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Melbourne's Finest on the Fringes

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Melbourne's thriving jazz scene attracts some of the country's top jazz musicians, many notably absent from this year's Umbria Jazz Melbourne Festival 05. So to make sure they weren't entirely left out, four independent Melbourne organisations presenting jazz all year round got together to stage the Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival.

Melbourne-based musician Eddie Narain, has just launched a new website www.jazzonthestreet.com, which aims to promote the growth of underground jazz and to encourage the increasing interest and involvement of young people in jazz and jazz-related music.

Eddie (EN) caught up with musicians Ronny Ferella (RF) and Gideon Brazil (GB) to find out more about their initiative, Half Bent, and its collaboration with the other underground jazz initiatives that spawned The Melbourne Jazz Fringe Festival (MJFF).

Collingwood, Melbourne is the location: a bustling 'alternative' cafe, with its fair share of Eastern garb and not so comfy couches is the venue, so with pleasantries aside, Eddie got down to the important questions:

EN: Did Half Bent come out of necessity or was it conceived with a certain vision?

RF: It was probably both, we definitely felt a necessity to try to reign in all the talent that was going on in the original scene. I think we both agree the scene was healthy in one respect but quite segregated in another respect, so we thought power in numbers… to try to bring everyone together, and the festival was always a celebration of the rich scene in Melbourne, like a showcase.

EN: Did you think that all that needed some organisation, some structure.

RF: Absolutely, and we thought the best way to do it was with a performance thing, because the easiest way to get musicians to come to the party is to ask them to perform. Cause that's what we want to do, we want to play, so if you want someone to help, it's like do you want to come and put posters up or can you come and do a gig, they're gonna want to do a gig most of the time you know, to a good audience in a nice room. So the vision was lets see whether that will create some unity and support, and we all own the whole thing, cause everyone's put in. You know the first year no-one made much money and everyone knew that, and was fine with that.

EN: How did Half Bent come about?

RF: Half Bent came about when me and Gideon met when he was working with the International Melbourne Jazz Festival and really it was Anto's idea, a friend of ours, Anton Mack, and it was his name 'Half Bent', he's since jumped from the fold…yeah, he said he wanted to put a festival on, and that's the way we got together and put the festival on at Trades Hall, and just got together and brainstormed and then slowly…

EN: made the phone calls…

RF: made the phone calls, we knew how to put gigs on, so putting a festival on wasn't much different just a bit more work.

EN: And where did you meet Gideon?

RF: At the 'Ninth Ward', it's a venue, I remember the night…

GB: You remember the night?

RF: Yeah, I remember when I first met you. In the scene you see people around and some you take notice of…he looked like he knew what he was doing, he came and approached me and that was it.

EN: How did the MJFF come about?

RF: Another friend of ours, Peter Knight, another musician, we were just talking about the Umbria festival that's happening this year, which is, I suppose, a replacement, is that the right word, for the Melbourne International Jazz Festival, and you know its kinda been an interesting development and for us we were just talking about it, commenting that it didn't involve a whole bunch of local musicians, so Peter just, maybe half jokingly, said "lets put on a Fringe Festival" and that was it, and we all went…yeah lets! And the good thing is, it actually involves Half Bent, Make It Up Club…

EN: Tell us a bit about the 'Make It Up Club'.

RF: OK, Make It Up Club has been around for about 6 years and they, like us, are a facilitator of live concerts, and as the name implies, is more about improvised music, very strong in that direction, and really challenges that "what is music" question. They have a gig every Tuesday, they were at the Planet Café on Brunswick St and recently they moved to Bar Open, every Tuesday night they have two or three bands. Yeah, who else is with us…

GB: Lebowskies.

RF: Lebowskies is the new kid on the block, and that was put together by Eugene Ball and Steve Magnusson, other great musicians, and they just stumbled upon this great venue in Fitzroy, the Fitzroy Bowling Club, which is this good old Aussi Lawn Bowls Club with this great room, and I think Eugene struck up a conversation with them and just a great coincidence, they were looking for something new, so every Friday there's a band on, and it's a great venue, its big.

EN: Yeah, that's where 'Big Arse Sunday' will be held. ['Big Arse Sunday' kicks off the festival on the 8th of May]

RF: That's correct.

GB: With 1970's beer prices.

RF: Actually that's a big thing also with Half Bent, we look for venues that are ah ...that are really, what's the word, making it as easy as possible for as many people as possible.

EN: I've noticed that the prices for The Melbourne Jazz Fringe are pretty good, pretty much in my price range.

GB: That goes with what we do throughout the year as well, our weekly shows are always very affordable, it makes it hard to pay the artist, but we figure it's really important to get as many people there to showcase the stuff. Also we should mention La Mama Musica which is based at the La Mama Theatre on Faraday Street in Carlton, they are part of the organisation of this as well.

RF: And that's a beautiful theatre, I think 40 people is its capacity, and I've played there, I've done a duo with an accordion player…

EN: just drums and accordion?...

RF: yeah drums and accordion in front of 40 people sitting right over you and its one of the great performance bases in Melbourne, La Mama coming from a different spot being a venue…

EN: Did these guys take a lot of convincing to get involved?

RF: No, quite the opposite, they jumped on it, they really wanted to be a part of it. And this is the first time, well especially Half Bent, Lebowskies and the Make It Up Club, get a chance to work together and we're all good friends, we all play in each others bands…

GB: yeah we're all musician run organisations.

RF: We're all doing the same thing and we're all excited to come together cause maybe this will create a unified voice. Half Bent is just another outlet but I think we both realise that it is better to come together and get one strong voice for the whole scene.

EN: For Jazz On The Street.com, it's very exciting because this is very important to any vibrant underground scene.

RF: I think so, that's right yeah.

EN: Was there a need for MJFF last year, did MJFF come out of necessity of was it conceived with a certain vision?

GB: Well last year the Melbourne International Jazz Festival was still around and so it facilitated all that we are doing with the Fringe Festival…

RF: they invited us to program the whole series…

GB: so it wasn't needed as they were doing what we are doing now, showcasing the Melbourne jazz scene with an international component as well, so obviously this year it's mostly international with a very small proportion of local artists [Referring to Melbourne Umbria 05].

RF: Definitely we feel it's a necessity, you know if you run a festival you do what you want, but we feel a little left out and instead of sitting at home moaning about it, we thought 'lets do something about it', maybe that's how Fringe Festivals are born. The good thing about the Umbria Festival is that it's very well funded with lots of promotion and so in some ways we'll ride off the coat tails of that which, I guess, always happens with these sorts of events.

EN: A sort of symbiotic relationship.

RF: Yeah, I suppose.

Melbourne-based drummer, Eddie Narain has recently launched the website www.jazzonthestreet.com and this article is reproduced by kind permission

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