The Big Jam 2011

Another fun project I’ve been working on lately is The Big Jam, the opening event for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, which was held on Saturday on the outdoor stage in Federation Square. This is the second year that it’s run, and the second year that I’ve been involved as co-presenter and co-writer. This year I was joined by two extremely talented and funny performers – Mal Webb, who is a brilliant multi-instrumentalist and vocal contortionist, and Rusty Rich, a fantastic musician and comedian who for a long time has performed with a group called the Scared Weird Little Guys. These two also looked superb, Mal in his orange suit (cut in a David Byrne style) and Rusty in rich purple. I completed the trio in red-and-white-stripes, and a beret – going for a decent jazz cliché while keeping myself warm – despite the winter afternoon sun, there was still a bit of a chill factor out there.

This is me warming up the crowd. I look like I’m trying to ride an imaginary motorbike, don’t I? Actually I was conducting them in a tuning note.

We had the talents and effortless coolness of the Australian Art Orchestra accompanying the crowd in all their efforts. I think there were probably around 1000-1500 people there all together (certainly Fed Square was pretty full), and lots had brought instruments along with them – including a double bass, a number of saxophones, kazoos, a ukelele, clarinets, flutes… and lots of percussion.

The Big Jam started with on the note G, and got the crowd playing layers of short riffs before moving into a jazzed-up version of Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree (re-named Kool-Kaburra for this gig). We then moved into a far less tonal, more experimental, free-jazz world, introducing the art of F.I.G.J.A.M (Free Interpretive Grandiose Jazz Artistic Movement – at least, that was our version of the acronym), in which the Art Orchestra and the crowd improvised wildly in response to the dance movements and dramatic gestures of Rusty and Mal.

We later got everyone groovin’ with a fine blues, including numerous solos from musicians in the crowd, and finished with a massed performance of Herbie Hancock’s Chameleon, with the music notation projected onto the big screen above our heads so that everyone could play along.

There’s a nice photo and promo story about The Big Jam here (courtesy of the Herald Sun). I’ve also got some fun filmed footage which I’ll edit up sometime in the coming weeks.

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1 comment so far

  1. With one voice « music work on

    […] year’s Melbourne International Jazz Festival took the Big Jam concept (opening the festival with a large, outdoor, audience participation music event) in a new direction […]


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