Perth is hosting its first ever International Jazz Festival and, on the eve of the opening, award-winning jazz saxophonist Jamie Oehlers, made time to talk with Aussie Theatre’s Jan Chandler.
Oehlers is a jazz saxophonist with a national and international reputation and there have been many highlights for him along the way. He tells me with a laugh that winning the White Foundation World Saxophone Competition in 2003 was pretty special. One of his favourite saxophone players, the great Charles Lloyd, was the main judge and Oehlers felt that he had been given a massive nod of approval by a fellow musician for whom he has great respect.
Other awards have included Australian Jazz Awards Jazz Artist of the Year (2007); two Bell Awards for Best Australian Contemporary Jazz Release (2006, 2007) and being a final nominee for the Australian Recording Industry Awards (ARIAS) for Best Jazz Release.
Awards are one thing, but most of all, Oehlers values the opportunities he has to play with some really great artists. He tours regularly, performing at jazz clubs and festivals throughout the world and admits that it is always a highlight playing with incredible musicians.
In between touring the world and performing with the likes of Charlie Haden, Bernie McGann, Dale Barlow, Paul Grabowsky, Joe Chindamo, Kate Ceberano, Renee Geyer – and the list goes on – Oehlers is currently Head of Jazz at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). And he is a member of the Artistic Sub Committee of the newly created Perth International Jazz Festival which happens over the next three days.
The idea for a festival initially came from Graham Woods, who, together with Bernard Kong, opened The Ellington Jazz Club in 2009. Their aim was to create a New York style Jazz club, a club that would support emerging artists and attract some of the world’s finest jazz musicians to Perth. Now Woods and his team have created the first ever International Jazz Festival for Perth.
As Oehlers tells it, they lucked it by securing saxophone legend Joe Lovano (USA) as their headline act. Initially it was thought that Lovano wouldn’t have the time and, if he did, they wouldn’t have the budget. But Oehlers decided to go ahead and email Lovano, as he says “we kind of know these guys”. Lovano came right back saying: “Man, I’m up for it. Book it in, I’ve got a five day gap in my schedule”. What a coup!
Over the three day festival there will be performances from a number of other high profile overseas artists. Amongst them will be guitarist Gilad Hekselman (Israel/USA) and a young New York band, Kneebody, with their more modern rhythmic sense incorporating funky grooves. Some Perth artists now based overseas, are returning to join in the celebrations, among them bassist Sam Anning, the eclectic trio The Grid and fusion group VOID. And then there will be Australian legends such as and Katie Noonan, Vince Jones and Jamie Oehlers himself.
Clearly there will be something for everyone from the most dedicated jazz lover to anyone who wants to find out what jazz is all about. The program starts TODAY with the first performance at 5pm!
As Oehlers says it’ll be a great opportunity for the musicians to all get together and share, not only with each other but with the wider community and hopefuly attract a new audience to jazz music.