Thursday, November 5, 2009

Australian tour

Hello readers,

I just got back from a successful tour of Australia. It the first time I have traveled around most of the major cities and performed and given master-classes. I took Mark Guiliana with me from New York and picked up James Muller and Brett Hirst. The band sounded really fantastic and had great responses and press reviews. We packed out venues in Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Canberra. Adelaide wasn't as good as the rest but it was still a great gig. We broke even financially which was surprising for me touring jazz in Australia, which is tough because of the large size and small population. It is also difficult often dealing with the one "jazz club" in town in each city. They struggle to survive I guess. Some of them cancelled shows at very sort notice and most expected us to let in everyone for as little money as possible so that they could sell more beer.

As expected Australians all over the country were relaxed, friendly and warm. Australia has a small population with little mainstream exposure for contemporary music and jazz, yet in every city there is an enthusiastic well educated audience for jazz music. The food and weather and hospitality was just superb for us. We loved soaking it all up. The highlight for me was the coopers ale on tap in Adelaide "close to the source". Despite the world recession there seemed to be a great deal of prosperity I suspect thanks to our natural resources boom in Western Australia.

On a sour note, it was sad to see how little Australian Arts culture is in the media. What little space on television and in newspapers is dedicated to music / theatre and film other arts seemed to be at least 50% (at a guess) dedicated to American culture. Commercial television has oprah / judge judy / jerry springer ... guests on TV shows included Harry Connick / Liza Minneli ... The newspapers had previews of a tour by Madeleine Peyroux, Diana Krall etc ... The Australian newspaper had reviews of American CDs and a one page article about a Keith Jarrett concert in the UK with the headline "D flat and the lonelyness". (apparently his wife left him and it made D flat major come in to his head). Sitting on a Qantas airplane ("The Australian Airline") music choices are mostly American and most shameful of all "Jazz with James Morrison" features only one or 2 local jazz musicians, one of whom is a pianist born in the USA. The next post in this blog shows an article in the drum media (a sydney music paper) which edited a photo of me and Guiliana so that I wasnt visible and went on to mention that he had recently released "pistachio".

All the cities have more than their fair share of enormous bars with the emphasis on drinking alcohol. A 2 minute horse race was surrounded by about 8 hours of continuous drinking with little food. The largest proportion of space in the media is given to sport, cricket players, and footballers are household names. Alcohol advertising is banned on TV, but they get around it by having "Fosters" in 20 metre high letters on the football/cricket ground. The news shows the winner having a beer or champagne after the match. Often the news a few days later revolves around the sports stars getting drunk and involving in loose sexual activity or rape.

Coming back to the USA, the television is chock o block here with American culture 98% created by Americnns. Tv shows / music / comedians etc ... The cheaper TV shows (as opposed to the "news") have exposes on musicians and actors getting drunk/stoned and sleeping around instead of footballers.

One wonders that in Australia if more emphasis could be put on the arts that there would be less alcoholism. With not enough music etc the only thing left to do is to drink. It's pretty hard to play football after the sun goes down.

I was lucky enough to be given a fantastic video of the late great Jackie Orsascky produced in Hungary. It's wonderful to have a document of him, but it was ironic to think that it had to be produced in hungary and not in Australia after it was too late...

If I ruled the world , the ABC (australian broadcasting corporation) would set up a venue in each capial city. It would have various sized venues (70, 150, 300 etc.) There would be cheap accomodation on top. It would be equipped with concert instruments (steinway, drums, amps, sound system etc). Cameras and recording equipment would be in place to record digitally without any personel involved . Musicians could take the recordings/video home and edit them themselves (which pretty much anyone can do with a computer). The ABC would provide a seperate music channel which would broadcast the stuff 24/7 and also be made available online. Musicians would interview each other during the day. All types of music would be represented. There would be travel subsidies given to musicians. Musicians could hire the venue for a low cost. I think that this would be a much better solution than to hand grants to musicians and/or pay orchestras to play repertory music at prices only the elite can afford. I also have a problem with arts "festivals" where an artistic director can assign money (often funded by governments) to musicians based on their "cultural value" which seems arbritary to me and easily corruptible. It should be a "trade issue" and countries whose artists perform at Australian festivals should be expected to reciprocate. Ditto overseas content in our media should be at the requirement of a reciprocal arrangement I think. The government stands up for Beef etc why not our music?

We have conservatoriums, radio stations / television stations set up all over Australia, but a serious lack of affordable venues and media exposure for Australia music and musicians ... Bus drivers, Lawyers, Doctors, Truckies etc all have the necessary infrastructure in place in Australia but for serious musicians unless you are interested in performing dead European composers it is a hard road.

Despite all this the depth of Australian musical talent never ceases to surprise me, especially amzing to me is the compositions. I heard some outstanding new music by Carl Vine, Cameron Undy, James Muller on this trip .. As time progresses I expect that more and more Australians and others will take pride in our cultural heritage. Aussie musos should fight for our music to be recorded, made available and preserved ... The internet provides a great opportunity for this.


  1. Hey Sean,

    Interesting blog, that is in concord w/ my feelings pretty precisely. I refer to 'em as uptown and downtown. The uptown end of Sydney is the opera house, while the bottom of barrel is the jazz scene.

    It is a cliche, but it bears repeating. How is it that I have to give money to other musicians sitting in the opera house when I have to hustle to make my own ends meet.
    How dare the Con send me donation forms asking me (as a jazz alumnus) to donate to the classical program. The irony and rudeness is eye-watering. And you know what. It is mostly the damn musicians own fault.
    I often jokingly say that a law could be passed which would outlaw all music making, and it would take a decade for this "news" to filter down to the jazzers. They would be too busy hanging in those sad communes myopically practicing giant steps for the news to penetrate.
    And even after it penetrated, u can be sure that they would still be doing that thing.....Solidarity is almost impossible w/ jazzers. Herding cats, comes to mind...

    BTW, I LOVE John Farrar. When I heard "Magic", I knew I was dealing w/ a pop writer that had melodic and harmonic ingenuity...

  2. well one of my wishes came true