Melbourne International Jazz Festival (MIJF) has unveiled its 2021 line-up. During a period hallmarked by uncertainty, the jazz community has done what it does best – improvise.
It is testament to the tenacity and ingenuity inherent in the form, that will see this year’s festival include three world premiere commissions; 13 album launches; 20 Australian premieres; the launch of a new Jazz Hub in Melbourne’s CBD; and over 120 performances across 30 venues, ensuring the festival encompasses the city, and the communities that make it unique, like never before.
“After a testing period for live music, Australia’s jazz community continues to thrive,” said Artistic Director Michael Tortoni. “Central to this resilience is the genre’s inherent collaborative quality – a refreshing antithesis to the isolation we have endured over the past 18 months. As George Gershwin once said: “life is a lot like jazz. It’s best when you improvise,” so as we hurtle towards our 24th festival, collaboration – coming together – remains at the heart of our program.”
“Our series of premieres, commissions and festival exclusives heralds new partnerships, unearths new talent, reimagines performance spaces, and facilitates cross-cultural and cross-artform exchange, while our community program of free and low-cost events invites everyone to come together, in whichever way we can, to participate,” said Tortoni.
Throughout the ten days of the festival, over 400 artists will take to the stages, streets and stations across eight Melbourne municipalities with one-third of all events free to the public. The festival will commence with the 2021 Opening Night Gala – a spectacular international collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Christopher Crenshaw (USA), Melbourne’s own Vanessa Perica and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO).
The Gala will feature the Vanessa Perica Orchestra alongside the MSO and an all-star lineup of Australian vocalists including Katie Noonan, Vince Jones, Harry James Angus, Kylie Auldist and Thando, who will perform iconic jazz standards, masterfully arranged by Crenshaw and Perica for this one-off event.
A gala of an entirely different nature will close out the festival, with the inaugural Big Sunday set for the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on closing weekend. Headlined by New Zealand lords of long-form funk, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Big Sunday will see a mammoth lineup taking over the Bowl for a sundrenched, day-long celebration of jazz, funk, gospel and soul.
Homegrown soul pioneers The Bamboos will perform songs from their tenth studio album Hard Up and favourites from their 21-years together, alongside siren of soul, Emma Donovan and Paul Grabowsky for a new project that will take audiences to church via a gospel-inspired set complete with six-piece horn and rhythm section.
Completing the line-up is The Cat Empire’s firebrand trumpet-playing vocalist Harry James Angus collaborating with drummer Freyja Hooper in a new duo whose sound is marked by hypnotic rhythms and complete harmonic freedom.
In a boon for Melbourne audiences, the 2021 festival will feature three world premiere commissions. Award-winning musician, dancer, director and proud Djab Wurrung/Gunditjmara and Ngarrindjeri man Amos Roach will premiere his new commission as part of MIJF and the Australian Art Orchestra’s (AAO) inaugural year-long First Nations artist residency.
Acknowledged as one of Australia’s finest yidaki players, Roach’s new work will be performed alongside members of the AAO and will be informed by his practice using traditional instruments, songs, music and dance to tell stories of Songlines, Family and Country.
Trombonist, arranger, and composer Ellie Lamb will debut their 2021 Take Note commission Between Worlds. An ambitious exploration of identity and the experience of living between genres and genders, Ellie’s suite draws on a range of musical styles including minimalism, folk and post-rock, interwoven with lush orchestration.
Featuring Niran Dasika (trumpet), Flora Carbo (alto saxophone/bass clarinet), Shaun Rammers (tenor saxophone/clarinet), Rowan Pattison (guitar), Selene Messinis (keys), Oscar Neyland (bass) and Maddison Carter (drums), Between Worlds is a beguiling, otherworldly piece.
Rounding out this year’s world premieres is a 2021 ABC Jazz Scholarship commission. In one of three scholarships awarded, Sydney-based guitarist and composer Hilary Geddes – an emerging star of the jazz and contemporary music scene – will premiere music from Parkside, her new record, commissioned and recorded by ABC Jazz, featuring Matthew Harris (piano), Maximilian Alduca (double bass) and Alexander Inman-Hislop (drums).
In another new initiative for 2021, Melbourne International Jazz Festival’s Artist in Residence program will showcase the work and talent of a towering force in Australian music – the multi award-winning pianist, composer and arranger Paul Grabowsky AO.
