JAZZ: The Australian Accent John Shand University of New South Wales Press (2009) Sydney 228 pp. – includes CD, contents listed below. AU$ 35.00.
CD CONTENTS: Allen Browne’s Australian Jazz Band – “Five Bells” (2006); Bernie McGann/John Pochee – “D. Day” (2006); Phil Treloar – “Towards Copper Mountain” (2006); Mark Simmonds Freeboppers – “Underground” (1994); Scott Tinkler/Simon Barker – “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (2007); Julien Wilson Trio – “Rebellious Bird” (2007); The Necks – “He Led Them Into the World” (1998); Phil Slater Quartet – “Tedium” (2006); James Muller – “D Blues” (2006); Mike Nock Project – “Sho’s Cradle Song” (2007). [TT: 1:12]
This book is a collection of loosely linked essays, each dealing with one to three living jazz musicians currently active in the forefront of jazz in Australia. Given its relative Sydney-centrism, the book should be subtitled “AN Australian Accent”! Not that there’s anything wrong with that!! As the author writes:
This book is not intended as an overview of contemporary Australian jazz, nor is it a comprehensive history. It focuses on unique or highly original contributions. I have chosen some – by no means all – of the recent key antipodean practitioners who strike me as fulfilling these criteria, and presented them as case studies. JAZZ attempts to explain the inspirations, attitudes and methodology lying behind these players’ singularity, and ways in which they have cross-fertilized and influenced each other. In the process it places these artists within the scope of the Australian (and New Zealand) contribution to jazz, as this particular genre of creative music unravels from its original American spool. (p. ix)
By narrowing down his focus, Shand has stayed away from a broad-brush treatment of the music as it has arisen here in Oz in the late 20th Century:
Because the post-be-bop developments in jazz have been most freely adaptable to the imprint of geographically diverse musical pools of players, it is to this area of the music that JAZZ largely restricts itself. Discussing the small number of Australians who have found something uniquely their own within pre-bebop forms of the music is not the province of this book, although their art deserves to be fully acknowledged. Nor is being gifted and accomplished enough to warrant coverage in the book’s scheme of things. While originality is assuredly no end in itself, and I place the highest premium on the emotive quality of the music made, I have sought out examples of the art that have not and probably could not have happened anywhere else. Long may such music continue to be made. Its spontaneity and truth may well be the most accurate artistic representation of who we are as a people. (ibid)
There you have it – the restricted focus of this book. So, if you want info on Graeme Bell, or anyone else performing in the pre-bop or bop styles, then you need another book or three!*
John Shand is known for his music writings published in the Sydney Morning Herald, the main daily newspaper in Australia’s largest city. He writes well, in a style analogous to that of the late Whitney Balliet. Here he takes on a clutch of post-bop musicians, mainly from the Sydney area, and puts down short essays replete with quotes from his interviews with them. The likes of Bernie McGann, John Pochee, Mike Nock, Allan Browner, Phil Treloar [“The Godfathers”]; Mark Simmonds, The Necks (Chris Abrahams, Tony Buck, Lloyd Swanton) [“The Firebrands”]; Scott Tinkler, Julien Wilson Trio (Wilson, Stephen Magnusson, Stephen Grant), Band of Five Names/Phil Slater Quartet (Matt McMahon, Simon Barker, Slater), James Muller [“The Pioneers of Now…]. In his introduction, Shand writes:
Is there such a thing as Australian jazz, or is there just jazz which is made in Australia? Why does that distinction matter? In attempting to examine these questions the intent is not to bullishly trumpet national cultural triumphs, but to document the intriguing implications of one of the richest seams of creativity in the land – across any of the arts – being mined in considerable geographical and cultural isolation from its precursors.
Trying to pin down what it is that makes Australian jazz Australian may be as fruitless as trying to describe the wind: ultimately you can just hear it and feel it. There is no single musician you can point to and say, ‘That’s what Australian jazz sounds like.’ Even once you have identified several seminal players of the last 30 years, no pattern emerges in quantifiable sonic terms. Nonetheless, the country has spawned many extremely original practitioners who have pursued their own nuances and developments in the music. The result is that, despite a hostile environment on a host of levels, Australia has become a creative centre of jazz, rivalling the Scandinavian and Western European countries that have steadily diluted New York’s pre-eminence over the last three decades.
Our very isolation has played a crucial role. In the post-war years US records were scarce, and some local playing styles were cobbled together from the scraps that were heard. Australians and New Zealanders have had to be adaptable folk, who make do with the resources at their disposal. (pp. 1/2)
That said, this is a good and informative read on the author’s particular selection of mainly currently active musicians who play jazz, or something involving improvisation resembling jazz. Interweaving his words with that of the musicians covered, and others, Shand lets you know what’s happening these days in Australia. The fact that there is a CD attached to this publication is a great plus as it allows one to actually hear AND listen at the same time (for those of you capable of doing two things at once!). A common phenomenon today, especially with university press offerings, it makes complete sense – dealing with an auditory artistic expression, one SHOULD be able to hear what’s what! So, the title is overstated in saying “the” Australian accent… it’s some of them, but still well presented. Worth tracking down, and added to the three books footnoted above, will give one a good idea of what’s happened and what’s happening in the Antipodes – not that there’s anything wrong with that! As an ex-pat “American”, I can truthfully say that I have not been starved of good jazz since my arrival in 1995 – the stuff is here.
*BISSET, Andrew – Black Roots, White Flowers: A History of Jazz in Australia; Golden Press (1979) Sydney.
JOHNSON, Bruce. The Inaudible Music: Jazz, Gender and Australian Modernity Currency Press (2000) Sydney (Book and CD).
CLARE, John – Bodgie Dada & the Cult of Cool; University of New South Wales Press (1995) Sydney.
PETER B. LOWRY