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Live Reviews

The Oldest Jazz Event in the World: Hot Times in Australia

By Published: January 16, 2009
Ford also won the Original Tunes competition, which he had previously won in 1974, 1975 and 1982, pipping the colorful Peter 'Daddy Cool' Olson into second place. Olson, originally from Minnesota, spent twenty two years in Alaska working as a trapper before helping set up a blues festival there. The winning score was 109.2, or something like that, edging out Olson by .2. One delegate laughed at the technicality of the judges' voting and told me they used to cast their votes on the back of a beer mat in less sophisticated times. The original tunes competition is an important part of the convention, injecting new blood into the body of work from which musicians can draw and helping to preserve the Australian face of traditional-style jazz.

Probably the most popular venue due to its intimacy, not to mention the cool breeze which came through the open side doors, was the Lismore Bowling Club. Pianist Maurie Fabrikant and his Mates from Different States performed an enjoyable set, the highlight of which was Ade Monsbourgh's beautiful tune "Don't Monkey With It," which was accompanied by an electrical storm, a strangely yellow sky and a perfect rainbow.

The more cavernous Worker's Club auditorium and the City Hall auditorium had, by comparison, more than a few concerts where there were perhaps a dozen at most in the audience; once or twice there were more townspeople playing the "pokies" or gaming machines, in the gaming room than there were delegates in attendance at concerts.

Very few actual bands, or complete bands at any rate, turn up at these conventions; rather, individuals turn up and hook up with other musicians there. Most of these arrangements are made beforehand but many are ad hoc, and spontaneous sit-ins and old-style jams drawing from the vast body of traditional tunes have been a perennial feature of the AJC. A kind of ragged yet joyful informality is the order of the day, and lies at the very heart of what these conventions are all about.

Steve Crawford; Phil O'Rourke; Andrew Nolte

The youngest musician at the convention, banjoist Andrew Nolte, at twenty three, drove from Melbourne to attend for a couple of days in the hope of sitting in wherever he could: "I want to learn as much as I can from these guys while I can" he enthused. Nattily attired in bow tie and braces, black and white spats and with bryl-creamed hair, Nolte looked and sounded totally at ease in the company of musicians fifty years his senior.

The line which separates musicians and audience at a jazz festival is fairly non-existent at the AJC. After all, everyone is friends with everyone else, and the banter flying between the performers and the listeners is an enjoyable facet of the event. Delegates talk of past conventions like connoisseurs discussing vintage wines: Forbes 2000 was a great year; Melbourne '95, the fiftieth anniversary, ranks highly too—one man said that if you were at one gig it meant you were missing sixteen others running at the same time; several folk can remember the fourth convention of '49 which featured the great Ellingtonian (trumpeter) Rex Stewart, who was touring with the Graham and Roger Bell's band, but as Don Anderson recalls: "There were too many high notes for a lot of people. "

For Don and his wife Margaret, a member of the steering committee, Melbourne '74 holds special memories: "[Trumpeter] Clark Terry
Clark Terry
Clark Terry
came in '74," Don remembers." He played in the (pianist) Tony Gould trio and, gee, he pushed them hard! On a couple of fast numbers they were flat out." Margaret adds: "Such a nice man too; he still sends us cards." Another conventioner jokingly complains that she and her husband had to displace themselves to attend the twenty consecutive conventions held outside Melbourne between '75 and '94.

Then there was Cootamundra in 1959, which Don and Nick Polites both remember well; Don recounts the legend: "Cootamundra held the tenth and the fourteenth conventions. At the fourteenth convention they used to draw the curtains between bands, and the bands would set up behind the curtains. This time, when it opened, there were thirty banjo players all in their underpants. One was in a nappy, and a couple were playing tennis rackets. They played "The World is Waiting for the Sunrise," which banjo clubs teach people. We were all younger and more stupid in those days! It was great fun."

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