2022 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues makes a triumphant return

The return of Australia’s much loved regional music event, the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues drew to a close on Sunday 30 October thrilling festivalgoers with inspired international and homegrown collaborations and stand-alone performances from Australia’s finest musicians.

Following a two-year online presence due to Covid and being on hiatus the year prior, the sounds of cool jazz and rousing blues filled the city of Wangaratta and surrounding venues for the first time since 2018.

Co-Artistic Directors Eugene Ball and Scott Solimo curated a rich and adventurous program with audiences revelling in the return of live performance.  With over 60 concerts featuring fearless improvising, festival commissions, world premieres and debut performances, more than 300 musicians played to packed houses over the three-day festival.

“Scott and I have been overwhelmed by the generosity and enthusiasm shown by the audience and musicians at this year’s Festival. Helping to bring the Festival to fruition has been a truly gratifying experience for us both, which we hope to perpetuate for years to come!” said Eugene Ball.

On Saturday 29 October, the prestigious National Jazz Awards saw guitarist Peter Koopman take out first prize, winning $7000 in prize money and a recording session at Pughouse Studios (Melbourne). Joshua Meader (NSW) was runner-up receiving $4000 and Tasmania’s Julius Schwing placed third receiving $2000 in prize money.

Other Festival highlights included world premiere presentations of New York based drummer Pheeroan akLaff with Australian drummers Chloe Kim (SYD) and Maria Mole (VIC), Finnish musician Kari Ikonnen’s collaboration with Melbourne-based bassist Helen Svoboda; Austrian based Brazilian composer/ guitarist, Emiliano Sampaio collaborative iteration of his renowned Mereau nonete, featuring Brazilian and German musicians as well as First Nations musician and songwriter Jess Hitchcock’s festival commission.

Regulars Wanderlust celebrated their 30th anniversary at the Festival, Scott Tinkler gathered Australia’s finest improvisers in the Antripodean Collective and the festival debut of Mike Nock, Hamish Stuart, Julien Wilson and Jonathan Schwartz’s powerhouse collaborative ensemble, This World.

Traditional jazz lovers were enthralled with performances from Dan Barnett’s Swing Rocket, Geoff Bull and the Finer Cuts, The Syncopators, Chonk, Eamon McNelis’ Skellingtons and a very special celebratory tribute by Rebecca Barnard to her beloved father Len and Uncle Bob, both Australian jazz royalty, who also led Jazz Mass at Holy Trinity Cathedral.

Blues highlights include The Black Sorrows, Thando, Fiona Boyes and The Fortune Tellers, festival favourite Checkerboard Lounge; Rob Susz (Dynamic Hypnotics) with his funky blues and soul combo, The Continental Blues Party, Karen Lee Andrews and This Way North.

Experimental jazz artists Shamin from Queensland, Tasmania’s Julius Schwing Trio and New South Wales’ Matthew Thompson Trio were delighted to make their festival debut.  And closing out the festival in the free Sunday program, a powerhouse performance from the Public Opinion Afro Orchestra.

“It’s a wrap! Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues is back, live and well, and here to stay! Thank you to our sponsors, Artistic Directors, our funding partners and our volunteers. But especially to those Jazz & Blues lovers who returned and embraced some changes, supporting us as they have in 2022. See you next year!” said Festival Chair, Michaela Iacovino.

The 2023 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues commences Friday 27 October. For more information, visit: www.wangarattajazz.com for details.

Image: Pheeroan akLaff – photo by Marc Bongers