I was talking to Madge from Altona the other. day, windbreaks and shade structures being somewhat scarce in Refinery Terrace. She remarked upon the weather (getting worse), the price of beer (getting worse). the economy (getting worse), the availability of Winnie Blues (getting worse), and the shortage of merchant ships in Corio Bay. Apparently there is a consequent dearth of sun tanned drunken cashed up matelots wandering the windswept street of Altona West. Those that do are looking for a good time for a long time, and waiting for the shutters on the Altona West sub sub newsagents, hock shop and liquor store to come down (proprietor Phat Tow Nee).
They will be waiting a long time. The shutters went up in 1997, and Phat hasn’t been seen since, as Hortense ruefully observed only a week ago, although she could have been talking about someone else.
I would cease to digress, but what with almost no memory of last week’s jam session at the West Collingwood Sporting Men’s Club, have little inclination to do so. Apparently it went on quite late.
This Sunday the Leinster Arms is hosting a special Jam Session: a celebration of a completely ordinary Sunday, when there will be almost nothing else going on elsewhere. As a consequence, all the musicians who do turn up to the Jam will be eligible for a door prize. Quite what you are going to do with the door is a mystery to me, Who will win? Will Colonel T play Smoke on the Water, can the Captain count to four and not five? Will there be no drummers or five? Is there a verse to Autumn Leaves?
These are important questions, and we at Bendigo Towers, world headquarters of the Jazz Jammers Newletter, demand answers. Quite what they are, none of us can know, and most of us could not give a rats. All will be revealed at the Gold Street Gossip Shop, Lizard Lounge department.
And you will have to be there to find out.
Sunday Arvo Jam Session, The Leinster Arms, Gold Street, Collingwood every Sunday, 4.00 until the Captain falls over. TW
After last week’s smooooth little soiree with Angie, who may be the best singer of all of them and is certainly the most elegant, this week Ann Smith will be trotting out her very own mix of jazz toons, humereuse and chic in equal measure, probably not in French.
The Umbrella Bar Friday Night Captain Chaos Sessions: 338 – 340 Glenhuntly Road, Friday 29th August, 7.30pm – 10pm
Bennetts Lane has been a focal point for local jazz for more than two decades. Playing there is seen as a sign of legitimacy, an indication that you can be considered a “serious” jazz musician.
Lonely Planet once called Bennetts Lane “the world’s best jazz club”, which at first glance seems to be an implausible accolade. What about venues such as the Village Vanguard and Blue Note in New York, or Ronnie Scott’s in London? They are places where you can hear the best players in the world, and they have been around longer.
Yet look a little closer and the judgement is not so surprising. For one thing, there are many clubs that play jazz, but there are very few jazz clubs, where the music comes first and the venue second. At Bennetts Lane, patrons are asked to keep quiet while the music is playing, something that would be unthinkable at most venues. The club has also been able to host jazz every night of the week, a rare achievement.
Jazz clubs in New York, London, Paris or Berlin in part derive their reputation from the cities in which they are located. Bennetts Lane had no such advantage, yet its founder Michael Tortoni was able to create a venue of similar impact and reputation.
Tortoni’s success was as much due to business and financial skills as cultural acumen. He worked as a stockbroker for the first decade, earning the money to pay for the venue and removing one of the main risks for any venue owner – paying the rent.
Tortoni is a talented and experienced bassist who, as a teenager, played in the successful pop band Taste. When Taste broke up, he undertook a course at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA). The connections he made with other musicians served him well when he was looking for performers. Bennetts Lane also formed lasting institutional connections with the jazz courses at the VCA and Monash University. Students often did their end of year performances at the club.
Little surprise, then, that there has been great distress among musicians and educators at news of the club’s closure. In business language, it has become a dominant brand, associated with high-quality improvised music and the pursuit of a distinctively Australian originality.
In musicians’ parlance it has been a “hang” – a place to go to see what other musicians are doing and, well, hang. In physical terms, the club, which is at the end of a rather dingy city lane (off Little Lonsdale Street in the CBD), created a distinct sense of place.
As Mark Pollard, head of contemporary music at the VCA, told me: the club possesses an aura, “you can almost feel the history in the walls”.
The closing of Bennetts Lane will thus be a dark day for Australian jazz and Australian jazz education.
Despite Tortini saying at two launches for my book World’s Best Jazz Club (2014) that he could not give up his “gig”, the offer to was ultimately too attractive.
He penned a song in his recent album called The Ten Million Dollar Gig, and it’s tempting to imagine this as a guide to the financial negotiations.
The developers are intending to erect a 30-storey mixed business complex at the site.
It will be interesting to watch what Tortoni does with his funds. An astute businessman, he may take the Bennetts Lane brand and attempt to build something equivalent to Blue Note, which is both a venue (now franchised) and a record label. The physical venue may be going, but the intangible asset could still be exploited. And there are always other places that could be turned into jazz clubs.
