“Debut” at the Ellington

April 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

Last night I plucked up the courage to stand up and play bass clarinet at the Ellington Jazz Club. I chose a transcription of Chris Potter’s brilliant version of Body and Soul from his album “Gratitude”. Even though having a music stand full of printed notes is generally frowned upon in a jazz club, it was great to play with Matt Willis on bass and Mike Perkins on drums who managed to hang on to my efforts to imitate the great Chris Potter. (The original is for double bass and bass clarinet alone but given we hadn’t had a chance to rehearse, drums with brushes seemed to be a wise move….)

The evening was part of a Sunday series now at the Ellington called Explorations where players can put their name on a list and come up to play for an audience after the featured band has played the first set. This forms an important mentoring opportunity for the jazz students of Perth (myself included). It was great to see a good amount of people there too! It was conceived by the late Alan Corbet, whose vision and drive have led the Perth jazz scene to thrive and grow in recent times.


“The concept of jamming has been central to jazz music since its inception in the New Orleans ghettos around the beginning of the 20th century. Indeed some believe that jazz improvisation itself was unwittingly birthed by musicians who would ‘jam’ the melody of a well-known tune, that is, to embellish and add to a given melody to create new melodies over the chord sequences of the original song.

Another important factor of jamming was (and still is) its spontaneity. Often, the musicians on stage wouldn’t have played together before (or at least not in the particular combination), and certainly, the choice of repertoire and musical approach would be last minute. Now in some musical arenas this practice is discouraged – but jazz thrives on exactly this kind of on-the-edge approach. “I don’t think people don’t want to see a live band play the same song they have rehearsed over and over until it sounds like an old record” says Alan Corbet (WA’s Jazz Co-ordinator- JazzWA), “…what interests them is spontaneity, how it makes them feel when all the parts come together, the music, the environment, the people… then the magic is created.”

Jam sessions also created a sense of community amongst the musicians. Young players could listen to (in the days before iPods; sometimes this was the ONLY way a young player could get to hear other musicians), play with and learn from more experienced players whilst at the same time getting the opportunity to showcase their own abilities. The problem is that in more recent times, jazz jam sessions have all but disappeared from the Perth music scene but that’s all changing thanks to an ongoing initiative from JazzWA.”

Alan Corbet – Jazz WA.


The Ellington jazz club is the most important thing to happen for the WA live music scene. Even people who have never considered going to a jazz gig are turning up! The sharing of ideas and plans between people in the industry and cross fertilisation of genres means the WA music scene can now grow and flourish at this important forum. Long may it prosper!

Incidentally there’s going to be a classical version of Jazz Explorations at The Ellington starting May 25th.  Local groups will be performing Brahms’ Clarinet Quintet, there’s the brilliant all-female wind quintet Pro Arte Collective and Arundo reed quintet will be playing too.


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