Taste the Music: Perth International Jazz Festival

After a highly successful opening year in 2013, the Perth International Jazz Festival returns this year with even more to offer. Aussie Theatre’s Bianca Stewart caught up with the Artistic Director Graham Woods to chat about the Festival and what audiences can expect in 2014.

Kate Ceberano and PIJF Artistic Director Graham Wood. Image by Chantel Concei
Kate Ceberano and PIJF Artistic Director Graham Wood. Image by Chantel Concei

It’s only its second year running as a full festival, but the Perth International Jazz Festival has been a long time coming according to Artistic Director, Graham Woods.

Why a Jazz festival I wanted to know.  Woods puts it very simply, “because we didn’t have one”.

Woods explains that the event was “kind of planned and began around 2009”. Woods had already helped to start up The Ellington Jazz Club and he admits that “it seemed like the natural extension for me to … try and get a festival going [after all] most cities in the world, of any note, have a jazz festival”.

Ahead lay a year of planning and hard work to pull the festival together.  Wood met with h numerous people in the arts, business and the jazz industry, in an effort to drum up support. Once he had the support he then had to chase funding, sponsors and a for a board that could create a structure, vision and a plan for the festival.

The aim is for the festival to become an ongoing event rather than just a ‘flash in the pan’ and for it to be recognised as one of Australia’s iconic jazz festivals within five years. Eventually they’ll target interstate and overseas tourists so it’s something that people come to Perth to see. For now they’re building on the momentum for more sponsors and funding so that the festival can grow.

The festival itself is largely volunteer based, with Woods describing it as a great way for people to get involved and be a part of the festival rather than just watching from the audience. The board are all volunteers drawn from institutions like the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, the WA Youth Jazz Orchestra, Jazz WA and the the Perth Jazz Society. Their aim is to bring inspiring music from all around the world to Perth. And so far it seems to be working. “The feedback’s been super positive; people had a great time [in 2013]” says Woods. “We do it all in an inner city area so there’s quite a buzz around.”

This year they’re upping the ante with a mix of local, national and international acts. The program was put together by using the artistic committee’s industry contacts – there is also an expression of interest form on their website for acts wanting to perform in 2015. The result is a world-class program consisting of 48 performances in 14 different venues, over the course of one weekend.

Woods notes that audience members should really take advantage of the international acts and names his ‘Don’t Miss’ acts as Kate Ceberano with the All Star Big Band, Greg Osby (USA) and Peter Bernstein (USA). “They’re the type of people that you can’t go out and hear on a regular basis.”

Regardless of your age, schedule, budget or musical tastes there is something for everyone. There are free, daytime shows for the family to enjoy, and more intimate, late-night gigs for those who are 18 and over.

“Jazz is an evolving type of art forma and genre and there’s all sorts of hybrids and cross overs”, enthuses Woods. “There’ll be a range of different artists that will appeal to a different demographic.”

Whilst the primary reason may be to come to see world class music, be entertained and have a great time, it’s also about being exposed to things you normally wouldn’t, to get you out of your musical bubble. Woods describes it as a bit like trying a new type of food; there’s going to be things you like, things you don’t like and things you need to keep trying before you can make up your mind.

“That’s the whole plan, to really bring interesting culture and music into the city for people to explore and to enjoy.”

At the end of the day it’s the people who make the festival so Woods encourages everyone to engage with it. “Look at the program, go on the website, buy some tickets to some shows, go to some free shows and have a good weekend.”

The Perth International Jazz Festival runs from Friday 9 May to Sunday 11 May. Program and ticket information can be found at their website.

Jan Chandler

Jan has been working freelance in the arts industry for some 15+ years in a variety of roles including: arts management; journalism (print, radio and online); publicity; and media relations. Passionate about the arts in all their variety, Jan has worked in film (production assistant; reviewer); dance (publicity; producer and presenter of 'Dance Dialogues - 3CR) and Board Member of Ausdance (Victoria)); performing arts (company manager, performer, reviewer, online editor). Jan had the honour of being the General Manager of Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Theatre for some 18 months.

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