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Published October 11, 2013

Located right in the beach, the Manly Jazz Festival is truly one of the greatest events in the Australian jazz world. With an eclectic mix of ragtime, blues, funk, swing and big band, just to name a few, the various ensembles and artists performed to an exceptional standard. It was absolutely fantastic. The weather was glorious, almost too hot really, but well suited to laze around on the beach on down the boulevard and listen to some fun and easy jazz. 

It was quite fun, although the heat did make it slightly less enjoyable than it could have been, and the Rugby League Grand Final being on the same night meant that there were crowds of people who were not interested in the jazz, but the overall atmosphere was good. Also, although an appreciation of jazz would obviously be a great help in attending, the nature of the music means that it can still be enjoyable to most people, even if they haven’t listened to the various styles before. Here are a taste of the exotic and wondrous jazz flavours that were performed during the festival.

The Admiral’s Own was a brilliant start to the day. The host was a commanding officer who had recently been at the naval centennial celebrations, and when he sang occasionally his voice gave out, especially in the last song. There is always something rather clashing about uniforms and jazz, it must be said, but the Admiral’s Own were a stunning opening to the day. They balanced the mix of slow and fast songs very well, as well as instrumentals and songs with vocals. Of the two singers, the female was much stronger, although both were accomplished. Altogether, a fun performance, and a great way to start the day.

Andy Firth Quintet (featuring Liam Burrows)

Andy Firth is a successful jazz musician, who is one of the few Australian musicians to play at the Carnegie Hall under his own name. And after watching his performance, it is easy to understand how he achieved it. The quintet was made up of bass, drums, guitar, keyboard and the clarinet, all of which had their moments in the sun. After the dazzling sound of the Admiral’s Own swing and big band style, it was nice to have a much thinner sound to focus on in the heat of the afternoon sun. Each musician in the quartet was astonishingly accomplished, with fancy solos. Andy Firth himself had a particular solo during the finale, where he staggered his breathing in a way that made it sound as though there were two clarinet players, and not just one. All in all, basically a flawless show for the afternoon, and one that was highly enjoyable to listen to and watch.

Andy Firth Big Band Featuring Liam Burrows

Liam Burrows, despite being quite small (he is only 19 after all), has a very powerful voice. Again despite his youth, he already has a successful musical career, even appearing in Australia’s Got Talent, and with his singing ability, it is easy to see how he did so well in that show. The young man has a promising career in music. During this performance, he was channelling famous jazz vocalists such as Michael Bublé, Jamie Cullen and Frank Sinatra. Although his musical performance was fantastic, sometimes his stagemanship wasn’t as polished as it could have been, which was probably just because of his youth. The Andy Firth Big Band was also strong, with a particularly clear and crisp sound. Well performed all round by the musicians, although again the antics between songs could have been improved a little bit.

New Empire Ballroom Ragtime Dance Orchestra (written by Anne-Maree Johnson)

Watching and listening to this band is like a free trip back to the 1920’s. Each member of the Orchestra is dressed in clothing of the period and the music is reproduced exactly in the style of the time. From the opening number of The Charleston then renditions of Yes Sir, That’s My Baby: I Want to be Happy and Singing in the Rain, along with many others, this band skilfully recreates the music and style of a previous era. This band brings skill, attention to detail and a great sense of fun to their performance. There is a sense of shared joy in the audience which is one of the greatest gifts an orchestra such as this can give to their listeners.

Mackellar Girls High School Band

The Mackeller Girls High School Band made an enjoyable start to Monday morning jazz, and were quite talented for high school students. Although the performance sometimes wasn’t quite as tight as other performances, they were still enjoyable to listen to. Their repertoire was very extensive, with numerous styles being pursued such as swing, latin, sambas, blues just to name a few. They drew quite a large crowd as well, especially considering the relatively early hour, and even had a couple of children dancing to their tunes. The girls should feel very proud of themselves and hopefully we look forward to seeing them to continue performing long after they have graduated from the high school.

St Pius X Senior Jazz Band

For a high school band, St Pius X Senior Jazz Band were incredibly tight. Well on par with several of the other performances that had been there throughout the day, the show was well performed. Another fairly wide repertoire, the band was snazzy and sharp, with clean sounds similar to those made by professional bands. There were only two minor disappointments with the band. The first was the lack of vocalist. Whilst this is perfectly acceptable in jazz, sometimes in the swing styles that they were performing it would have been a nice addition. The other was the lack of Hawaiian shirts, but that’s just because the all black uniforms made me feel hot watching them perform in the sun. Overall, a very strong performance, and hopefully these students continue producing excellent music, especially jazz, after they graduate from St Pius X.

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