Everything You Need to Know About Melbourne International Jazz Festival

Thando. Image supplied.

Melbourne International Jazz Festival (MIJF) has officially unveiled its 2021 line-up and it feels good to look forward to good times to come.

During a period hallmarked by uncertainty, the jazz community has done what it does best – improvise. It is testament to the tenacity and
ingenuity inherent in the form, that will see this year’s festival include three world premiere commissions; 13 album launches; 20 Australian premieres; the return of the lauded Jazz Hub to Melbourne’s CBD; and over 120 events across 30 venues, ensuring the festival encompasses the city, and the communities that make it unique, like never before.

Throughout the ten days of the festival (October 15 – 24) over 400 artists will take to the stages, streets and stations across seven areas in Melbourne, with the majority of events being free to the public. Yes that’s right, FREE.

Here are a few of the highlights:

MIJF Opening and Closing Night Galas

The festival will commence with the 2021 Opening Night Gala, a spectacular international collaboration with Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Christopher Crenshaw, Melbourne’s own Vanessa Perica and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

A gala of an entirely different nature will close out the festival, with the inaugural Big Sunday set for the Sidney Myer Music Bowl on closing weekend.

Fat Freddy’s Drop

Headlined by New Zealand lords of long-form funk, Fat Freddy’s
, Big Sunday will see a mammoth lineup taking over the Bowl for a sundrenched, day-long celebration of jazz, funk, gospel and soul.

Home-grown soul pioneers The Bamboos will perform songs from their tenth studio album Hard Up and favourites from their 21-years together, alongside siren of soul, Emma Donovan and Paul Grabowsky for a new project that will take audiences to church via a gospel-inspired set complete
with six-piece horn and rhythm section.

Completing the line-up is The Cat Empire’s firebrand trumpet-playing vocalist Harry James Angus collaborating with drummer Freyja Hooper in a new duo whose sound is marked by hypnotic rhythms and complete harmonic freedom.

Artist in Residence: Paul Grabowski

In its inaugural year, Melbourne International Jazz Festival’s Artist in Residence program will showcase the work and talent of a towering force in Australian music—the multi-award-winning pianist, composer, arranger
conductor, and founding Artistic Director of Australian Art Orchestra, Paul Grabowski AO.

Since the 70s, Grabowsky has built a commanding international reputation working in Europe and the US, and performing alongside jazz icons Chet Baker, Art Farmer and Johnny Griffin. On home soil, he firmly established
himself as one of Australia’s leading jazz musicians and composers. His extraordinary list of musical collaborators includes artists such as Branford Marsalis, Archie Roach, Kate Ceberano, Vince Jones and Megan Washington.

At the Melbourne Recital Centre, Grabowski will take the stage with another icon of Australian music, Paul Kelly, to perform works from their ARIA Award-winning album, Please Leave Your Light On; at The Toff in Town he’ll be joined by neo-soul vocal sensation Ngaiire; in an intimate, festival-only performance at the Jazz Lab, he’ll collaborate with Tuscan-born singer Ilaria Crociani for Torio! – a celebration and exploration of Italian music; delving into his distinguished career Paul will share his thoughts on the future of Australian Jazz as part of a very special In Conversation for the MIJF Congress, and to close out the Festival he’ll debut his new project The Old Rugged Cross with Melbourne’s siren of Emma Donovan at the MIJF Big Sunday at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl.

Jazz Hub at The Toff in Town

In a move set to bring “late-night” back to the CBD, the Festival heralds the return of its beloved Jazz Hub to The Toff in Town. Running every night of the festival until the early hours of the morning, MIJF’s Jazz Hub will showcase the very best of Melbourne’s flourishing and emergent jazz sound, and a scene that’s fast become a force on the world stage – touted and championed by international tastemakers like Gilles Peterson. The Toff
will be home to late-night jams, album launches, DJs and dream colllabs that could only exist within a festival context.

3 is One, the brand-new trio project headed up by New York-born GRAMMY-nominated pianist, composer, and musical-mystic, Barney McAll will hit The Toff in a collision of keys, pedals, loops and percussion. Taking
audiences on a psychedelic sonic adventure, McAll will be joined by multi-faceted artist Laneous and drumming maestro Leigh Fisher.

A highlight of the Jazz Hub line-up, lead by celebrated rapper, singer and trumpet player ZIIMUSIC, The Experience will pay respect to the legacy of the legendary late father of South African Jazz “Bra Hugh” Masekela and Zimbabwean music royalty Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi. The full band performance will feature stunning vocals from Zimbabwean born singer Thando, who will also perform her Jill Scott Project at the Hub – a tribute to the living legend of American soul.

