Every year Melbourne is overrun by trumpets and saxophones, syncopated rhythms and twinkling ivories for the 10-day Melbourne International Jazz Festival (MIJF). This year, the line-up features iconic musicians who have changed the course of popular music, budding players and experimentalists pushing the genre’s avant-garde side ever forward. Here are Broadsheet’s top festival picks, for the well-versed jazz-head to the part-time groover.
At 78 years old, Herbie Hancock has been an enormous influence not just on jazz but popular music in general. Merging jazz, funk and electronic instruments he’s played alongside the top dogs of jazz, including Donald Byrd and Miles Davis, and earned himself 16 Grammys. As a good starting point, listen to his iconic 1973 album Headhunters, which fused jazz structures with funk bass lines and tight rhythm and blues-oriented percussion. Its opening track was sampled by Beck on the song Cellphone’s Dead.
Herbie Hancock plays Hamer Hall on June 8 and 9. Tickets here.
In the early 20th century, pianist George Gershwin took jazz into the concert hall with his opera Porgy and Bess, and his orchestral 15-minute epic, Rhapsody in Blue. His song Summertime has been covered by greats such as Ella Fitzgerald and Janis Joplin. Now it’s the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s turn to reimagine the work of this jazz giant, supported by American jazz and hip-hop artist Jose James and British singer Laura Mvula.
Gershwin Reimagined takes place at Hamer Hall on May 31 and June 1. Tickets here.
Nocturnal + MIJF
Melbourne Museum’s after-hours party, Nocturnal, is teaming up with MIJF to host some of Melbourne’s best jazz-indebted artists. The line-up is perfect for people looking for an accessible and foot-moving introduction to jazz and includes Melbourne’s eight-piece powerhouse group Jazz Party, and New Orleans-style brass band Horns of Leroy, who will be fronted by local soul singer Thando. Other artists will be roaming the museum, so you can check out the exhibitions without missing the music.
Nocturnal + MIJF takes place at Melbourne Museum on Friday June 7. Tickets here.
American trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire was taught by Herbie Hancock at the internationally lauded Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. Since then, he’s worked with big industry names such as Kendrick Lamar, playing trumpet on the Compton rapper’s lauded album To Pimp a Butterfly. For this exclusive Jazz Festival presentation of his 2018 album Origami Harvest, Akinmusire will bring together contemporary chamber music, hip-hop, funk and spoken word. Akinmusire will return to the stage for a second show during the festival, though this time alongside the next generation of jazz musicians. The show will involve a collection of young Australian jazz musicians from the Sir Zelman School of Music working with Akinmusire through a fusion of classic and contemporary sounds.
Ambrose Akinmusire: Origami Harvest takes place at 170 Russell on Sunday June 2. Tickets here.
Monash University Futures featuring Ambrose Akinmusire takes place at the Primrose Potter Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre on June 4. Tickets here.
Jazz Out West
MIJF will head west for two days of free gigs by a selection of Melbourne artists selected by local DJ Mz Rizk. On Saturday, Ajak Kwai will perform afro-beat interwoven with rich reflections on her South Sudanese roots. Kwai’s performance will be followed by instrumental groove band WVR BVBY, whose cosmic synthesisers and ethio-jazz influences take listeners on an experimental journey down the winding avenues of contemporary jazz.
Jazz Out West runs from June 1 to 8. Free. More information here.
Local jazz-inspired renegades, such as the 30/70 collective and Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange, are making waves in Melbourne at the moment. Elle Shimada represents the exciting direction local jazz is heading in with her approach to the genre. As a violinist, Shimada lays down string lines backed by synthesiser work and dance rhythms. Shimada will play a free lunchtime concert.
Elle Shimada plays St James on June 4. Free. More information here.
Jazz on Film
Several films at MIJF will explore the rich history of jazz and its pioneers. Betty Davis: They Say I’m Different follows the life of the funk musician and fashion icon who was at one time married to Miles Davis (who has his own documentary, Miles Davis: Birth of Cool, that tracks his influence through insights from leading historians and newly released archival material). Other films showing include Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary, Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives and the 1958 French crime classic Elevator to the Gallows.
Jazz on Film runs from May 31 to June 9. Full program here.