Since the 70s, Grabowsky has built a commanding international reputation working in Europe and the US, and performing alongside jazz icons Chet Baker, Art Farmer and Johnny Griffin. On home soil, he firmly established himself as one of Australia’s leading jazz musicians and composers. His extraordinary list of musical collaborators includes artists such as Branford Marsalis, Archie Roach, Kate Ceberano, Vince Jones and Megan Washington.
At the Melbourne Recital Centre, Grabowsky will take the stage with another icon of Australian music, Paul Kelly, to perform works from their ARIA Award-winning album, Please Leave Your Light On; at The Toff in Town he’ll be joined by neo-soul vocal sensation Ngaiire; and in an intimate, festival-only performance at the Jazzlab, he’ll collaborate with Tuscanborn singer Ilaria Crociani alongside his jazz trio Torrio! – a celebration and exploration of Italian music.
Delving into his distinguished career Grabowsky will share his thoughts on the future of Australian Jazz as part of a very special In Conversation for the MIJF Congress; and to close out the Festival he’ll debut his new project The Old Rugged Cross with Melbourne’s siren of soul Emma Donovan at the Big Sunday at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl.
In a full festival performance, one of the most exciting voices in Australian jazz music, Vanessa Perica will bring her exhilarating 17 piece ensemble to the Melbourne Recital Centre stage to perform Love Is A Temporary Madness, her debut album which was placed in the Guardian’s top 20 for 2020, in its entirety.
She’ll be supported by Supported by multi award-winning, UK-based pianist Belle Chen, whose captivating and unpredictable approach to music has been praised by industry heavyweights from Brian Eno to the BBC’s Max Reinhardt.
Also at MRC, celebrated composer-saxophonist Jeremy Rose will be joined by two virtuoso drummers, Simon Barker and his protege Chloe Kim, alongside the Earshift Orchestra and powerful images by video artists Rachel Peachey and Paul Mosig, to present a thrilling tribute to the timeless, visceral and disruptive power of the drum. Disruption! The Voice of Drums explores the power of the drum as a force for disruption and protest, ceremony and healing, and for creating ecstatic and transcendental experiences.
In a move set to bring “late-night” back to the CBD, the Festival will create a Jazz Hub at The Toff in Town. Running every night of the festival until the early hours of the morning, MIJF’s Jazz Hub will showcase the very best of Melbourne’s flourishing and emergent jazz sound, and a scene that’s fast become a force on the world stage – touted and championed by international tastemakers like Gilles Peterson. The Toff will be home to late-night jams, album launches, DJs and dream collabs that can only exist within a festival context.
3 is One, the brand-new trio project headed up by GRAMMY-nominated pianist, composer, and musical-mystic, Barney McAll will hit The Toff in a collision of keys, pedals, loops and percussion. Taking audiences on a a psychedelic sonic adventure, McAll will be joined by multi-faceted artist Laneous and drumming maestro Leigh Fisher.
Another highlight of the Jazz Hub line-up, lead by celebrated rapper, singer and trumpet player ZIIMUSIC, The Experience will pay respect to the legacy of the legendary late father of South African Jazz “Bra Hugh” Masekela and Zimbabwean music royalty Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi. The full band performance will feature stunning vocals from Zimbabwean born singer Thando, who will also perform her Jill Scott Project at the Hub – a tribute to the living legend of American neo-soul.
Kate Kelsey-Sugg and Brett Williams are stars of the US music scene, and having spent the pandemic hiding out in Melbourne, will bring their formidable talent and credentials to the stage at The Jazz Hub in an incredible MIJF collaboration.
Kelsey-Sugg has worked alongside legends such as Cyndi Lauper, Robert Glasper, Philip Glass and Ani DiFranco, while Williams has performed alongside music royalty including Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill, Snarky Puppy and Anderson Paak. Together they form B+K, combining their unique musical talents and love for song writing to distil a wide range of genres into a harmonious blend of pop, R&B and soul.
Comprising four of Australia’s most esteemed jazz musicians, Nock/Wilson/Zwartz/Stuart made waves last year with their critically acclaimed and ARIA nominated debut album, This World. One year on, the celebrated supergroup of Mike Nock (piano), Julien Wilson (tenor saxophone), Jonathan Zwartz (double bass) and Hamish Stuart (drums) return to launch their second full-length album.
Other Jazz Hub highlights include the captivating Luke Howard Trio who will launch their fourth album Sanctuary; Sydney based neo-soul singer Natalie Slade who will premiere work from her stunning debut album Control; the trailblazing ensemble project of Jeremy Rose, Nick Garbett, Noel Mason and Alex Masso – The Vampires; and Melbourne’s favourite brass section, Horns of Leroy, who will collaborate with friends and stars of the Melbourne scene in a raucous, high energy night of music.
