All that Jazz: A local’s guide to the Melbourne International Jazz Festival 2015

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Interview by Rubal K.


Not long before the Melbourne International Jazz Festival returns with what promises to be a magnificent celebration of Jazz right here in the heart of our

Melbourne Jazz Festival Program Manager Melanie Pose

Melbourne Jazz Festival Program Manager Melanie Pose

cultural capital. Spanning over 10 days, MIJF will showcase an eclectic mix of the finest local and international Jazz artists delivering world-class performances between May 28th and June 7th 2015. The MIJF 2015 line up boasts of legends including Kurt Elling in collaboration with the MSO, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irvin Mayfield with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Chick Corea & Herbie Hancock, performing sold out shows at the Arts Centre in the CBD.

While Melbourne eagerly awaits the beginning of this epic festival, we had the opportunity to meet and greet with Melanie Pose, a local Elwood resident in her fifth year as Program Manager with the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. Mel took us on a journey while she talked about her connection with Jazz that eventually led her to become an integral part of Melbourne’s Jazz community, which so unconditionally strives to keep Jazz alive in our city of Melbourne.


When was your first encounter with Jazz music?

I first remember listening to Louis Armstrong recordings on long car drives as a child. I vividly remember my dad singing along trying to imitate Satchmo’s idiosyncratic gravelly voice.


Who was your first favourite Jazz artist?

My first favourite Jazz artist was probably Dave Brubeck. I was fascinated by his song Take 5 which uses quintuple (5/4) time. I remember listening to it over and over again when I was young; I think this was the first ever Jazz record I purchased.


What led you to become a part of the Melbourne Jazz Festival?

Attending the festival is what drew me in. Before working at MIJF I used to pick out two or three key events to see each year. In 2010 one of those events was on the closing night of the festival, Sangam Charles Lloyd with Zakir Hussain and Eric Harland. I was so incredibly moved by the performance and in awe of the musicianship, connection and spirituality of the players that I felt a strong desire to be involved in the presentation of these kinds of profound musical experiences to Melbourne audiences.


How long have you been a part of the production team?

I have worked at the festival since 2010. 2015 will be my fifth jazz festival as Program Manager.


What is your take on the current situation?

I feel as though the jazz scene is in a really interesting place right now. While sadly each year we lose pioneers and legends of the genre I feel very heartened by the emergence of new masters and the development of young musicians who are both respectful of the jazz traditions while simultaneously eager to forge new paths and create sounds that feel relevant to today.


What according to you does the future hold for Jazz music in Melbourne?

I believe, the future of Jazz in Melbourne is incredibly bright. I have the fortune of working with emerging musicians from the Monash University and Victorian College of the Arts jazz programs and I can tell you that there are so many gifted students coming through the ranks. The Festival is very proud of our connection to these two major tertiary institutions and the links we create for students to workshop, rehearse and perform with local and international artists during the Festival. 2015 will see a number of such engagements including two Artist-in-Residence programs with saxophonist Joe Lovano at Monash University and bassist and vocalist Richard Bona at the VCA. If you want to see the fruits of the collaboration check out the Monash University Jazz Futures performance featuring Joe Lovano on Tuesday 2 June.


Do you play an instrument, and which one?

No [I don’t play an instrument].


What’s your favourite style of Jazz?

I wouldn’t say that I have a favourite style. I love many styles of jazz and find that I listen to different styles depending on my mood.


Which local Melbourne acts would you recommend from the festival program?

As part of this years’ opening weekend MIJF are collaborating for the first time with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Together the MIJF and the MSO are presenting the Orchestra in collaboration with one of the most celebrated male singers in jazz today, Kurt Elling and his formidable quartet. This will no doubt be a highlight performance of the festival in 2015, one I am really looking forward to.

Another highlight from the local scene is the Harry James Angus band. Harry, who is also the trumpet player in The Cat Empire, will perform 2 shows at the Festival and with his band exploring some great old school jazz sounds and songs. Harry will be closing out the MIJF program at Bennetts Lane Jazz Club this year a week before the club closes its doors for good.

Jazz-A-Bye Baby featuring the Hoodangers is another performance from a local band that I would highly recommend This will be a show for kids like no other. The Hoodangers have been performing together since the late nineties and draw on a rich jazz tradition, embracing it and changing it into something completely their own. This event, which is an extension of PBS 106.7 FM’s popular ‘Rock-A-Bye Baby’ sessions, will appeal to the whole family. The music is not dumbed-down or sugar coated. Be sure to come prepared to dance!


Which of the international acts are you really excited to watch?

Our closing night performance at Hamer Hall; Dee Dee Bridgewater and Irvin Mayfield with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra is one I cannot wait to see. This event is a celebration of the music, the culture and the spirit of the incredible city of New Orleans.

Ms Dee Dee Bridgewater had a conga line dancing through the aisles last time she performed at the Festival in 2012 so I can’t wait to see what she brings to the table this time around especially as she will be backed by a 15-piece big-band who all hail from Louisiana.

Identities are Changeable is an event I am incredibly proud to be presenting. Miguel Zenon, a Puerto Rican American saxophonist, has written an extraordinary musical suite inspired by the immigrant experience in New York and how one juggles having multiple identities; a concept which is so relevant to the experience of many Australians. In this event MIJF will present Zenon’s Quartet in collaboration with Sydney’s Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra to bring this incredible composition to life. I saw this work performed at the 60th Newport Jazz Festival in the USA last year. It’s one I cannot wait to see again at MIJF 2015!

The Bad Plus are an acoustic jazz trio whose style transcends categories. They incorporate such a wide range of influences from classical music to post-rock, and have developed a cult following. They will make their festival debut this year and I am so excited to see them live.


Where in St Kilda or Elwood can one get a healthy dose of Jazz?

Sunday afternoons at Claypots is one of my favourite local spots for jazz.


Are there any acts on your wish list for next year?

Of course there are but I can’t share them with you just yet!


Are you expecting a good turnout at this year’s Melbourne Jazz Festival?

We are expecting a really strong turnout for this year’s festival. We have already sold out a number of shows including Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock’s duet performance at Hamer Hall on our opening night and also both performances by The Cat Empire at Bennetts Lane.


Do you have a message for Melbourne’s Jazz enthusiasts and festival attendees?

The Festival provides an opportunity for audiences to hear and see world class jazz musicians and I encourage people to get amongst the action. Try something new. Take a chance on an artist you may never have heard of or see a performance you are unsure whether you will like. I can attest from personal experience that seeing an act live can be incredibly surprising and open your mind and spirit to new possibilities you never thought you could find or would enjoy.

Secondly, I’d say don’t miss out on the chance to see a gig a Bennetts Lane. The club is set to close on June 15, just one week after the Festival ends so come join us for a drink to toast this iconic jazz venue and celebrate all that is great about jazz.


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