Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival

WJF_The Hoodangers_editorialNow in its milestone 25th year, the 2014 Wangaratta Jazz & Blues Festival features another exciting program that celebrates one of Australia’s much-loved festivals.

Across the four days and nights of the Melbourne Cup Day long weekend, the city will jump to the sounds of jazz and blues, from more than 300 musicians in over 80 concerts on the main program, and over 30 concerts on the Main Street free stages; as well as artist talks and masterclasses, all in venues in walking distance within the township and at nearby wineries

The program features a line-up of international jazz and blues artists from the USA, Italy and New Zealand performing alongside the cream of Australia’s best musicians, in fearless improvisations, Australian debut performances, premiere collaborations, and a welcome return of some of the great artists who have performed in the past two and a half decades.

International jazz artists include 6-time Grammy Award winning drummer Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts (USA) performing with his band which includes New York-based Australian saxophonist Troy Roberts; composer/trumpeter Laura Watts (USA) who released her debut album as a leader in 2011 and has written/composed music for many notable artists including Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and Orrin Evans; one of the giants of European jazz, trumpet/flugelhorn maestro Enrico Rava (ITALY) and New York-based saxophonist Lisa Parrot (AUS/USA) returning to the Festival two decades since she placed second runner up in the National Jazz Awards (Saxophone) in 1994.

Spoke’s (USA) dramatic musical storytelling and infectious grooves have seen the quartet performing at major festivals and venues in Europe, Asia and North America. Roger Manins, past winner of the 2002 National Jazz Awards (Saxophone), is now established as one of New Zealand’s leading jazz artists and will make a welcome return to Wangaratta with his distinctive-sounding band Hip Flask.

“25 years is a landmark that no-one would have been willing to bet on back when the Festival began as a relatively modest but ambitious event in 1990,” says Artistic director Adrian Jackson. “The fact that we have made it this far is due to the incredible support the Festival has received from the local community, and the way it has been embraced so enthusiastically by musicians and music lovers from around Australia and overseas.

“We have a strong component of international artists coming this year, like Enrico Rava, Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts and Joe Louis Walker. Among them are several expatriate Australians like Lisa Parrott, Troy Roberts and Sarah McKenzie. I think this Festival is the perfect place for them to showcase how they have grown as artists in their time overseas.”

“And of course we have a huge line-up of Australian talent, ranging from bands making their debut at Wangaratta, some established names who haven’t been here for a few years, and some who are frequently featured, including some who played at that first Festival back in 1990 – like Paul Grabowsky, Mike Nock, Tony Gould, Bob Sedergreen, Allan Browne, Niko Schauble and Steve Grant.”

The Australian Art Orchestra will perform Struttin’ With Some Barbecue – an inventive re-imagining of the legacy of Louis Armstrong. Paul Grabowsky and Steve Grant will both perform solo piano concerts in the Holy Trinity Cathedral; guitarists James Muller and Stephen Magnusson will make a rare collaboration in a quartet format, which is bound to be a Festival highlight.

The program also features a strong line-up of jazz vocalists including Emma Pask, whose performances on The Voice Australia (Season 2) garnered her a new audience. Fem Belling will lead her Quintet and contribute to the African jazz sounds of Royal Swazi Spa, led by her father Howard Belling and the charismatic Hetty Kate will perform songs from her recent hit CD, Dim All The Lights. Now based in New York, Sarah McKenzie will return to Wangaratta as part of a tour to promote her forthcoming third CD and Julie O’Hara will perform with the gypsy swing-inspired combo, Ultrafox.

The blues program will be headlined by Blues Hall of Famer Joe Louis Walker (USA), one of the hottest guitarist-singers in the business. He will be joined by a strong line-up of Australian blues acts including Sydney’s Bondi Cigars who recently celebrated their 25-year milestone; 2014 Chain Award winners for Best New Talent, Blue Eyes Cry; guitar aces Ray Beadle and Darren Jack leading their own bands, then teaming up as All The Kings Men – a celebration of the 4 Kings – B.B. King, Freddie King, Earl King and Albert King. Plus Fiona Boyes, Nick Charles and Doc Span, and many more.

The National Jazz Awards on Sunday 2 November (broadcast live to air on ABC Classic FM), celebrates outstanding young talent, and open to musicians of any nationality up to the age of 35. Each year the competition focuses on a different instrument, this year guitar, and has become an indicator of some of Australia’s finest upcoming talent.

The 2014 Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival runs Friday 31 October to Monday 3 November. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: The Hoodangers