This year’s program is full of unique, festival-specific events that you weren’t expecting, but need to experience. Melbourne Museum will come alive for A Night at The Museum. Guided through an exploration of the museum’s most iconic settings, audiences will encounter musicians responding in real-time to their surroundings in a series of three unique micro-concerts, followed by a full-length performance of the Australian Art Orchestra’s cross-cultural masterpiece Hand to Earth.
Across three distinct museum spaces, audiences will encounter James Sherlock and Ben Hanlon, MEATSHELL and Mina Yu Trio before making their way to the stunning opening foyer to experience the boundary pushing brilliance of Hand to Earth, which brings together Yolngu songman Daniel Wilfred and Korean vocalist Sunny Kim for an exquisite performance expressing something of the here and now in music.
Sound Underground will see Campbell Arcade close to the public for a meditative music soundbath experience that incorporates the ambient sounds of Flinders Street Station into a sonic landscape, inviting the listener to bring their focus away from conscious thought and engage with sound as a healing medium.
This free, Festival-only experience, facilitated by award-winning Australian percussionist David Jones and author and musician Carmen Warrington, introduces you to an artists-palette of sound and vibration deep below Flinders Street.
The iconic music of one of the world’s most beloved bands will be brought to new life in The Music of Radiohead. Alongside an eight-piece ensemble featuring some of Australia’s most exciting musicians from both jazz and popular music – including Japanese Wallpaper and Ryan Munro – David Quested and Ollie Cox will present a night of original interpretations of the music of Radiohead.
Following the sell-out success of their Music of Bon Iver & Sufjan Stevens shows in 2019, Quested & Cox will draw upon indie rock, experimental improvisation and jazz influences to re-work all your favourites, from OK Computer to In Rainbows and beyond.
Adults don’t get to have all the fun this festival, with two special events – Kidstruments Live! and Jazz-A-Bye-Baby – dedicated to kids and families.
In collaboration with Melbourne Fringe, Kidstruments takes the imagined instruments of children developed in a series of interactive workshops and turns them into real-life musical instruments. Jazz collective I Hold the Lion’s Paw will bring children’s limitless imaginations to life in full sound and colour in a one-off concert at Yarraville’s pop-up park.
Across town at Darebin Arts Centre, iconic Melbourne funk trio Cookin’ On 3 Burners will be joined by vocalist Stella Angelico as they bring their Hammond drenched grooves to an exclusive Jazz Festival session of PBS 106.7FM’s popular Rock-A-Bye Baby performances. This is a show for adults and kids of all ages, where noise is welcomed, and crawling expected.
At Jazz Westside in Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley, MIJF brings to the jazz to the west on the opening weekend of the Festival with two outdoor pop-up stages in Yarraville and Footscray, and a series of performances featuring Gordon Koang, a household name in South Sudan where he is known as The King of Music; plus former MTV Asia VJ and Indonesian Idol judge Jamie Aditya who will perform his rapturous repertoire of early 20s-30s jazz, blues and gospel.
MIJF Congress is a major new national industry summit for jazz and improvised music, forming a core part of the festival’s long standing Sector Development Program. Spanning the final weekend of the festival, the inaugural MIJF Congress will host a series of talks, masterclasses, workshops, industry roundtables and networking opportunities for artists and industry, providing a platform for the national sector to congregate and navigate the future of Australian jazz.
MIJF Congress will also feature a series of curated performances, profiling the breadth and talent of Australian jazz musicians, and connecting local artists with national and international presenters.
After a successful foray into online streamed events in 2020 as part of the digital festival, These Digital Times, the Festival will make a selection of events available for streaming, connecting with audiences wherever they are and whatever the landscape for live events.
The streamed performances from MIJF’s concert hall series will go on sale in September. With this existing capacity for streaming, the Festival is well positioned to scale up the online offering if and when the live events landscape changes.
The 2021 Melbourne International Jazz Festival returns 15 – 24 October. Tickets are now on sale. For more information and full program, visit: www.melbournejazz.com for details.
Images: The Bamboos – photo by Ian Laidlaw | Fat Freddy’s Drop (supplied) | Paul Grabowsky and Paul Kelly – photo by Pia Johnson | Thando (supplied) | Cookin’ on 3 Burners (supplied)