Like Mr Noir, you may think jazz is just for science teachers and other elbow-patched drips. Do you fear jazz, the lack of rules, the lack of boundaries? Perhaps it’s time to branch out and discover the energy. “That’s what drew me to it, when I was 16,” says Allan Browne, the highly-esteemed patron of Stonnington Jazz. During his incredible musical career of over 50 years, Browne has worked with numerous international jazz legends, released one hundred and ten commercial LPs and CDs, and in 2000 won the Don Banks Award for his contribution to Australian music. A drummer and Stonnington resident, he has been patron of the event for the last three years.
It’s going to be giant. There’s an enormous mixed bag of performances to choose from, including a highly anticipated pair of shows from pianist-composer Barney McAll. “We went to New York together,” says Browne, “and I work with a lot of the younger ones as they grow up.” It’s a specific aim of the event to integrate young musicians with established players and composers, and Browne runs a practical workshop with Bob Sedergreen in which they also “talk about making solos, and telling stories through music.” Through the thrill and panic and eventual glee of improvising, player and instrument are brought into a pretty special understanding that you won’t get as rapidly or completely from playing aurally or with sheet music alone. Talking about this process and encouraging its growth in students is a passion of Browne’s. “I love working with the young guys and girls, because they’ve got so much energy,” he enthuses. “They make me keep up with them!” This sounds weird coming from such an energetic guy, it has to be said.
Alongside shows from the heavyweights such as Vince Jones and James Morrison, there are some interesting pairings in the 2012 programme. Rai Thistlethwayte (Thirsty Merc) will be accompanying young Melbournite Josh Kyle in a Saturday night performance. (YouTube Rai’s jazz piano chops if you are sceptical – a link has been doing the rounds amongst my scornful friends and they’re astonished.) The idea to put the two guys together was “certainly the work of Adrian [Jackson], our Artistic Director,” says Browne. “He’s been doing it for years and he has a great ability to put people together, the right type of people, so it’s always interesting to see what he’s going to do.”
Browne himself will play in his six-piece band to launch his first book of poetry, a symbiotic project of words and music which has been his baby for two years. “It’s a book of ‘observations’, from the last 30 years... amongst them are seven poems about people I’ve worked with; legendary jazz figures who aren’t around anymore. So we’ve written seven pieces of music, one for each, and improvised music, and recorded an album which comes with the book,” he explains. “We’re also doing some poetry and jazz on the Sunday at Chapel Off Chapel with the New Orleans band.” (Chapel Off Chapel is hosting several performances; other venues participating in the event include Red Bennies, the Malvern Town Hall and the Prahran Market. “There’s been jazz at the Market for twenty, thirty years,” says Browne, “so that’s an old tradition and it’s a great idea.” The sessions at the Market, on each Sunday of the event, will be free of charge.)
Incorporating poetry and music has been an interest of Browne’s for a long time. “When I was young I used to hang out with Adrian Rawlins... If you’ve been down Brunswick Street, you’d know there’s a statue of a guy?” On the corner of Brunswick and Argyle streets, Peter Corlett’s cast iron sculpture ‘Mr Poetry’ depicts the beaming bard mid-tale. “That’s him,” confirms Browne. “He used to do poetry with our band in the '60s. It goes back that far.” He adds that his band members are “local musicians, and they’re all fabulous composers.” Browne’s performances are sure to be rousing and fascinating. He also has a regular gig at Bennett’s Lane on Monday nights, where you can see him and his protégés going off.
So don’t be afraid of the shapes and the chaos. The moment it gets abstract, don’t mess your trousers and run to your mummy. Jazz has an insatiable vitality which comes from its spontaneity. “It’s exciting,” says Browne, “[to think] well I’m going to work now, and I don’t know what’s going to happen, or what we’re going to play or who’s going to do what. You never know what’s going to happen. You’re in the now.”
BY ZOË RADAS
STONNINGTON JAZZ runs from Thursday May 17 to Sunday May 27, at various venues around Stonnington. If you don’t know your electorates, that roughly means South Yarra, Prahran, Malvern and Toorak. Full programme details are at stonningtonjazz.com.au.