The WA Youth Jazz Orchestra is turning 35 and they have thrown an enormous party. Australia’s leading youth jazz orchestra has turned Perth’s vintage King Street into a bustling festival with 38 jazz acts in four iconic locations over three nights. The King Street Corner Pocket Jazz Festival is an impressive showcase of the breadth of the local talent, many of whom trace their roots back to student days in the WAYJO ensembles. The three-day festival from July 5-7th July is expected to attract more than 3000 people.
On Thursday night the festival vibe was in full swing audience members of all ages spilling from unlikely venues into the bracing winter night for refreshments from one of the many nearby bars before moving to the next show.
Upstairs at Kailis Jewellery Sassafras kicked off the festival with toe-tapping gypsy jazz. The trio of Lachlan Gear and Aaron Deacon on acoustic guitars and led by the irrepressible Pete Jeavons on string bass took us back to 1930’s Paris via Django Reinhardt’s fast strummed Feerie with its picked melody line singing the blues almost rockabilly style. The set continued with standards like Miller’s Bernie’s Tune and Ellington’s Caravan incorporating influences from flamenco to bossa nova along the way. Despite their small acoustic make up the three-piece provided a driving rhythm section, intricate solo work and sweetly lyrical melodies. It was a great pairing of venue and ensemble; the stylish upstairs room was crowded with an enthusiastic audience and no one wanted it to end.
The lure of Varnish’s boutique bar and hearty food took us back out into the street, and we were refuelled and ready for the big band swagger that hit us Downstairs at the Maj. The Monday Night Orchestra is one of WAYJO’s three big bands featured during the festival and as we arrived the horns were in full swing for Count Basie’s The Queen Bee. The young musicians are the cream of local jazz talent and sat tight under director Ricki Malet. The diverse set list included a sizzling Sunny Side of the Street led by vocalist Annie Mitchell and a fabulous rendition of Spring Can Really Hang You Up featuring trombone soloist Holli Hatherley. WAYJO has intentionally made steps towards gender equity and it was great to see the band populated with female low brass players. To top it off the bracket ended with a piece by Australian composer Jenna Cave whose funk-influenced Jazz Euphoria on Frenchman Street tipped the scales slightly more towards gender parity in the diversity-challenged jazz world.
Alto saxophonist and composer Alanah Macpherson is a product of WAYJO and studied composition with its artistic director Mace Francis. Her promise of original compositions performed by string quartet and vocalist Priscilla Gardiner attracted a large audience for the final session Downstairs at the Maj. Macpherson led from saxophone, backed by the close harmonies of the quartet and sweetened by Gardiner’s vocals. There were some haunting solos, with Gardiner’s musky vocals blending with the throaty alto sax to haunting effect. It was an impressive display of a young artist flexing her creative muscle at an already elite level.
We didn’t make it to the Sewing Room or the Intercontinental hotel or the Dress Circle Bar but there are still two nights to go! Kudos to the very small team at WAYJO for this huge logistical achievement and fingers crossed this will be the first of many King Street jazz festivals.
The King Street Corner Pocket Jazz Festival continues until July 7th.