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

By Published: January 16, 2009
Given that this year there was only one application to stage the 2010 event from a total of forty seven towns approached, I asked Don if there had ever been a year when the AJC had been in danger of not going ahead. With his customary precise recall Don explains: "There was a convention in Hobart; a rumor went around that it wasn't going to be held because nobody was going to go. But the whole Cootamundra band drove to Melbourne, jumped on the ferry and crossed. They were the only complete band from the mainland to play. There was also a good local band, a very professional quartet; that was the eighth convention, so that would have been '53—just a couple of bands plus a few musicians.

Frontliners

"The Cootamundra jazz band was a pretty professional outfit; it was a country town but they'd play two hundred miles this way and two hundred miles that way. They'd play bloody well and then drive back. They were a commercial Dixieland band ahead of their time.

"In the early days after the convention there'd be an annual general meeting and anyone who was a musician or a delegate could all come to the general meeting and all have their say, and some of them went on for hours. And someone would stand up and say 'I nominate our town,' and somebody else would say 'No, our town.' The pros and cons would be weighed up and then there'd be a vote.

"Then there was a great convention in Adelaide (''57); it was such a great convention that that when they asked who wanted to run the next one everybody thought we can't do it better than this so nobody put their hand up. Then a bloke from Sydney got up and said: 'If no-one's gonna bloody well do it I'll do it. I'll hire a town hall and you can all come along.' And that worked out all right.

"But we're all getting older, and there's not the enthusiasm of people in their thirties and forties— they're just not into traditional jazz."

The enthusiasm and energy levels of the convention attendees, the majority of whom are in their sixties and seventies, is quite something to see, and the last-night party on New Year's Eve sees everybody dancing the new year in to the heady sounds of music older than the conventioneers themselves.

The advancing age of musicians and delegates alike raises the question of what the future holds for the AJC, this wonderful and rather unique event in the international jazz calendar. Bassist Peter Boys echoes the concerns voiced by several other conventioneers when he says: "At the Melbourne convention in '95 we had a thousand musicians, now we're down to about three hundred—the youth is not coming through." I raised this issue with a number of the attendees and the response of one elderly gentleman seemed to sum up the attitude of those present: "The future? Well mate, it's Melbourne next year—that'll be a great convention, so many good musicians in Melbourne—and Orange in 2010. We'll be there mate, we'll be there."

On the Way to Melbourne '09

Such a statement of faith carries in it an optimism indicative of the spirit of the convention, yet it goes hand in hand with the open acknowledgment of most that, to a worrisome degree, too few are coming through to carry the Australian Jazz Convention or the tremendous Victorian Jazz archive into the future. However, as the frontline of trumpet, clarinet and trombone swirls around us, buoyed by the rhythm section and driving the dancers as it has done for sixty three consecutive years, the thoughts of those assembled in Lismore this final week of 2008 are only of having a hot time in the old town tonight.

Photo Credit

Ian Patterson


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