Time Out Melbourne

Love jazz? Want to know where and when to get it? Jazz promoter Peter Rechniewski (of Sydney venue Foundry616) gives his rundown on the best of the fests

Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues

Melbourne Cup weekend, Vic

Wangaratta is still the top Australian jazz festival after all these years – over 22 – because the budget is used to invest in Australian artists along with the overseas names. Financial constraints have bitten into its ambitions, but it’s still very imaginatively programmed and with due respect paid to those artists who have made serious contributions to Australian jazz as well as the rising talents. Fans interact with the musicians, making the atmosphere very special. As well, the instrumental competition is a unique feature of this weekend of fine music.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival

Early June, Vic

MIJF is the closest we come in Australia to the big European jazz festivals. It does seem to impact on the city, which is a fantastic achievement. There are always lots of bands and events but it needs a bit of daring as its programme (and budget) are heavily weighted towards expensive overseas names and local big ‘names’ who don’t always deliver.

Brisbane International Jazz Festival

Late May, Qld

This year the BIJF replaced the biennial Valley Jazz Festival with an excellent balance of local and overseas names. It will become stronger as it secures better funding but this has been a great achievement for Brisbane, which is nurturing an artistically very exciting jazz scene.

Perth International Jazz Festival

Late May, WA

Noticed the closeness among the last three events? They all share some of the artists and amortise the costs, so audiences win out. Perth has great potential because of the already impressive list of corporate partners. Programming will strengthen as budgets grow, but there they need to guard against parochialism.

Stonnington Jazz Festival

Mid-late May, Vic

Supported by the City of Stonnington in Melbourne and programmed by Adrian Jackson, who is also artistic director of Wangaratta, Stonnington is a model of what can be achieved at a suburban jazz event. Still, it’s a mystery to me why this excellent festival, which presents an all-Australian programme, wants to be cheek by jowl to the Melbourne International Jazz Festival.

Bellingen Jazz Festival

Mid-August, NSW

Held at a green riverside town on the north coast of NSW, the festival usually posts an attractive programme that includes most jazz idioms (except the avant-garde). It’s an enjoyable regional festival in a wonderful setting that, with the right direction and better funding, could become an outstanding event.

Manly Jazz Festival

October long weekend, NSW

It’s been around for over 30 years and is one of the longest running jazz festivals in Australia. It attracts large crowds when the weather is sunny – as it should, since the setting is spectacular – while most events are open air and free to the public. That is both its weakness and its strength, as these big crowds don’t translate into box-office to supplement modest funding from Manly Council and local sponsors. The overseas component of the programme is getting stronger with last year’s headliner being US tenor saxophone star Eric Alexander.

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Updated on 25 Feb 2014.

By Peter Rechniewski   |  
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