There is an underlying message in this tale: audiences are reluctant to pay musicians a decent amount. Even in New York, the epicentre of the form, most jazz venues only pay their musicians US$50 a night – less than the cleaners.
It is a situation that is far from new. The business of running music venues is really the business of selling alcohol. As far back as the 1920s jazz was performed in the speakeasies, establishments that sold illegal booze.
Before the changes to Victoria’s liquor licencing laws in the 1980s, and the widespread introduction of poker machines, venues could afford to pay musicians a decent wage because they would get more than enough back from alcohol sales.
But as that money dried up – many modern jazz lovers are notoriously small spenders on drinks – the running of clubs has become more problematic. Musicians’ pay has shrunk or disappeared. Many musicians turned to education to earn a living, which in turn created an oversupply of well-trained, younger players. It made it even harder to earn a decent wage.
Melbourne will still have its jazz venues: Paris Cat, Dizzy’s and Uptown. They will no doubt benefit from the end of Bennetts Lane, although they may be dreading the flood of new applicants. Jazz musicians are highly skilled, and can readily turn their hand to other genres and styles, which may prove to be their best option.
But when Bennetts Lane closes, it will become much harder to find places to perform hardcore modern jazz. Something important will have been lost.
David James is an honorary fellow with the Victorian College of the Arts’ School of Contemporary Music who were a sponsor of his book World’s Best Jazz Club.
. Many people who have darkened the doors of the jazz jam
over the years appear on this disc incl. Tenor saxophonist
Mihoko Abe, drummers Danillo Martelli , Marek P. ,Mike
“Attitude man ” Hirsh ,singer Carol Whitfield and others and it
features original tunes and jazz standards. I play a wide
array of instruments and I even rock out on the sitar on
one jazz funk track .
Experience, it is said, is recognising your mistakes when you make them again. A dictum much observed in the breach, you might think, at the Gold Street Tea Rooms, Gossip Shop and Lizard Lounge. Where, should an occasional mistake be made, it is remarked upon more for being occasional than being a mistake.
And where Autumn Leaves keep falling, Summertime is never that far away, and Route 66 is more than a Carlton hairdresser’s score to date.
Much as usual, you might think… and you would be wrong. We didn’t do any of that, but ranged through a ludicrous selection of Bebop toons, somewhat guided by the preferences of Jason (sax), much enriched by the late arrival of Monty (drums) and Chico’s funk guitar, sauced with the manouche of Adam and his five string oppo playing gypsy jazz, torched by Amanda Magrin who sang rather well, I thought, as almost the lone singer, (although Ali filled the breach with some smooth croons), and reduced to Chaos by the Captain, but only when Sebastien (drums) didn’t get there first.
A fine cameo contribution (no Hortense, it is not what you think) contributed by guitarist Ben Stewart (“Boplicity, f**** that was hard”). Keen readers of asterisks may discern that he can’t spell.
And props to Colonel T of the Fourth Light Punjab Cavalry (retd) who played bass until he could play no more, retiring hurt.but sensible at a lateish hour.
Experience, coming round again, and a fine afternoon of, dare I say it, jazz. TW
Last week, an increasingly confident Sonia delivered an entertaining and diverse set of songs before a small but enthusiastic crowd – standards, swing, gypsy jazz, chinese ballads, vocalese – this one had the lot, and, apart from keeping meself , Doug and the Captain entertained with such a fresh set, Sonia managed to leave poor Temo besotted (but happy.)
This week, Angela Strickland will be singing her own eclectic mix , ranging from jazz through show tunes to Renee Geyer, and probably back again. Doug, the Captain and meself will be loving every minute of it, and so will you, should you care to drop in.
The Umbrella Bar Friday Night Captain Chaos Sessions: 338 – 340 Glenhuntly Road, Friday 22nd August, 7.30pm – 10pm.
We rudely rocked up with a Roland piano for last weeks’ Friday night. Chelly Parisi put in a fine, fine set to a enthusiastic partly Russian as it turned out, audience. Easily the most experienced of the singers who have featured in the Friday nights, it is sometimes hard to believe that she only came to jazz about a year ago. Meanwhile, Temo and the out of tune Grand Piano sulked in the background. We even promised to return once the Yamaha grand had been sorted.
… And I had been contemplating what to do with a night off, until an excited Temo rang on Wednesday to say the piano had been tuned, sounded fabulous, and who was singing this Friday night…
The divinely Gallic Mme Sonia Davoine will be singing, accompanied by meself and Doug Kuhn (bass), with a surprise appearance by the Captain to help fill in the twiddly bits. Miss Sonia has been working her derriere off polishing some latin, standards, French, Chinoise and eccentric tunes. All delivered with a certain je ne sais quoi.
Sonia Davoine and the crew, at the Umbrella Bar 338 – 340 Glenhuntly Road, Friday 15th August, 7.30pm – 10pm.