Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Last Saturday I went to The Ellington to hear some jazz. If you haven't been to The Ellington... imagine a cool Melbourne jazz club, then run it through the "Perth" filter in Photoshop. It's still kinda cool, but only in relation to what's around it (most specifically the big "designer" McDonalds they just opened across the street).

The assiduous reader of this blog will already know my opinion of Perth jazz musicians: they're highly talented, but overindulged. The uncultivated audiences of this city are supposed to be pathetically grateful to be allowed to come into their presence, and to expect them to provide a well-planned, carefully arranged or, heaven forfend, entertaining show is the height of presumption. I only went to this particular show because I hadn't heard of the performers, so there was a chance that some of them might still be humble enough to care what the audience would enjoy hearing.

What I actually got was a mixed bag. Half of the time the performance was exactly what I wanted: a mixture of classics and original numbers, with the standards given fresh new treatments that reflected both the potency of the original and the elan of the musicians. The other half of the time, it was more of the usual Perth jazz crap - long, complicated, tedious, interchangeable solos of great technical merit but no beauty, each one utterly unrelated to the (much shorter) song that bookended it. Jazz pianist Benny Green can hammer out a version of 'Down By The Riverside' that stamps and swings in his signature style and showcases his vast talent... and never, for one second, stops being 'Down By The Riverside'. Give Tal Cohen the 74 year old standard 'Caravan', on the other hand, and within thirty seconds Juan Tizol's masterwork is but a distant memory, one to which you will only return several subjective hours later when the song concludes.

If only they could have seen the looks on the faces of the audience. When Saffron Sharp sang unexpected but well-designed harmonies with her backing singers, or her double bass player flicked out a complicated rhythm that was echoed back by the other instruments, we were captivated. By contrast, around the third or fourth minute of the seventh or eighth very long, freeform Carl Mackey sax solo, we were swirling ice around empty glasses, showing each other photos on our iPhones, fiddling with our jewellry, or just gazing blankly off into space.

Philistines, obviously, unworthy of the greatness before us.


Blogger Bart said...

Then again, the Philistines practically invented Jazz.

It says so in the bible.

6:06 PM  
Blogger Blandwagon said...

Ah yes, the Gospel According to St Thelonious.

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Troy G said...

You know when a jazz musician is off in their own little world - and on the verge of a long solo - when they look like they've smelled decaying meat left in a pentathlete's sock but they're rather enjoying the odour.

As I'm sure you recall but maybe blogger won't let you do, élan has an acute accent on the 'e'. Jazz philistine though I am, I make up for it by being an unashamed language snob.

2:10 PM  

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