A new Festival to celebrate Melbourne’s Jazz Roots

April is Jazz appreciation month and although, a celebration that culminates with the International Jazz Day on 30 April – which this year, as you may already know, is hosted in Melbourne.

But this is not the only event to make Melbourne jazz fans rejoice – on 28 April, in line with the Jazz Day celebrations, the city will become home to the all-new, all-sparkling Jazz Roots Festival.

Presented by the city’s longest standing jazz club, The Paris Cat, and taking place at a truly fabulous venue, the Coopers Malthouse Theatre Courtyard, the all-day event will kick off at noon and go on until late at night, featuring a spectacular line-up of established and emerging acts, covering a range from big band jazz and swing to funk and afrobeat.

“The Jazz Roots Festival was inspired by the eclectic mix of Australian jazz artists who have managed to cross over into other genres but still maintain their jazz heritage,” says Serge Carnovale, Paris Cat’s owner and the man behind the new festival. “Many of these artists are jazz graduates even though they are working on projects outside the Jazz genre,” he adds, stressing that the inaugural edition of the festival is scheduled to coincide with International Jazz Day celebrations, paying tribute “to the art form we all love, Jazz.”

As far as tributes go, you can’t miss with a musical trip to New Orleans and this is exactly what the Toshi Clinch Big Band will do. Toshi Clinch’s arrangements have been breathing new life to a whole range of repertoire and the band’s take on the origins of jazz is sure not to be missed.

Next in line is another tribute, to the patron saint of the saxophone, John Coltrane, presented by the dream team of Jamie Oehlers, Sam Keevers, Danny Fischer and Chris Hale. Oelhers is of course one of the leading Australian saxophone masters of our times and his ‘Soul Trane‘ projects is the closest one can get to a jazz religious experience.

Xani Kolac | Photo: Kevin Peterson

Another dream team follows after that, presenting one of the most exciting projects presented these past couple of years. Violin firebrandXani Kolac leads the Spire Ensemble, an all-female band of rising stars, crossing the boundaries between jazz, rock, modern composition and improvised music.

As we slide into the evening, the main stage will hostThe Meltdown,one of the hottest bands in town – anyone who saw them with the legendary Maceo Parker at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival last year can attest to that. In fact, ‘hottest’ might not be the appropriate term – their version of soul grooves is more on the sizzling side.

Next on, the festival will take us on a trip to Addis Ababa via Melbourne – one of the best-kept jazz secrets in town, The Black Jesus Experience have been mixing the distinctive sounds of Ethiopian Jazz with modern r’n’b and hip-hop elements, creating a unique sound. Their recent album, Cradle of Humanity, even features the legendary Mulatu Astatke, who has blessed the Melbourne band with his presence in many occasions.

The Jazz Roots Festival will culminate with a real Melbourne powerhouse, Emma Donovan and The Putbacks – a big voice supported by a band with a big sound, the ensemble will present their take on Melbourne soul, in what is certainly going to be a real party.

Serge Carnovale: ‘We wanted to program a festival that had something for everyone’

Serge Carnovale at the Paris Cat Jazz Club

How did you decide on the line-up?

We wanted to program a festival that had something for everyone. The bands form a selection of young up and coming artists through Monash and VCA, as well as Big band, New Orleans, Tribute and experimental, Soul, African Jazz, Indigenous Australian R&B. I wanted a versatile program that represented not just the talent but the true grass roots local Melbourne scene. The artists chosen for this years event are really making wonderful progress with their careers and a great contribution to Australian music.

Why did you choose the Malthouse? Why not Paris Cat?

We really wanted to put on a bigger event as the club would be too small to feature these popular bands. The event has the potential to draw a great crowd and be featured as an annual music event on a big stage for Melbourne community jazz lovers to see. The Coopers Malthouse Courtyard is such a beautiful space and well located in Melbourne’s arts precinct.

How does this festival complement your work at the Paris Cat?

The festival programming is different to our Paris Cat roster. It allows us to be a little more creative and reach a broader style of music. Although we don’t feature some of these bands at the club, we do take a keen interest in what they are doing. It also allows us to explore Australian bands outside our normal programming, giving us an opportunity to work with the artists under the Paris Cat and Jazz Roots brands.

What is your aspiration for this festival?

Australian musicians are really starting to make a presence around the world with some fantastic artists and bands featured on festival circuits and tours everywhere. There really is a new breed of artist being developed down under and it’s great to see. The festival aims to feature these artists and support their journey.

The Jazz Roots Festival is taking place on Sunday 28 April at the Coopers Malthouse Theatre Courtyard. Get your tickets here.