15.05.2019

The Castlemaine Jazz Festival is back for its sixth year

Band playing at the Castlemaine Jazz Festival
Words by Anna Rose

A huge extravaganza welcoming 50 bands over four days

Back for its sixth year, the longevity of Castlemaine Jazz Festival is all down to the popularity and diversity of its annual programmes, and this year will be no different.

Happening over the Queen’s Birthday weekend, the festival will celebrate a broad range of styles within the genre and includes performers from across the Central Victoria region.

“We’ve got 50 bands playing, a massive amount,” says president of the festival committee, Calum McClure. “[50] really great, varied acts, so we have a really tight programme with some great stuff in it.”

Castlemaine Jazz Festival is a growth on the monthly Jazz Jam run by founders Ken Turnbull and John Hannah on the first Sunday of each month at the town’s Maurocco Bar. The festival, however, has a much larger production. It has developed into a spectacular that involves hundreds of venues like Phee Broadway Theatre, Maurocco Bar, as well as The Theatre Royal. “There’s something deeply special about these performances when you go into certain venues,” says McClure.

Initially having over 90 applicants for this year’s event, the 50 bands selected, comprising some 300 musicians,  have met a criteria which will cater for the biggest, boldest shows possible. “The one thing we want to stick to is that this is a jazz festival,” McClure says. “We’re sticking very strictly within the jazz formula but that doesn’t mean we’re not exploring elements within the genre.

“We’ve got early 1920s [with] what they call trad jazz, right the way through the century into very modern, fusion jazz. There’s a vast difference of types of jazz, 100 years of it evolving, there’s amazing stuff in there.

“We break it down into four or five different themes – trad jazz is mainstream, ‘30s to ‘50s style jazz, then the American ensemble and big band stuff.”

It’s having access to jazz across a century of history that McClure feels is the biggest drawcard for people to attend the four-day event. “It’s a good way of getting a good look at all the different and broad types of jazz,” he says. “Of the bands that [will] play, there’s some African fusion from The Seven Ups, stuff from South America, too, so there’s lots of different world players this year which is very exciting.”

There’s also a lot of young and up-and-coming artists appearing this year, like 22-year-old Emilia, whose performances have been compared to the power of jazz greats Aretha Franklin and Etta James. “That’s one of our goals in our mission statement – to be a real force to be a platform.

“The idea is to be able to create a festival where we can get great players who’ve been doing this a long time, but put players who are up-and-coming in the middle of all that and really focus on having a really good mix of both.”

Some of the highlights of this year’s festival are not ones to be missed. Low Down Big Band, an 18-piece outfit that perform a mix of blues, funk, and contemporary styles with high intensity will perform as well as the electrifying fusion quartet Jungle Fusion, who boast deeps ethno roots and an avant-garde philosophy.

World-renowned Gambian singer/songwriter, Yusupha Ngum, will be bringing his newest creative undertaking to the festival this year – a six-piece African fusion outfit, The Affia Band. True trad jazz outfit Shirazz get McClure’s pick for the one’s to watch, what he describes as a traditional jazz version of The Cat Empire.

Extra special guests on the bill this year are Melbourne’s own The Seven Ups. A self-proclaimed part band, the group blend unpretentious rhythms with street funk and a very spirited Nigerian Afrobeat sound. “They’re doing some really amazing things,” says McClure. “We’re really excited to have them perform.”

In Castlemaine Jazz history, performers who appear year after year consistently come back better with more strings to their bow. “There’s a number of bands who always come back here and you can definitely see a growth in their playing and what they’re doing,” says McClure. “People like ade ishs, an Australian-Indonesian pianist, with the growth of his work with original pieces.

“The other thing we’re doing this year is something called the Goldfields Jazz Orchestra, a collection of music teachers from the region who come and play pieces in a big band. It’s really an opportunity to get all the hardworking teachers to show what they can do – that’s gonna be fantastic this year.”

An opportunity for young musicians and students to see seasoned professionals perform is, McClure says, an important event so they can see what they could one day achieve with time and a little practice.

“That’s one of the things we want to achieve,” he says. “That idea that there is a life to be had from playing jazz and you can continue to do it. There’s plenty of stuff going on and if you’re super keen, there’s definitely opportunities out there.”

Castlemaine jazz Festival goes down over the Queen’s Birthday weekend from Friday June 7 to Monday June 10. Head to the festival website for tickets and more info on the programme.