free concert on Friday 25 January in the City Square at noon.

A number of individual letters protesting the funding loss have been sent to Arts Minister Ted Baillieu. The response from an advisor has been along the lines that the government supports jazz through the Melbourne, Wangaratta and Mildura jazz festivals (as well as the Australian Art Orchestra and individual grants), that funding is competitive, and that the co-op is welcome to apply again next year for funding. The MJC’s Martin Jackson has responded that ‘it is a sad reflection on our Minister for the Arts if he cannot understand the distinction between the health of our on-going local jazz scene, and the commercially-run 10 day Melbourne jazz festival, which, via its Major Events funding, exists with a core emphasis on headline international artists’.

What you can do to help:

Join the MJC via its website,

Talk to the MJC about making a tax-deductible donation

Sign the online petition at (you can get there from the MJC website)

Sign the printed petition circulating at the weekend concerts at a various venues

Purchase merchandise on sale at Sunday’s concert – all proceeds are being donated to the co-op!

Come to the 30th anniversary concerts!

Julien Wilson | photo by Roger Mitchell

Friday 25 January at noon to 2pm at the City Square. The Craig Fermanis Trio followed by pianist Daniel Gassin’s Sextet. FREE.

Saturday 26 January at 8.30pm The Jex Saarelaht Quartet with Sydney bassist Jonathan Zwartz Quarter at the Uptown Jazz Cafe , 177 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy ($15 and $12 concession)

Sunday 27 January at 2pm. Barney McAll, the Paul Grabowsky Trio, the Browne-Murphy-Keller Trio and a trio specially formed for the concert with McAll, Wilson and Zwartz. ($30 and $20 concession and $10 children. Tickets through Ticketmaster or at the door.)

Sunday 27 January at 8.30pm –  Rabid Hawk Sextet at Bennetts Lane

Tuesday 29  January  Allan Browne performs work from Conjuror, his 2012 poetry collection and CD at Bennetts Lane


‘La Ripaille’ David Ades and friends at Bennetts Lane – an MJC gig