Kate Kelsey-Sugg and Brett Williams are stars of the US music scene, and having spent the pandemic hiding out in Melbourne will bring their formidable talent and credentials to the stage at Jazz Hub in an incredible
MIJF collaboration. Kelsey-Sugg has worked alongside legends such as Cyndi Lauper, Robert Glasper, Philip Glass and Ani DiFranco, while Williams has performed alongside music royalty including Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill, Snarky Puppy and Anderson Paak. Together they form B+K, combining their unique musical talents and love for songwriting to distil a wide range of genres into a harmonious blend of pop, R&B and soul.

Comprising four of Australia’s most esteemed jazz musicians, Nock/Wilson/Zwartz/Stuart made waves last year with their critically acclaimed and ARIA nominated debut album, This World. One year on, the celebrated supergroup of Mike Nock (piano), Julien Wilson (tenor saxophone), Jonathan Zwartz (double bass) and Hamish Stuart (drums) return to launch their second full-length album.

Other Jazz Hub highlights:
The captivating Luke Howard Trio who will launch their fourth album
Sanctuary; Sydney based neo-soul singer Slade who will premiere her stunning debut album Control; the trailblazing ensemble project of Jeremy Rose, Nick Garbett, Noel Mason and Alex MassoThe Vampires; and
Melbourne’s favourite brass section, Horns of Leroy, who will collaborate with friends and stars of the Melbourne scene in a raucous, high energy night of music.

Immersive Festival Experiences:

A Night at The Museum – Melbourne Museum

Melbourne Museum will come alive for at A Night at The Museum. Guided through an exploration of the museum’s most iconic settings, audiences will encounter musicians responding in real-time to their surroundings in a series of three unique micro-concerts, followed by a full-length performance of the Australian Art Orchestra’s cross-cultural masterpiece Hand to Earth.

Across three distinct museum spaces, audiences will encounter James Sherlock and Ben Hanlon, MEATSHELL and Mina Yu Trio before making their way to the stunning opening foyer to experience the boundary-pushing brilliance of Hand to Earth, which brings together Yolngu songman Daniel Wilfred and Korean vocalist Sunny Kim for an exquisite performance expressing something of the here and now in music.

Sound Underground – Campbell Arcade

Sound Underground will see Campbell Arcade close to the public for a meditative music soundbath experience that incorporates the ambient sounds of Flinders Street Station into a sonic landscape, inviting the listener to bring their focus away from conscious thought and engage with sound as a healing medium. This free, Festival-only experience, facilitated by award-winning Australian percussionist David Jones and author and musician Carmen Warrington, introduces you to an artists-palette of sound and vibration deep below Flinders Street.

The Music of Radiohead

The iconic music of one of the world’s most beloved bands will be brought to new life in The Music of Radiohead. Alongside an eight-piece ensemble featuring some of Australia’s most exciting musicians from both jazz and popular music – including Japanese Wallpaper, Hannah Cameron, and Ryan Munro – David Quested and Ollie Cox will present a night of original interpretations of the music of Radiohead. Following the sell-out success of their Music of Bon Iver & Sufjan Stevens shows in 2019, Quested & Cox will draw upon indie rock, experimental improvisation and jazz influences to re-work all your favourites, from OK Computer to In Rainbows and beyond.

MIJF Congress

MIJF Congress is a major new national industry summit for jazz and improvised music, forming a core part of the festival’s long-standing Sector Development Program.

Spanning the final weekend of the festival, the inaugural MIJF Congress will host a series of talks, masterclasses, workshops, industry roundtables and networking opportunities for artists and industry, providing a platform for the national sector to congregate and navigate the future of Australian jazz. MIJF Congress will also feature a series of curated performances, profiling the breadth and talent of Australian jazz musicians, and connecting local artists with national and international presenters.

MIJF Online

After a successful foray into online streamed events in 2020 as part of the digital festival, These Digital Times, the Festival will make a selection of events available for streaming allowing a connection with audiences wherever
they are and whatever the landscape for live events. The streamed performances from MIJGF’s concert hall series will go on sale in September. With this existing capacity for streaming, the Festival is well-positioned to
scale up the online offering if and when the live events landscape changes.

For more information and to stay up to date, head to the MIJF website.

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