The world of jazz is one of music’s biggest. When we think of the genre, towns like New York or New Orleans pop into mind, but back home we’ve seen it grow thanks to the virtuosic work of saxophonist Sam Boon and his talented Quintet.
There’s no question that the world of jazz is one of the most contentious, not too dissimilar to perceptions of classical, where many young people are turned off it without even listening to it.
It could be said that elitists and older music fans have created a barrier to entry for the genre; meaning that the live jazz music scene here is synonymous with expensive admission charges, seated and suited gigs, full of jazz standards from 100 years ago.
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Sam noted that his easily accessible gigs in the past have brought in music fans of all different types, who are drawn to the sheer energy of the heavily improvised and powerful shows.
“My experience is when you get young people who might not have ever listened to a John Coltrane record or anything,” he says, “if they see an up tempo, high energy show, they often go, ‘Oh shit, that’s amazing’ You know, because it is a big energy in a room.”
“I think there’s something unappealing to an audience when they have to feel like they have to study music to understand it. I think we need to drop this elitism, make it accessible. So it’s not $40 and you have to be quiet at a jazz club, you know?”
With most of experiencing a rowdy gig at a pub, where you’re rubbing shoulders with strangers, singing along, and having the time of your life. This is the kind of scene Sam wants to see jazz join.
“That’s the thing I hate the most, I think,” he continues. “Jazz should be in rowdy bars. It should be at your front bars, like…I can ramble many places off. But it seems like we put it in these jazz clubs, and all of a sudden, it’s this, ‘Oh, we’ve got to sit down and we’ve got to listen, we’ve got to be smart.’”
“Put it in a drunken front bar or somewhere where people haven’t had to pay $100 to come in. We still got to pay musicians, okay? But it doesn’t have to be this highbrow event, it should be part of the space. So do innovative things like having different events where there’s collaborations with different artists.”
Sam noting that a lot of the perceptions around the jazz genre are based on name alone. “I think if you call something Jazz people go ‘Oh, that old people, you know?’, ‘Oh, that’s too hard for me to understand’”.
The jazz scene here still strong, but assuredly not as strong as it should be. One path into bringing the genre into more ears may be a subtle rebrand by festivals by calling the genre something different.
“Even in our mainstream festivals, even just having a little ‘weird’ music stage, it doesn’t have to be a jazz stage,” Sam says.
“I think the jazz scene in Australia is quite diverse and quite great. It doesn’t always attract attention, you know, as much as more popular music, but this is exactly what we’re trying to do with working with Be_Hear/Now”
“We have an amazing, diverse, interesting, creative jazz scene and very different sub genres in that. But you’re probably only ever going to see it, if you venture out and go into the jazz lab, or something like that, which is quite nice and underground.”
“I think a lot of songwriters think that jazz musicians are all just about playing academically or think ‘I don’t understand what’s going on’, or ‘there’s no melody’, because the thing about jazz, it’s supposed to have the most freedom, you know, you can be as a musician, so you study all these different things, and when you’re playing with a songwriter, or you’re playing your own band that you’re doing indie rock or soul or whatever, or you’re trying to do is confine something.”
“It’s all about trying to see if you can push boundaries, the artist or the group of artists on the stage interacting together, improvising in that moment. So I think Jazz is often given a bad rap, I don’t know why exactly. A lot of the people that are performing and write original Jazz are often some of the side people that play with some of the biggest artists.”
Sam mentioned that perceptions around jazz were a factor in reaching out to Be_Hear/Now. But after much collaboration between Boon and the festival, they have joined forces for a great performance.
“I sent an email, and said, look, it’s probably not what you’re actually after, you wouldn’t probably ever get a contemporary jazz quintet applying for this kind of experience,” he said. “But when I read into the guidelines, it’s talking about building audiences, it’s talking about community involvement.”
“They accepted and we had the meeting, and what I wanted to try and do is show a jazz quintet that can actually sound really cool amongst that line-up. I’ve first of all sort of wanted directors to think about that, you know, there’s no reason why you can’t put something like that on a mainstream festival”.
A key element of the planning of the performance has been how it will appeal to a younger audience, and how it may bring them to Sam Boon Quintet and Jazz gigs in the future.
“Our crew was talking about how can we get jazz in front of younger audiences,” he continues. “Doing it at the Bowls Club was hilarious, because that’s where we did the video. It was just it was kind of fitting.”
“You know, I was talking to Bowls Club here in Ballarat, and they’re keen to do something like that and bring young people on, they’ll put cheap beer on, there is a great way to get people in front of jazz put cheap beer on.
“Innovative ideas like this, put it out of a jazz club, put it into a just a normal pub or Bowls Club. I think we just need to think about it a bit differently. Think change, change the mindset. So, yeah, we’ll see what happens with that.”